Frederick Law Olmsted and the cultural geography of southern slave autonomy

2016-12-09T15:05:58Z (GMT) by Catherine Armstrong
Frederick Law Olmsted’s account of his journeys through the southern states, undertaken from 1852-57 reveals that Olmsted, in whom a sense of place was especially strong, characterised enslaved people’s relative freedom by place, delineating the plantation (even its slave quarters) as the areas of strictest control while liminal spaces at the edge of plantations, as well as roads, rivers, towns, markets and cities represented places of autonomy. These sites became places of resistance, with Olmsted contrasting his depictions of supposedly docile, naïve, slow-witted slaves on the plantation, with those more articulate, confident and able whom he met on the margins. In revealing the potential of African-Americans to live as free people in the United States, Olmsted reinforced the normalisation of the plantation for slave experience. This chapter will explore examples such as the landscape strategies of southern maroons and Olmsted’s slaves’ autonomy by road, river and sea.