Uncovering evidence of slavery and control in the spatial landscapes of a Maryland plantation
“Bailey has made a significant contribution to the archaeological exploration of slavery by using the theoretical perspective of ‘nervousness’ to explore the actions of plantation owners during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”—Kenneth G. Kelly, coeditor of French Colonial Archaeology in the Southeast and Caribbean
“Skillfully deploys contemporary understandings of nervousness, anxiety, vulnerability, and whiteness as a framework for contextualizing the fears of slaveowners as manifested in plantation landscapes.”—Daniel R. Maher, author of Mythic Frontiers: Remembering, Forgetting, and Profiting with Cultural Heritage Tourism
In this book, Megan Bailey uses archaeological data and historical records to document the treatment of enslaved people at L’Hermitage Plantation in Maryland from 1794 to 1827. Bailey uses the concept of the “nervous landscape”—a space where power is not absolute and where resistance is possible—to show how the Vincendière family’s fear of losing control of their workforce drove their brutality.
Bailey shows how the Vincendières’ strategies to maintain their power were inscribed in the plantation’s landscapes through the design of the enslaved peoples’ village, which maximized surveillance and control while suppressing individuality. Despite the family’s behavior, enslaved people found ways to exercise agency, including through use of yard space, forming relationships with local residents, and running away. Considering fear and anxiety as a fundamental element of the colonial experience, Bailey argues that emotion should be considered in archaeological analyses of the past.
Today, L’Hermitage Plantation is a part of the Monocacy National Battlefield operated by the National Park Service. Bailey discusses the public interpretation of the site and how excavations of the plantation highlighted a more complicated narrative than the prevailing story of Civil War conflict and heroism. Memory and Power at L’Hermitage Plantation uses archaeology to connect the Vincendières to the present-day landscape in a complex, layered narrative of precarity and control.
Megan M. Bailey is a research affiliate of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland and has served as an archaeologist for the National Park Service.
A volume in the series Cultural Heritage Studies, edited by Paul A. Shackel
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.