Although European American slaveholders owned the land and controlled its use, due to the absence of large communities of European Americans, Africans were in more important roles, as farm supervisors, landscape engineers, and community leaders than in other areas of the United States.
The cultural worlds of slaves in this area, then, are particularly vivid and impressive.
These are questions that historians confront when their use of documents is thwarted by the near absence of appropriate records.
A way into the void is to look for history by exploring many diverse kinds of objects and evidential forms, including but not limited to, written records.
Enslaved Africans were able to form large communities in the coastal southeast.
European American settlers retreated from the malaria that spread from parasites brought from Africa.
Working across methods from anthropology and history, cultural historians have assembled the shards to explore the “whole way of life” of people in the past.
This requires reconstructing the structure of social constraints and opportunities to consider how the “stuff” people left behind—whether documents or otherwise—was actually used.
But documents cannot be our only source of evidence for understanding these worlds. "From the last week in May until the first week in November it was considered deadly for an Anglo-Saxon to breathe the night air on a rice plantation; the fatal high bilious fever of the past was regarded as a certain consequence, while the African and his descendants were immune.
Hence every rice planter had a summer home either in the mountains, or on the seashore, or in the belt of pine woods a few miles from the river, where perfect health was found." Picture the floor of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia.