Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "They Gave the Children China Dolls": Toys and Enslaved Childhoods on American Plantations

The lives of enslaved children are often overlooked in archaeological studies of plantation life and historical discussions of changes in how children were viewed in American society. Using children’s toys from fifty-two slavery related archaeological sites from the United States in the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), I argue that enslaved children were included within the larger shifts in the ideas surrounding childhood that occurred between the early 18th and mid-19th centuries. This analysis of the types of toys and changes in the amount and types of toys over the 18th and 19th centuries on plantation sites, shows that toys given to enslaved children by white slave owners, and potentially enslaved parents, provided an important source of gendered socialization and are evidence of the inclusion of enslaved children within larger societal shifts in the meaning of childhood.