Hallowed Ground, Sacred Place: The Slave Cemetery at George Washington's Mount Vernon and the Plantation Landscapes of the Enslaved Open Access
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Cemeteries of the enslaved on many plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries were places where communities could practice forms of resistance, and develop distinct African-American traditions. These spaces often went unrecorded by elites, whose constructed landscapes were designed to convey messages of their own status and authority. In their oversight of these spaces, however, elites failed to notice the nuanced meanings the slaves themselves instilled in the landscapes they were forced to live and work in. These separate meanings enabled enslaved African Americans to maintain both human and cultural identities that subverted the slave system and the messages of inferiority that constantly bombarded them.This thesis focuses on the archaeological study of the Slave Cemetery at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Here, methodological and theoretical principles are utilized to study the area that many enslaved workers call their final resting place. Through the use of this space, it is hypothesized that Mount Vernon's enslaved community practiced distinct traditions, instilling in that spot a sense of place, and reinforcing their individual and communal human identities. This thesis will also investigate the cemetery within its broader regional and cultural contexts, to attain a better understanding of the death rituals and culturally resistant activates that slaves at Mount Vernon used in their day-to-day battle against the system that held them in bondage.