Manipulating the landscape was one of the primary ways plantation owners used space to demonstrate their wealth, power, and control over nature and their property. During the 1840s, Dr. Brome began establishing a tightly controlled landscape, placing his manor house on the axis between the local white community and his agricultural areas.

In 1841, Brome constructed St. Mary’s Manor as the central focal point of St. Mary’s City. Brome prominently positioned the Manor on the St. Mary’s River to make it visible to approaching ships. Brome built his home at the end of a long, teardrop-shaped driveway, making the house appear larger and more imposing than it actually was to visitors. The house was a two-bay, side passage home, mimicking a contemporary style. Formal gardens were located northwest of the house, facing the public area of St. Mary’s City. Brome constructed outbuildings, slave quarters, and barns west of the house, which served a symbolic purpose; obscuring plantation activities from public view, yet still displaying Brome’s wealth and status through his home and gardens.

This map shows the outline of St. Mary’s Manor, the end of the driveway, and Brome’s gardens on one side and outbuildings on the other. The map was created by archaeologists at Historic St. Mary’s City.

The Public Side

By orienting the public components of his home towards the other public spaces in St. Mary’s City, Brome carefully presented his home as part of the town’s landscape. This is particularly meaningful considering this use of space reflected Brome’s participation in developing and managing the area. He served as a vestry at the Trinity Church for much of his life. He donated the land for and served on the founding Board of Trustees for the St. Mary’s Female Seminary. He also helped to fund the construction of Brome’s Wharf, which served as a primary steamship stop well into the 20th century. By orienting the public component of his home towards these institutions, Brome made it clear to visitors and guests of his plantation, the Seminary, the Church, and the Wharf that he was the caretaker of the town. Such approaches to the landscape was standard among the planter elite, who demonstrated their social status by tying their homes directly to the town landscape.

From the left: the steamship Dorchester docking at Brome’s Wharf; the Trinity Church; St. Mary’s Female Seminary.

The Working Side

Archaeological and architectural evidence indicates that the buildings where slaves worked and lived were all located southeast of the manor home. In the manor home, the kitchen was located furthest to the east, and a crawlspace above the kitchen likely served as living quarters for the cook and servants. The dairy, smokehouse, and carriage house stretched further eastward. The Agricultural Complex lay furthest east, and included a tobacco barn, granary, and pens for livestock. All these spaces were primary work areas for Brome’s slaves.

The slave quarters stood behind these work spaces. Most of the quarters disappeared in the late 19th century after Emancipation. One still stands, although in a different location, and another was discovered archaeologically. Archaeological survey and historical documents suggest that there may have been as few as six or as many as nine slave quarters that extended in a row behind the work buildings [read more about the archaeological survey conducted at St. Mary’s City]. The 1870 census, in particular, shows a number of Brome’s former slaves still occupying the nine buildings listed after his in the record. Combined with the survey data that suggests a row of domestic sites, there is ample evidence to suggest that this quarter row may exist.

Brome’s plantation layout suggests he wanted a heavily controlled landscape, both to present himself to peers as a model for southern gentility and as a means of controlling his slaves. The arrangement of the slave quarters and work spaces ensured that Dr. Brome could maintain daily surveillance over his laborers, making the landscape a difficult place for African Americans to operate in private. By using his home to divide public and work areas, Brome defines these spaces as free and enslaved: slaves were to function within only certain areas on the plantation. Despite these conditions, enslaved African Americans used the spaces they were allotted as a means of creating as much independence as possible, in addition to negotiating the boundaries set by Brome in order to experience life outside the plantation.

2 Comments

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