Kevin Kiser, the manager of the Gamble Plantation State Park, and Judah Benjamin Memorial, replied to my recent letter. Here’s his e-mail:
Dear Mr. Leikind,
Thank you for your interest in our Park, I always like to get input from the public. I hope you don’t mind my decision to write you via email instead of printed letter, at DEP we always want to save paper. The issue of slavery is definitely a story we want to tell more about. One of the problems we face is we have to be very accurate in any story we tell and without any written records left from Gamble (they were all burned in a fire of barn that he stored his furnishings that he removed from the plantation following his bankruptcy). The Parks Unit Management Plan was recently updated and we added the need to build a replica slave quarters to tell more of the whole plantation story. I’m also wondering if you had a chance to look through the park’s museum as it is not mentioned in your letter. In the Museum you will find more information on how the mansion was constructed including samples of pie brick used to form the pillars and the 1860 census that show 185 slaves and their names. There is also some quotes from Gamble from a paper in Tallahassee were he talked about how he armed his slaves because of the threat of Indian attack.
I would also like to know more about your tour guide the day you were here. It sounds like you may not have gotten all the info we like to give about chores and how some of the items in the house were used. We have a work room and the kitchen that should have involved more on the topic of slavery than it sounds like you got.
The subject of Judah P Benjamin and his role at the house has been a long debated one. Since it is clear that he was here, even for less than a week, it is the reason that the UDC saved this building and property from destruction and donated to the State to become a State Park. They also had a reverter clause in the deed that if the grounds were not used as a memorial that the property would be returned to them. Reverter clauses were pretty common when property gets donated to the state. I also manage Madira Bickel Mound in Terra Ceia and it too has a reverter clause. Benjamin’s role in escape was further protected by the legislature(in the 1970’s I believe) that Benjamin could not be removed from the mansion.
We do strive to give the best tour and experience possible, given the very limited funds and staff that we do have. We often times use volunteers to give the tours and they may not have the expertise if they are new to us. I would like to speak with you more to see if there is any info or tips we could use to incorporate it into our tour. Please feel free contact by this email or you can call me directly at my office 941-723-4536
Judah P Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park
Cockroach Bay Preserve State Park
Terra Ceia Preserve State Park
Madira Bickel Mound State Archaeological