Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Farm Tool Museum

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Institution Name: Sweet Briar College
Original/Historic Place Name: Slave Cabin on the Fletcher farm
Location on Campus: back of Sweet Briar House
Date(s) of Construction:
1840original construction
Designer: unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Regionalist/Vernacular (Glossary)
Significance: history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: field stone
Walls: frame with clapboard siding
Roof: standing seam metal
ca. 1840other (slave cabin)
ca. 2004-present (2006)museum (farm tool museum)

The Slave Cabin is a one story gable roof, frame and clapboard structure with cedar shake shingle roof. The foundation and chimney are constructed of irregular stacked field stone and mortar.

The slave cabin is significant because it is a rare surviving example of a mid-nineteenth century plantation slave quarter. According to John Michael Vlach in his book "Back of the Big House," the typical field slave cabin of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were often built of mud and sticks, brick or field stone. During the nineteenth century, many planters favored plank-covered frame houses with lath and plastered interiors if they deemed it prudent to provide healthier and more comfortable homes for their slaves. Vlach also notes that the majority of these dwellings "were often so poorly constructed that they had little chance of surviving into the twentieth century. Indeed, from all accounts many of these structures were falling apart even when the slaves were living in them." The Slave Cabin at Sweet Briar College, believed to have been built in the 1840's or 1850's on the Fletcher plantation, is an excellent example of a clapboard-sided one-room slave quarter with a loft. The fact that it has survived through the twentieth century is a tribute to its more substantial construction.


Harnsberger, Douglas. Historic Structures Report. Sweet Briar, VA: Sweet Briar College, 1997.

Henry, Geoffrey B. Sweet Briar College Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1995.

Sasaki Associates Inc. Master plan. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], 1997.

Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.


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Last update: November 2006