Last year marked the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade in the United States. The 1807 statute that effected it is entitled “An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves at Any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, etc.”
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 (while the Civil War was still going on 145 years ago stated that it applied only to:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except for the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and what excepted parts are left for the time being precisely as if this proclamation had not been issued.
Lincoln excluded areas under union control to avoid pushing the border states to join the confederation. The civil war that was fought between the southern slave states and the northern confederate states then under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln was, in essence, over the rights to own slaves as property. Because the southern states were known for their extensive exploitation of slave labor to work their plantations. Kentucky was one of those states.
In June 2006, while we were part of the Summer Institute for the Study of Contemporary American Literature, we were directed on a tour of the restored remains of one such plantation and its slave house and other appendages. This plantation, along with his slave house, Farmington, reflects much of how it was then in the early 1800s.
As we walked onto the green grass carpeted lawn through the wooden paved walkway, several structures caught my eye, in addition to the 14-room federal-style house, which is said to have been modeled after an architectural plan drawn up by former US President Thomas Jefferson.
This farmhouse was started in 1815 and completed in 1816. Its construction involved large numbers of slaves, some of whom may have been skilled craftsmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, sawyers, and masons.
Knowing that Abraham Lincoln, another former US President, once lived here, further increased my interest in exploring it.
Slave life here was like on other great Kentucky plantations, as our guide told us. John Speed, who eventually owned the property, emigrated there from Virginia in 1782, coming along with his parents, brothers, sisters, and family slaves. By the end of the 1790s he was running the salt factory at Mann’s Lick in southern Jefferson County and most of his workers were enslaved Africans who were hired by other slave owners.
By 1800, John Speed had married Abby Lemaster and was living in Pond Creek in Jefferson County, Kentucky as a prosperous businessman, owner of sixteen slaves who worked in the mills and sawmills, as well as the salt flats of Mann’s Lick. Soon a widower and with two young daughters, Mary and Eliza, John Speed married Lucy Gilmer Fry, twenty, of Mercer County in 1808. Lucy’s father, Joshua Fry, taught at Center College in Danville, Kentucky. . His maternal grandfather was Dr. Thomas Walker, one of Kentucky’s early explorers and also one of the young Thomas Jefferson’s guardians.
By 1809, Speed had accumulated enough from the salt flats to allow him to purchase land in Beargrass Creek, including the present Farmington site, which he completed around 1809. By purchasing a large tract of land in Beargrass Creek in early 1810, John Speed began building the fourteen-room federal-style brick house with Philadelphia master builders and skilled slave craftsmen. The house, with its octagonal side rooms, is similar in concept to several of Thomas Jefferson’s domestic designs. Farmington’s name is one that is shared with Charlottsville, Virginia, home of Lucy’s maternal aunt.
Later that year, they moved in and lived in cabins on this 550-acre property in Farmington.
In 1810, Speed appears in the census reports as the owner of ten slaves, two of which were Phillis Thurston and his brother, Morrocco, who were given to John and Lucy Speed by the Fry family who originally owned them. Then, with the establishment and development of the Farmington plantation, Speed’s slave ownership increased rapidly from 12 in 1811 to 39 in 1812 and then to 43 in 1813.
Speed also oversaw the continuation of the road from Louisville to Bardstown, with labor supplied by his plantation hands and those of Samuel Brays. The completion of this path allowed troops to move around to be fed and clothed by the Speeds in the War of 1812. During the Civil War, Joshua and James Speed played an important role in keeping Kentucky in the Union. Joshua traveled frequently to Washington and was instrumental in organizing the delivery of weapons to Union loyalists throughout the state. Because of this influence, Kentucky’s pro-Confederate Governor Beriah Magoffin and the legislature, also supporters of the Southern cause, were never able to tip the balance toward secession.
From the completion of the Farmington slave house in 1816 until Speed’s death in 1840, up to 64 enslaved Africans worked there. The plantation mainly grew hemp which was used to make rope and bags for the cotton trade. Replicas of these were seen as we toured the building. The farm also produced corn, hay, apples, pork, vegetables, wheat, tobacco, and dairy products. Slaves who worked in the fields were entrusted with the tasks of planting, harvesting, and shipping produce to markets. Those who worked on the gangway and those who drove the carts helped in this.
The Velocities, despite being strongly pro-Union, saw slavery as an accepted way of life as it was for everyone else in their community. Because slave labor was considered essential to the profitable operations of the plantation. Profits from slave labor in Farmington, as well as income from hiring them, helped pay for luxury items and children’s education and other family needs.
