Cultural Exchange: Defining the Native American and African Slave Interaction at Rich Neck Plantation
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Archaeology
Surprisingly few studies of the history of American slavery have investigated the interconnectedness of Native Americans and Africans and African Americans. We now know Native Americans were instrumental in helping the first trans-Atlantic colonizers settle in the Americas. However, history shows that this alliance did not last, and settlers took Native American lands. While settlers dispossessed Indigenous peoples, they also shifted the sources of labor for their new plantations on unceded land. Native Americans were the first source of cheap, coerced labor. American slavery eventually brought Africans from their homes to the early American colonies. Africans had to learn and adapt to a new environment to survive. They brought their own distinctive culture (religious, culinary, etc.) and mixed it with others. Native Americans and African Americans lived and worked in the same location. Changes in crucial laws and the increasing fertility of enslaved African women in the Americas encouraged the change from the enslavement of Native Americans to Africans. The interaction of enslaved Native Americans and African Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was complex and show up in several ways. By comparing historical texts and oral history, especially those dealing with foodways, versus archaeological evidence of foodways, particularly Colonoware and floral/faunal remains found at the Rich Neck Plantation (44WB52) slave quarters, I evaluate how these cultures affected each other. I consider the evidence from Rich Neck, one of the first plantations established on the James River in the Virginia Tidewater, through the theoretical lens of creolization, which reveals a holistic view of the lifeways and possible interactions of Native Americans and enslaved Africans and African Americans. What previous research does not show are the details of their relationships that include contrasting generational shifts in how many kinds of ceramics and how much Colonoware ceramic assemblages from one generation to the next had. The analysis shows that in the early eighteenth-century serving vessels favor showy, elaborate types, except for the notable case of Colonoware bowls. By the later mid-eighteenth century, not only do the import, of colorful wares increase, but the diversity of all kinds of ceramics increased as well. In my analysis, Colonoware spikes during the mid-eighteenth century, indicating that Africans were the progenitors of the Rich Neck Colonoware because it increases in frequency just when the Native population was in decline. In a complementary pattern, wild foods are a consistent element in the botanical remains, indicating that the likelihood of Native-African interaction for the entire time span is strong. Creolization and transculturation, however, are evident in the shift to crop and garden foods by the mid-eighteenth century. These and other details indicate changing involvement of Native Americans in enslaved African life at Rich Neck Plantation. The evidence is strong for Native-African interaction in one of the most important realms of life: foodways. At the same time, the increasing reliance on provisions and new vessel forms in the later contexts for dining suggests that racialized inequalities increasingly became a part of enslaved life.
Butler, Theartis R., "Cultural Exchange: Defining the Native American and African Slave Interaction at Rich Neck Plantation" (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 1631.
Imported from Butler_ilstu_0092N_12276.pdf