The Secret Lives of Plantation Animals

I am Jenna Carlson Dietmeier, a fifth-year PhD candidate.  My research is focused on the symbolic roles and husbandry of working animals on eighteenth-century Lowcountry and Chesapeake plantations. In my dissertation, I hope to illuminate how working animals were incorporated into the everyday lives of both the planter and the enslaved classes. To do so, I am analyzing the bones of horses and cattle from Drayton Hall and Stobo Plantation in South Carolina, from Oxon Hill Manor in Maryland, and from Mount Vernon in Virginia. Additionally, I have analyzed two articulated eighteenth-century horse skeletons from Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia, to be used as case studies in my research.

CowSkull JamestownHorse

To study the working lives of animals in the eighteenth century, I am  looking for indications that the animals may have been working animals, such as arthritis and bitwear on the teeth of horses. I am also analyzing historical documents from the regions for information on how these animals were raised and how they might have been used as symbols of power on the plantations.  My research is ongoing, but I am starting to see changes through time in how cattle were raised in each of the regions.  With additional zooarchaeological and historical research this fall, I hope to pinpoint how these changes may or may not have influenced the use of working oxen in each of the regions.

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