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African American Material Culture, 1700s-1800s: Economics

Economics

  1. Strap Buckle. House for Families, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, ca. 18th-19th century. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/WyTp.
  1. Shoe Buckle. House for Families, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, ca. 18th-19th century. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/WyTU.

An enslaved person could get buckles and other accessories in a number of ways. While most objects were likely gifts from the Washington family, slaves could also purchase them using money they earned outside the plantation.

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  1. Schist Pipe Blank. Poplar Forest Quarter Site. Courtesy of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/JFWT.

Carving stone pipes required more skill than creating clay pipes. There are three phases of stone pipe production: carving the rough outer shape, drilling a hole for the bowl, and drilling a hole for the stem. A close look at this object reveals that the hole for the bowl broke through the bottom, leaving the pipe blank useless as final pipe.

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  1. Schist Pipe. Poplar Forest Quarter Site. Courtesy of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/JFYp.

Enslaved peoples carved these stone pipes, either to use themselves, share with friends and family, or to sell. Most of the sites where archeologists have discovered stone pipes in central Virginia are tied in some way to Thomas Jefferson’s plantations. These stone pipes corroborate other evidence of ties of friendship, marriage, and family ties between enslaved and free African Americans in various locations in the 18th and 19th centuries.

2132, 2133. George Washington’s False Teeth. George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/Wz6L and https://skfb.ly/WzoQ.

While George Washington did have dental troubles for much of his life, the story that his false teeth were made of wood is false. George Washington had dentures made of many materials, including human teeth. In the 18th century, it was common practice for dentists to purchase teeth from poor people for use in dentures or tooth transplants. In 1784, Washington purchased nine teeth from several “Negroes,” for 122 shillings, which is less than a third of the payment advertised to poor white Americans. They were likely enslaved people living at Mount Vernon.


Additional Resources (Mount Vernon):

Mount Vernon Ladies Association. 2016. “Archaeological Remains of Slave Life at Mount Vernon.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/slide_player?mets_filename=sld3719mets.xml.

Pogue, Dennis J., Ph.D. “House for Families.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/house-for-families/.

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves.” PBS. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/video/lives.html.

White, Esther. “News from Mount Vernon.” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter 2, no. 2 (July 1995): 1-2. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1570&context=adan.

Additional Resources (Poplar Forest):

Heath, Barbara J. “Slave Housing, Community Formation, and Community Dynamics at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, 1760s-1810s.” Jefferson’s Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginian Plantation. Edited by Barbara Heath and Jack Gary. University Press of Florida, 2012. Pages 105-128.

Lee, Lori. “Carved in Stone.” Jefferson’s Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginian Plantation. Edited by Barbara Heath and Jack Gary. University Press of Florida, 2012. Pages 128-154.

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