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