Date of Award

August 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Theresa Singleton


consumerism, material culture, slavery, Virginia

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation is a study of the intersections of slavery, daily practice, and consumerism of enslaved laborers at antebellum Poplar Forest plantation in Central Virginia. Key developments in the antebellum period, including expanded transportation options, industrialization, and increased slave leasing shaped the enslaved laborer’s lives. These factors resulted in increased access to the market economy for many enslaved laborers, which transformed social and economic relationships between whites and African Americans and among African Americans as well. The conditions that shaped this process varied according to regional differences, the forms of labor in which the enslaved were engaged, and the individual practices of slave owners. My work centers itself within the growing field of consumerism studies, which have been useful to scholars of slavery and post-emancipation African American communities, but have not been applied to slavery in the antebellum period of Central Virginia. By employing consumer strategies to negotiate the experiences of slavery and craft identities that resisted the imposed definition of “slave,” enslaved laborers gained a measure of control over their daily lives and degrees of personal empowerment. Enslaved men and women adapted to the uncertain realities of antebellum slavery by acquiring and using goods to shape their identities and to promote and maintain health and well-being for themselves and their families. This study demonstrates that control and empowerment were situational for enslaved laborers and they came with costs and benefits.


Open Access