Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Torkelson, Jacob (2019). “Where shall we go?”: Race, Displacement, and Preservation at Slabtown and Yorktown Battlefield (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


Slabtown, a community descended from refugee slaves and freedpersons, existed at Yorktown Battlefield from the 1860s until the 1970s when it was intentionally demolished by the National Park Service. Colonial National Historical Park edited out Slabtown’s legacy, wholly disregarding the contributions of African Americans to the heritage of Yorktown Battlefield. Why was this decision made? What happened to Slabtown? And what does this mean for the future of Yorktown Battlefield? This thesis advocates for the preservation of landscape traces in Slabtown, and seeks to prove that the voids and absence of buildings are a powerful preservation and interpretive resource that can augment more traditional methods of historical research and storytelling that are not place-based. Purposeful preservation of the landscape traces gives voice to and empowers an otherwise silenced community. The editing out of Slabtown reveals the problem of traditional National Park Service preservation concepts, tools, and policies; especially as they are applied to cultural landscapes. By establishing Slabtown as a layered site with multiple interwoven narratives, partially present and partially erased, this thesis reveals how other cultural landscapes, when treated as dynamic places with multiple periods of significance, can tell a better and more complete story of a place.


cultural landscapes, landscape preservation, NPS, contraband, layered



Date Posted: 03 June 2019