Sheltering colonialism: the archaeology of a house, household, and white Creole masculinity at the 18th-century Little Bay Plantation, Montserrat, West Indies
Striebel MacLean, Jessica
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In the final quarter of the 18th century, a planter's dwelling overlooking the Caribbean Sea at Little Bay on the northwest coast of Montserrat in the British Leeward Islands was destroyed by fire and never reoccupied. Archaeological excavations in 2010 and 2011 yielded fragments of personal adornment, dress, household furnishings, and the house containing them providing an intimate portrait of an anonymous white male and his domestic arrangements. We do not know much about the planter class, though its members were central to the structure of 18th-century West Indian society. I use this rich archaeological data alongside archival, pictorial, and comparative analyses to particularize a West Indian planter and investigate the construction of colonial Creole identity. Evidence from archaeological, architectural, and ethnographic sources allow a reconstruction of the plantation house as a single-pile, three-cell plan, wood-frame structure with a raised masonry foundation and front gallery. This form, adapted to the Caribbean environment, altered English understanding and use of private and public spaces. Through archival research, I linked Little Bay to the Piper family, documenting its transfer through generations of unmarried male relatives. At the time of the fire the inhabitant was a Montserratian born, third-generation white male of English descent, meaning a white Creole. Ceramic gaming disks and glass beads identical to examples found in enslaved contexts indicate a household comprised of domestic slaves and planter. The head of household was a wealthy male versed in 18th-century British aesthetics as shown by a fob seal, coat buttons, and flintlock pistol. Punch bowls, glassware, tea and tableware reflect refined British cultural sensibilities, but as first-person travelogues recount, such goods were redeployed in distinctive colonial form with Creole open-door sociability and shared domesticity with household enslaved. Taken together, the finds demonstrate how this colonial Creole used English material goods to craft a distinctive form of white masculine identity within the West Indian planter class. In this world of mixed classes, races, and heritages, such formulations required choices. My research highlights how British objects and local practice combined to create new meanings for plantation society in Montserrat and the West Indies.
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