Discussing Florida’s Gamble Plantation and Judah P. Benjamin Memorial

Bernard,

I started drafting the below as a reply to your post, but I found myself surprised and nonplussed by the outcome of my little “5 Whys” attempt.

One of my top books ever is Liker’s The Toyota Way from 2004. Principle 14 of The Way includes root cause analysis via the “5 Whys”. To determine the root cause of a problem or unexpected event, a group of knowledgeable people ask themselves, “why did this thing happen?” They come up with an answer: “Thus-and-so caused it.” The group then asks, “OK then, why did thus-and-so come to be?”. And so on, until the chain ends in a root cause, often after a few ‘why’ steps, sometimes only after many steps – on average perhaps 5, hence the name of the method. Any given chain to a root cause might or might not be true or correct. Sometimes multiple root causes turn out to be necessary. Eventually the group arrives at its best understanding of the root cause or causes, and then takes corrective action accordingly. I propose we carry out 5 Whys on your question about Gamble honoring Judah P. Benjamin. Not saying we’ll find the one and only correct and complete answer, just proposing another approach to your question.

Here’s one possible chain, citing the Wikipedia article on Benjamin:

  1. Why would Gamble honor Benjamin? Because he was brilliant and famous, and well worthy of honoring.
  2. Why was he famous? Because he rose to cabinet positions in our former own country, the Confederate States. He was Attorney General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State, each position more important than the previous. (He had previously been a US Senator, and had been appointed to the US Supreme Court but turned that down.)
  3. Why was he appointed to the Confederacy positions? Because he was an eloquent, skilled and wealthy slaveholder and lawyer who supported Davis and the Confederacy wholeheartedly.
  4. Why or how did he become wealthy and notable? He was truly brilliant, as people around him observed when he was very young. He entered Yale at 14, financed by a person not related to him, but he quit or was expelled before graduating, reportedly because of gambling. He thrived in New Orleans, a center of the slave trade, initially based entirely on his “wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy”. He published a highly successful book about commercial law and married a wealthy New Orleans Creole socialite. He had political ambitions which were constrained in part by a society that “would only trust a man who also owned substantial land and slaves”. He bought a sugar plantation and was a slaveholder for 10 to 15 years of his life.

At the root, then, it appears that Benjamin was cosmopolitan, brilliant, energetic, pragmatic, and politically ambitious within a particular milieu at a particular time. He was more moderate than most Southerners regarding slavery, for example arguing – against Jefferson Davis – in favor of repatriating Africans freed from British slaving ships. After escaping North America at the end of the Civil War, Benjamin made his way to England, where he lived the rest of his life and where he succeeded within a non-slaveholding society almost as much as he had in the US and the Confederacy.

Is it reasonable for the Gamble Plantation to honor him? Possibly yes, if the Wikipedia article is correct and if I interpret it correctly.

After re-reading your Gamble posts, it seems that you don’t so much object to honoring Benjamin as to NOT honoring also the many other humans, nearly all of them black slaves, who lived at the Gamble plantation, however long or however briefly, or who worked there. Have you found any new information in your researching?


Wayne,

If the people of Florida wish to honor Florida’s residents of the 1860s for whatever admirable qualities they supposedly had, I’d be fine with that: slaves were about 45% of Florida’s population in 1860, whites, pro-slavery and pro-Union were the rest.

Why, I ask, should the people of Florida honor a guy who had nothing to do with Florida, and was only in the state for two weeks while escaping justice for helping to bring calamity upon Florida’s white elite and Florida’s white society and economy? Of course, the Civil War brought freedom for the slaves, a result the opposite of the one anticipated by those who started the fight. Judah P. Benjamin was among them. Put in other words, Judah P. Benjamin, Jefferson Davis, and the other Southern white politicians, Robert E. Lee and the other men who repudiated their oaths of allegiance to the United States, and the elite, wealthy white planters and slave owners fought the government and people of the United States to defend and spread slavery. In this purpose, they failed. They brought ruin upon themselves and the other white people of the South. Indeed, the result of the war was the opposite of their goals. I can see honoring a warrior who lost in a just cause, but I cannot see why today’s Americans would have any interest in honoring men who lost a struggle for injustice and slavery.

The people who honor Confederate soldier ancestors say that their celebrations have nothing to do with the cause for which those soldiers fought, the defense and spread of slavery, but only honor their white ancestors for their courage. But Benjamin was not a soldier, and has no descendants in the US. I say that neo-Confederate people, not accepting that their side lost and fought for a disreputable cause, might want to honor him. But today’s Florida residents, black and white, have no reason to honor him.

Next defenders of these memorials say “that you can’t erase history.” No one wants to erase history, however, except for the neo-Confederate, Lost Cause people, who have systematically worked to erase from history those white Southerners who fought for the Union, and the contributions of those black people who fought for their freedom and that of their brothers and sisters still enslaved. Do you remember the fuss, from conservatives, when Michelle Obama said that the White House had been built by slaves?

