“Among the Graves”: Constructing Community, Resistance, and Freedom on Nineteenth Century Plantation Burial Grounds
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Robert Trent Vison
This paper examines the uses of plantation burial grounds by enslaved people. Drawing on the testimony in the Works Progress Administration Slave Narratives and nineteenth century narratives written by formerly enslaved people, I locate the grave as a space of resistance where enslaved people formed community, deliberately resisted plantation owner demands, and reinterpreted the meaning of freedom. In Chapter One, I identify the uses of burials grounds for funerals. From looking after the body, and preparing it, to traveling from other plantations to attend wakes and funerals, enslaved people transformed burial grounds into a space for community and the unbridled expressions of lamentation to escape enslavement. In relation to other spaces and practices on the plantation, enslaved people could gather there more openly and without as much oversight or secrecy. However, some plantation owners enacted restrictions around funerals, denying enslaved people the time to observe a death or the ability to conduct funerals. In Chapter Two, I discuss how enslaved people resisted these constraints and conducted funerals in whatever ways that they could. In extreme cases, owners responded violently to their gathering on burial grounds, but amid the contestations, enslaved people interpreted the space, not as a site of violence and death, but as one of escape and refuge. In Chapter Three, I explore how enslaved people used burial grounds to interpret freedom. In the graveyard, some hoped to find freedom in death, and reunion in afterlife.
Fields, Whitney N., "“Among the Graves”: Constructing Community, Resistance, and Freedom on Nineteenth Century Plantation Burial Grounds" (2015). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 143.
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