Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Grey Gundaker


A sophisticated exploration of the intricacies of motherhood and health care practices of people of African descent, especially the enslaved population of Virginia, can shed light on their notions of a well-lived life and the factors preventing or contributing to these principles. I situate my dissertation within this ideal as I examine how the health and well-being of enslaved people were linked to broader issues of economic exploitation, domination, resistance, accommodation, and cultural interactions. Historical and archaeological studies have shown that the living and working conditions of enslaved people were detrimental to their health. Building on these findings, I explore how aware were blacks of these impediments to their well-being and the pursuit of a wholesome life, and what means these populations employed to change the negative tangibles and intangibles of slave societies. These questions are best studied from a multi-disciplinary perspective and by using a variety of evidence.;Therefore, I collate and wed diverse selections of documentary evidence---a complex assortment of texts covering history, oral tradition, and narratives---with material cultural evidence, mainly from archaeological excavations and historic landscapes, to show the complex web of objects, beliefs, and practices that constituted this arena of well-being and autonomy. I discuss how issues of well-being intertwined with gender and race relations and how these were played out in many acts of motherhood and child care, struggles over foods and health care, other verbal and physical fights, and how the landscape and objects were implicated in social relations. I focus on Virginia but use examples from other slave societies for comparative purposes.;Blacks juxtaposed their cultural ways with those of whites and, at times, found the latter below black standards for a wholesome life. Therefore, while being open-minded toward some practices and beliefs from whites, blacks continued to maintain separate activities. This dissertation presents and interprets the ideals and practices of enslaved blacks and their descendants and shows how they created and reinforced their identity as a people capable of caring not only for themselves, but for whites as well.



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