Now the white people who put up and defend these memorials and displays may only honoring their white ancestors, not for their cause but for their valor. Consider, however, the movie Selma, about the famous march for voting rights led by Martin Luther King. As the marchers walked along the Southern roads to the State capital asking for the right to vote, white people lined those roads waving the Confederate battle flag. Were they doing this to honor the courage of their white ancestors? I don’t think so.

The US flag, the South Carolina flag, and the Confederate battle flag used to fly over that state’s capital’s dome. Ten years ago, or so, after a great battle, the battle flag was removed to the Confederate soldiers’ monument on the building’s grounds. It was finally removed after the Charleston church murders. But here are some significant facts about South Carolina. In 1860 about 55% of the residents in South Carolina were black slaves. South Carolina was one of the few states in which most white households had a slave. When South Carolina legislators say “we are just honoring our brave ancestors” what is the antecedent of the pronoun “we”? It doesn’t seem to me that that antecedent includes all South Carolinians. Indeed, it is a minority of South Carolinians of that day. In the matter of South Carolina, we have further evidence. The government of South Carolina didn’t fly that flag over the capital beginning in 1876 at the end of Reconstruction. That was when white South Carolinians and groups such as the KKK in a campaign of terrorism and murder disenfranchised their black citizens. The state legislature ordered the display of the battle flag in the 1960s to express their opposition to the great civil rights laws of that era. It’s not my opinion. That’s why they did it, so they said.

While it is possible to imagine a world in which some white people today only wish to honor their white Confederate ancestors, ignoring others of that era. But that is not the world in which we live.

Bernard


Bernard,

This might shed some light: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fljpbudc/index.html

 And this: http://www.floridadivisionudc.org/uploads/9/8/0/2/9802515/ritual.pdf

 And most of all, this: https://www.facebook.com/UDC1545/

 Plus finally: https://www.amazon.com/Abigail-Rose-Visits-Gamble-Plantation/dp/0692808809/.

My take is that the Bradenton FL chapter of Daughters of the Confederacy had the money, and the already-assigned hero Benjamin for their chapter’s name – plus there was the fact that Benjamin dodged through these parts briefly en route the UK – so they went ahead in 1925 with the Gamble purchase honoring Benjamin, and its donation to the state of Florida. So there was no special reason to honor him; he just happened to have come through the neighborhood.


Wayne,

The first three links are to sites for the Judah P. Benjamin chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They are bare bones, for the most part. The last one is to a new children’s book in which a white doll visits the Plantation. As the dedication is to The Gamble family, I’d guess that there isn’t much in the book about most people who lived there, who built the mansion, and who created and operated the sugar cane plantation. I’m not enthusiastic about the idea of investing $12 to read the book.

The Park manager told me that the terms of the property transfer require the state to return the property to the UDC if it, the state, wishes to remove the Benjamin Memorial.

It is for this reason that I’m thinking of a contribution to the park that explains who Benjamin is and why he is honored at this state park.

I’m sure that the UDC ladies would be unhappy about this, and they still meet on the park grounds.

As for another of your questions, one of the two men honored by Florida in Statuary Hall in the US Capital is Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, born in St. Augustine, and left Florida, never to return, to attend West Point. He was one of the most senior Confederate officers, and commanded the entire district west of the Mississippi at the end of the war. He surrendered his forces a month or so after Lee’s surrender. (Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee are also honored in Statuary Hall)

I learned when Lin and I visited St. Augustine that there was another general officer born in St, Augustine who left to attend West Point, never to return to a Florida. He remained loyal to the United States and served with distinction during the Civil War, but not as a field commander. His name escapes me at the moment. Can you think of any reason why the state of Florida would honor the one and not the other?

In fact, legislators in Tallahassee are planning to replace General Smith with a better representative of Florida.

Another remarkable fact is that the Army’s major base, Ft. Bragg, is named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg! He was an important commander in the western theater, eventually defeated by Gen. Sherman and Gen. Thomas (a Southern man who remained loyal to the Union, and thus, not honored in his home state or city). Early in the war, in 1862, Gen. Bragg was in command of Rebel forces that burned and abandoned Pensacola. A few dozen Union soldiers, with the help of the US Navy, kept control of Ft. Barancas controlling the entrance to Pensacola Bay, rendering Pensacola useless to the Confederacy. At the time, Pensacola was an important port populated by about 3000 residents. Burned by Bragg’s men under his orders.

I’m sure that you remember that When Gen. Sherman and his men drove the Confederates from Atlanta the city burned under uncertain circumstances. It was not Union men under orders, but it may have been Confederates destroying militarily useful stores, or cotton, whose fires spread out of control. Depicted in Gone With the Wind. All Southern white people know and hate Gen. Sherman for burning Atlanta, at the time a major rail hub with about 3000 residents. Why do you suppose that Southern people learn about the bad guy, General Sherman, but not the bad guy, General Bragg? Who is it who is erasing history.

Bernard

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