There is little about the slaves who built and operated the Gamble Plantation


In Ellenton, Florida, near the southeastern shore of Tampa Bay, is the Gamble Plantation State Park. Linnea and I visited there.

Here’s the park’s web page.

Here’s one of the photographs from the web site:

It turns out that this pre-Civil War mansion was decaying until the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased it and refurbished it as a memorial the Judah Benjamin, a wealthy Louisiana slave owner and Confederate government cabinet officer whose only connection to Florida is that he hid in the front bedroom for a few weeks during his escape to Britain at the War’s end.

While the informed tour guide knew about the slaves who lived here, built the place, and operated the sugar plantation, he only referred to them in response to my questions. There is nothing of slave life on display, and I saw no evidence of archeological investigation of slave life.

Notice that in the photograph, from the Manager’s Message, the three white ladies, standing with a 1920s coupe. No slaves or black people in sight. Actually, I haven’t read that Mr. Gamble had a wife with him, and his 200 slaves must have formed the majority of people who lived and worked there.

Thus I’ve written a letter to the Park Manager. The text is below.

I look forward to your comments and those of readers.


September 6, 2016

Mr. Kevin Kiser, Manager

Gamble Plantation State Park

3708 Patten Avenue

Ellenton, FL 34222

Dear Mr. Kiser,

My wife and I visited the Gamble Plantation State Park, and we took the informative tour that the excellent and knowledgeable staff person provided.

It struck us that the mansion, especially the front, upper bedroom, was a shrine to Judah Benjamin. But Benjamin had no connection with Florida, except for a few weeks as he fled from the United States government. He was an important and wealthy Louisiana slave owner and politician, a U. S. Senator who turned against the United States over slavery, and who served in three cabinet posts in the Confederate States rebel government.

Indeed, the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the property, restored it, and donated it to the State of Florida to create a memorial to Benjamin. But the building and grounds are now a Florida State Park that serves Floridians as a historical and social monument to the early years of statehood.

As it exists today, the park serves the narrow interests of the UDC and does not serve those of Florida’s people. In the Manager’s Message on line you say “experience what life was like on a sugar plantation in the pre-civil war era.” But there is little at the park, the mansion, or the tour that explains what life was like on Florida sugar plantation. After all, most of the people who lived and worked on the plantation during the 1850s were black slaves. I read that Gamble had has many as 200 slaves. It was they who cleared the land, dug the canals, planted the cane and other crops, and did the notoriously back-breaking labor of harvesting and processing the cane. The slaves surely built the mansion and water tank. You say with “no power or running water, come see how they did household chores without modern conveniences.” Surely your meant for “they” to refer to the house slaves who did these chores. But there is nothing about them or their lives on the plantation on display or in the tour.

These days enlightened plantation homes do not slight or ignore the role slavery played in the gracious lives of the white plantation owners. My wife and I recently visited Mt. Vernon. We saw the well-furnished mansion with its beautiful views of the nearby river, toured the interesting kitchen garden, and listened to “Martha Washington” in period costume answering questions. But Mt. Vernon has restored some of the slave quarters, and there is an informative and moving special tour about slave life there.

What plans or efforts does Florida have to correct the historical record and archeological material displayed at the Park? Shouldn’t a Florida State Park be a place where any Florida resident, black or white, can visit and feel that Florida recognizes the contributions of their ancestors to building our state.

Sincerely yours,

Bernard Leikind


Filed under Florida History, Slavery

12 responses to “There is little about the slaves who built and operated the Gamble Plantation

  1. Ever the gadfly! A necessary role and one that suits you wonderfully. … My take is that humans (= chimps with large foreheads) hang dearly onto their early impressions and beliefs and myths, through thick and thin and despite all rational argument, because to jettison those leaves a person in a void, a nobody. Over time the population of Florida will become a beautiful shade of brown and so will this mansion, as Mt. Vernon has. The melting pot will prevail. I think you’re honorable and effective in seeking to speed up the process.


  2. Pingback: Suggestions for the Gamble Plantation Park | two heads are better

  3. Pingback: Who Was Judah P. Benjamin? | two heads are better

  4. Pingback: Why Do the People and Government of Florida Honor Judah P. Benjamin at the Gamble Plantation State Park? | two heads are better

  5. Rebecca

    I have family history at Gamble Mansion and am seeking to correct the romanticism of this plantation and somehow memorialize the slaves. Your letter is fantastic. Maybe we could start a little Facebook group to brainstorm? I’m having trouble finding allies….


  6. Noella

    I just visited the Plantation and took the tour. Yes, it is lily white. And we were told “not to judge too harshly,” because they lived in their time. And that we would be judged in a hundred years as well. What?!!!!


  7. Gamble descendant

    Rebecca, I’m interested in learning about the slaves on the gamble plantation. Have you created the fb page? Thank you


  8. Harlene Sperling

    Beautifully said Wayne. I hope they do correct this situation. I cannot comprehend how there is an antebellum plantation open for public tours and that there is no mention of slavery. It’s disgraceful, they erased the most important part of history of how this plantation was able function. Without the slaves there would of been no plantation and sugar cane produced. Shame on them, I am Caucasian with biracial grandchildren and would love to take them to the plantation to learn some hands on history. But from reading these comments I see it will be a lily white presentation. I haven’t been to the plantation state park as of yet but plan to. I really hope they change how the guided tour is presented.


    • bleikind

      Ms. Sperling,
      Thank you for your friendly comment on my blog post to my friend and co-blogger, Wayne.
      I would say that the tour guides and the small museum display where you buy your tickets make some reference to the slaves, but very little. The main interest of the guides and displays in the museum and in the house are the life of white slave owners in the 1850s.
      Compared to Monticello and to Mount Vernon, both of which now have interesting and moving special tours dealing with slave life, the Gamble House has little.
      Furthermore, the upper front bedroom of the mansion is given over to a memorial that honors Judah P. Benjamin, a man who hid out in that bedroom for a few weeks in 1865 but otherwise had nothing to do with Florida. he was a Louisiana lawyer, slave-owner, and U. S. Senator. He was a major civilian leader of the Confederate rebellion against the United States, holding three important cabinet posts in succession. He was in office throughout the rebellion, and fled with Jefferson Davis. Union troops captured Davis, but Benjamin, and effective defender of slavery during his career in the Senate and then in the Confederate cabinet.
      About a hundred years ago, the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the decaying property, restored it, and donated it to Florida on condition that the state maintain it as a memorial to Benjamin. Indeed, there is a state law that requires this disgrace.


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