Priestly plantations: an archaeology of capitalism and community in British North America
Masur, Laura Elizabeth
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This dissertation uses historical and archaeological evidence to examine changes in the landscape of two Middle Atlantic Jesuit plantations in order to understand the role that these places played in the development of rural communities. Between 1637 and 1919, the Society of Jesus established and managed eleven large estates, which provided financial support for Indian missions, colleges, and the infrastructure of the Catholic Church in America. These sites sat at the intersection of the capitalist American plantation system and the Jesuits’ ever-expanding network of missions. Religious goals and their means of economic support became irrevocably entangled in ways that supported the development of tightly-knit Catholic communities and led to the plantations’ economic failure in the mid-nineteenth century. Using archival research, archaeological survey, and the contextual analysis of Roman Catholic devotional objects, this dissertation examines how processes of landscape transformation on Jesuit estates structured and displayed social relations among surrounding communities. Analysis focuses on changes in agriculture, labor systems, built landscapes, and socioeconomic networks at two specific estates, St. Inigoes in southern Maryland and Conewago in central Pennsylvania. By examining the spatial distribution of structures and activity areas in an archaeological GIS, contextualized with historical data on agricultural production, laborers, and Jesuit finances, this dissertation shows how the plantations were representative of local agricultural and economic trends. Their religious orientation, however, made the properties distinctive, shaping the development of human relationships and creating subtle differences in the ways that people interacted with material culture. By the end of the nineteenth century, plantations were remembered as sacred places, and as the home of supernatural presences. Devotional artifacts excavated on Jesuit plantations and nearby sites provide evidence of spiritual beliefs, community networks, and missionary outreach. These objects, used within the context of community life, mediated relationships between humans and deities. Their presence at seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American Indian sites demonstrates connections between the plantations and the Jesuits’ Indian missions in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Religious material culture from nineteenth- and twentieth-century African-American sites on and near Jesuit properties shows the tenacity of Black Catholicism despite slavery, racism, and segregation within the Church.