The responsibilities on the plantation were distributed between male and female slaves. Men primarily did the backbreaking work of harvesting hemp, which involved cutting, dragging, and splitting the hemp stalks into a hemp break. Each man was required to break 80-100 pounds a day, and those who exceeded this were paid for their extra work. Women worked outside the home, milking cows and driving them to pastures and carrying large loads of wood and water a considerable distance from the home. Those of the house cooked and cleaned. They built the fire, sewed clothes, churned butter, and did many other household chores. The Speed women were said to be so dependent on slave labor that they would rely on a black slave to bring them water rather than get up and cross the room to get it.
According to James and Thomas Speed, great-nephew of John Speed and author of Records and Memories of the Speed Family, 1892, John Speed provided a suitable environment for black slaves in Farmington, with each and his wife having a comfortable room, with a fire in it, as well as a bed and bedding, chairs, tables, and kitchen utensils. Slaves were also encouraged to cultivate plots of land for themselves, profits from which they used to improve their clothing. Several of them, including the favored Morocco and Rose, were entrusted with performing confidential special tasks, such as carrying and receiving letters and messages, selling goods in Louisville markets, and transporting children.
In reality, however, life in Farmington was far from rosy. The cases of resistance to slavery are many. In 1823, William C. Bullitt of the Oxmoor plantation placed an ad in the local newspaper for the capture of fugitive Ben Johnston, hired by John Speed. In 1826, Speed announced the capture of two able men, Charles Harrison and Frazier, who had escaped. Below is another advertisement from the August 19, 1826 issue of the LOUISVILLE PUBLIC ADVERTISER which is just one example of those advertisements placed in Louisville newspapers for runaway slaves.
John Speed died in 1840. After his death, Phillip Speed is reported to have placed similar advertisements in 1851. Dinnie Thompson, Philis Thurston’s granddaughter, often recounted how she and her mother, Diana Thompson, escaped from Mary and Eliza Speed only to be caught in a skiff as they were about to cross the Ohio River to freedom.
After Speed’s death, a 15-year-old slave, Bartlett, suspected of setting fire to the Farmington hemp factory, was sold by James Speed to WH .. Pope & Co for $ 575.00 to have it taken away. of the state. After John Speed’s death, 57 of his slaves were divided between his wife and children. To ensure that each child received an equal share of the property, some slave families were separated. Peay, husband of Speed’s daughter Peachy, bought the house and some acres in 1846.
James Speed, known to be a strong emancipationist, is said to have frequently expressed anti-slavery sentiments during his interview in 1863 and on many public occasions. So, in the early 1850s, it was not surprising that he had ceased to be a slave owner. A series of emancipations followed, so that by 1865, the property had passed completely out of the hands of the family.
Before and during the war, some members of the Speed family freed their slaves. According to court documents, on the same day in 1845, Lucy G. Speed, John’s widow, and her daughter Lucy F. Breckinridge emancipated three slaves: Rose, Sally, and their son Harrod. Other members of the family, such as sons J. Smith, Joshua, Phillip, and daughters Mary and Eliza, freed their slaves between 1863 and 1865.
This rich and interesting history is restored and spread to the floods of visitors to Farmington House through guidebooks, films, books, photo and relic exhibits and brochures recounting facts of history and the restoration and preservation of it all.
Farmington is said to have opened its doors to the public as a museum in 1957. But since then it has undergone several renovations and reinterpretations. Its current presentation is based on an extensive reinterpretation and restoration completed in 2002 to reflect the life of the Speed family during the 1840s.
The home has been recently restored with its original paint colors, historic wallpapers and rugs lining the walls and floors, and is furnished with Kentucky furniture and other period antiques. It has been fully painted both inside and out, returning it to its original bright blue, yellow and pink colors. The interior joinery, fireplaces in each room, and brass work are original, as are many of the unusually large window panes that still remain in incredibly excellent condition. No home in Kentucky embodies federal architecture more gracefully than she does. The striking Jeffersonian features of its 14 perfectly proportioned rooms include two octagonal rooms embedded in their center, the narrow and boldly steep hidden staircase, and fan lights between the front and rear hallways. Exquisite reed doors, carved shelves and a marble plinth add a special elegance to your interior. Also striking is the elaborate early 19th century garden, with its stone spring and barn, as well as the kitchen, blacksmith shop, museum shop and a remodeled garage.
As we toured the entire house, we came to the basement room where Abraham Lincoln is said to have been housed throughout his stay here and we were astonished to see that we were shown many items that are living witnesses to his stay. We knew that we were also partners in that historic moment. Lincoln traveled from Illinois to visit Joshua Speed and his family in Farmington in August 1841. They had developed a close friendship during the four years they met and shared accommodations. Through Joshua, Lincoln, the young lawyer at the time, began to expand his social and political circles. But at the time of his visit, a beleaguered Lincoln had broken up with the bright and attractive woman Mary Todd. He had even decided not to run for reelection. So when Joshua invited him in, Abe greeted him as a way to calm his despair.
