The Dunlawton Plantation was no leisure spot. As a frontier agricultural and processing site, it demanded hard, physical, un-glamorous work. Without the labor of African-American slaves and hired free workers, this nineteenth-century venture would not have been possible.
In 1850 John Marshall reportedly had 25 slaves producing sugar, and he could have borrowed others from a relative during busy times. Elsewhere, house slaves probably helped Mrs. Marshall at the family home near the Halifax River. Yet most of Dunlawton's enslaved people labored outdoors and in the sugar factory. They cleared the stubborn land, plowed and planted cane fields, and cut and processed the crop - a continual job once the harvest began.
Even so, Dunlawton's needs went beyond cane handling, and slaves helped keep the plantation running in many ways. John Marshall also owned a sawmill, for which black workers would have cut timber, rafted logs, and more. To restart the sugar factory, he brought in free craftsmen - but also another planter's skilled slave. "I have no white carpenter," Marshall wrote in 1849, "but Mr. Sanchez' man John is a fine framer & works well." Labor of all kinds was a constant here.
Even Dunlawton's fields left footprints for many decades. Historian Harold Cardwell (who grew up near the ruins) recalls finding old cane furrows well into the twentieth century.
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Florida farming in the nineteenth century. Clearing land and managing cane fields were basic to the life of a sugar plantation.
Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection/State Archives.
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At work in the Florida woods, John Marshall reported rafting logs from Spruce Creed for his sawmill near the Halifax River.
Detail from a print in the Picturesque America, 1872.