Lincoln’s three weeks at Farmington would be truly restorative. Because it was a warm welcome and he became friends with the Speeds. There he took long walks with his friend Joshua, borrowing law books from Joshua’s brother James, who would later become Attorney General in Lincoln’s last cabinet. Mrs. Speed, who had just become widowed, gave Lincoln a Bible and advised him to read it regularly.
As Judge John Speed had progressive views regarding the education of women and thus encouraged his daughters to study diligently, as opposed to the prevailing custom that placed a higher value on extensive education Of the men, Lincoln found these educated women of Speed to be delightful company. In general, he found the Speeds an educated and cultured family, fond of music, literature and good conversation. They loved music so much that for several years they sponsored Anton Phillip Heinrich, a Bohemian composer. While living in Farmington, he created several of his famous works that appeared in his collection, The Dawning of Music in Kentucky. Later called the Beethoven of America, Heinrich is considered America’s first professional composer. It certainly influenced John Speed’s eldest daughter, Mary, who was an accomplished pianist and composer.
Farmington was important to Lincoln because it was probably the first slave plantation he ever visited. So when he wrote to Joshua’s half-sister Mary in September 1841 after his departure from Louisville, he expressed what was said to be his first known written observation of slavery. Because Lincoln was shocked to see chained slaves and slaves about to be resold. His impressions of the horror of slavery never left him, and over the years, slavery was perhaps the only subject that he resolutely opposed.
Farmington is just one of many buildings associated with slavery that have been preserved and many of which have been turned into museums and I would very much like to visit them. I would limit myself to those in Africa that it would be feasible for me to visit. First, let me acknowledge my progress on that plan by visiting the island of Goree in July 2007, just one year after my visit to Farmington.
This infamous island of Gorée shaped like the African continent, was the last sight of Africa seen by captured men and women led into a life of slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean. Through a cruise to the island, we visit the Slave Houses and the Forts used for the slave trade passing through the Gate of No Return and the museums to learn more about the island’s past through a lecture given by the curator Joseph N’Diaye. After that we enjoy lunch at a restaurant on the island and sail back to Dakar.
St. George’s Castle in Elmina, one of several former slave forts along the Atlantic coast of Ghana, is a popular destination and pilgrimage site for African Americans and visitors from around the world with its slave dungeons and cells as punishment. as well as a slave auction room that now houses a small museum that are traumatic sights to endure.
Cape Coast Castle and Museum is another. Cape Coast Castle also played a prominent role in the slave trade with its slave dungeons, the Palaver room, the tomb of an English governor and more. The castle was the seat of the British colonial administration for almost 200 years. The Museum now houses artifacts from across the region, including artifacts used during the slave trade. An informative video provides a good introduction to the business of slavery and shows how it was carried out.
The Gold Coast in Ghana is lined with old forts used by European powers during the slave trade, some of which have been converted into guesthouses and other forts such as Fort Amsterdam in Abanze have many original features, reflecting what it was like during the slave trade. .
Salaga, in northern Ghana, was the site of a major slave market whose grounds; slave wells that were used to wash slaves and fix them for a good price; and a huge cemetery where slaves who had died were buried have been preserved for visits and as relics.
The island of Gorée (Ile de Goree) is Senegal’s main destination for those interested in the history of the transatlantic slave trade.
The main attraction is the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) built by the Dutch in 1776 as a detention point for slaves, which in turn has been turned into a museum where you will be guided through the dungeons where they were being held. the slaves and you will learn exactly how they were sold and shipped.
Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin, which was established as a major slave trading post by the Portuguese in the 17th century, has many ruined castles that can still be explored as I did with our own ruined fort in the Bunce Island in Sierra Leone long before the devastating war.
Ouidh (west of Coutonou) is where the slaves captured in Togo and Benin would spend their last night before embarking on their transatlantic journey. There is a History Museum (Musee d’Histoire d’Ouidah) that tells the story of the slave trade there.
The Route des Esclaves is a 4 km road lined with fetishes and statues where the slaves took their last walk to the beach and the slave ships. Important monuments have been erected in the last town on this road, which was the “point of no return.”
Albreda, an island that was an important slave post for the French, is now also a museum for slaves.
James Island was used to keep slaves for several weeks before they were shipped to other West African ports for sale. A dungeon where slaves were held for punishment still remains intact.
Lesser known but worth visiting slave trading sites in West Africa include the island of Gberefu and Badagry in Nigeria; Arochukwu, Nigeria; and the Atlantic coast of Guinea.