Arthur Edgar E Smith writes: This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery which came after the end of the American civil war. This war which was fought between the slave holding states of the south and the Northern confederate states then under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln was in essence over the rights to hold slaves as property. The Southern states were known for their extensive exploitation of slave labour to work their plantations. Kentucky was of course one of such states. Last year whilst part of the Summer institute of the study of contemporary American Literature we were led on a conducted tour of the restored remains of one of such plantations and its slave house and other appendages. This plantation along with its slave house, Farmington, are preserved to reflect much of how it was then in the early 19th century.As we walked into the green grass carpeted lawn through the wooden paved walkway, several structures caught my attention apart from the 14-roomed Federal style home which is said to have been patterned from an architectural plan drawn by one-time U.S President, Thomas Jefferson.
This farm house was begun in1815 and completed in 1816. Its construction is said to have possibly involved large numbers of enslaved some of whom may have been skilled artisans such as blacksmiths, carpenters, sawyers and masons.
Learning that Abraham Lincoln, another former U.S President once lived here gave me more interest in it.
Slave life here was like it was at other large Kentucky plantations. John Speed who eventually owned the property migrated there from Virginia in 1782. He came along with his parents, brothers, sisters and family slaves. Towards the close of the 1790â€™s he was aready running the salt works at Mannâ€™s Lick in southern Jefferson County. Most of the laborers there were enslaved Africans hired from other slave owners. By 1809 Speed had accumulated enough from the salt works to enable him purchase land on Beargrass Creek, including the present site of Farmington, which he completed around 1809. Later that same year they were already moved in and living in cabins in this 550 acre Farmington property. In 1810 Speed is listed in census reports as owning ten slaves, two of whom were Phillis Thurston and her 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, Speedâ€™s slave ownership rapidly increased from 12 in 1811 to 39 in 1812 and then further rose to 43 in 1813. Speed also supervised the continuation of the road from Louisville to Bardstown , labor for which was provided by his plantation hands as well as those of Samuel Brays. Its completion enabled troops to move along the road and to be fed and clothed by the Speeds in the war of 1812.
From the completion of the Farmington slave house in 1816 unto Speedâ€™s death in1840 up to 64 enslaved Africans worked there. The plantation mainly grew hemp which was used to make rope and baggings 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 charged with the tasks of planting, harvesting and shipping products to markets. Helping in this were those laboring at the ropewalk and those who drove the wagons.
The Speeds inspite of being strongly pro-Union saw slavery as an accepted way of life as it was for all others in their community. For slave labor was essential to the profitable operations of the plantation. The profits derived from slave labor at Farmington as well as income from hiring them out helped to pay for luxury goods and for educating the children and other family necessities.
Responsibilities at the plantation were distributed amongst men and women slaves. Men mainly did the back-breaking job of harvesting hemp which entailed cutting, hauling and pounding open the hemp stalks on a hemp break. Each man was required to break 80-100 pounds per day with those who exceeded this being paid for their â€œextra workâ€. Women labored outside the house, milking cows and driving them to pasture and carrying heavy loads of wood and water a considerable distance to the house. Those in the house did the cooking and cleaning. They lit the fire, sewed the clothes, churned butter and performed many other household tasks. The Speed women were said to have being so dependent on slave labor that they would rely on a negro slave to bring them water rather than getting up themselves and move across the room to get it.
According to both James and Thomas Speed, John Speedâ€™s great-nephew and author of
RECORDS AND MEMORIES OF THE SPEED FAMILY, 1892, John Speed provided adequate surroundings for the black slaves at Farmington with each one and his wife having a comfortable room, with a fire in it, a bed and bed clothes, chairs, tables, and cooking utensils. Slaves were also encouraged to cultivate patches of land for themselves, using the profits to improve their clothing. Several of them including Morocco and Rose, the favored ones, were entrusted to carrying out special tasks of confidence such as carrying letters and messages back and forth, selling produce in the Louisville markets and transporting the children.
In reality , however, life at Farmington was far from rosy. Cases of resistance to enslavement there are many. In 1823, William C. Bullitt of the Oxmoor plantation placed an ad in the local newspaper for the capture of the runaway Ben Johnston, hired from John Speed. In 1826, Speed advertised for the capture of two skilled men, Charles Harrison and Frazier, who had escaped. Here below is another ad from the August 19, 1826 issue of the LOUISVILLE PUBLIC ADVERTISER being just one example of such ads placed in Louisville papers for runaway slaves.
John Speed died in 1840. Following his death Phillip Speed is reported
to have placed similar ads in 1851. Dinnie Thompson, granddaughter of Philis Thurston often related about how she and her mother, Diana Thompson, escaped from Mary and Eliza Speed only to be captured in a skiff as they were about to cross the Ohio River to freedom.
Upon Speedâ€™s death a 15 year old slave Bartlett suspected of setting fire to Farmingtonâ€™s hemp factory was sold by James Speed to W.H.. Pope & Co for $575,00
to be taken away from the state. After John Speedâ€™s death, 57 of his slaves were divided among his wife and children. To ensure each child received an equal share in the estate, some slave families were separated. Peay, husband of Speedâ€™s daughter, Peachy, bought the house and some acreage in 1846.
James Speed was well known for being a strong emancipationist. He is therefore reported to have expressed such anti-slavery feelings frequently during his interview in 1863 and on many public occasions. So by the early 1850â€™s it was not surprising that he had ceased being a slave owner. Then followed a spate of emancipations so that by 1865, the property had completely passed out of the familyâ€™s hands.
This rich and interesting history is restored and propagated to floods of visitor to this place through guides, films, books, exhibitions of pictures and relics and brochures chronicling facts of the 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 present presentation is based on an extensive reinterpretation and restoration completed in 2002 to reflect the life of the Speed family during 1840â€™s
The house is now newly restored with its original paint colors, historic wallpapers and carpets lining the walls and the floors and furnished with Kentucky furniture and other antiques of the period. It has been completely painted both inside and outside thus restoring it to its original bright blue, yellow and pink colors. The interior woodwork , the fireplaces in each room and the brasswork are all original as are many of the unusually large window panes which are all still in excellent condition. No house in Kentucky more gracefully embodies Federal architecture than it. Striking Jeffersonian features of its perfectly proportioned 14 rooms include two octagonal rooms imbedded in the center of the house, the adventurously steep and narrow â€˜hiddenâ€™ stairway and the fanlights between the front and rear halls. Exquisite reeded doorways, carved mantels, and marbleized baseboard add special elegance to its interior. Also of much interest to us are the elaborate early 19th century garden, with itâ€™s stone springhouse and barn, as well as cookâ€™s quarters, kitchen , blacksmith shop, museum store and a remodeled carriage house
As we toured the entire house we came to the basement room where Abraham Lincoln was said to have been lodged during his entire stay here.It was in August 1841 that Lincoln traveled from Illinois to visit Joshua Speed and family at Farmington. They had
developed a close friendship during the four years they had known each other and sharing living quarters. Through Joshua, it was that Lincoln, the young lawyer then, started widening his social and political circles. But by the time of his visit, a beleagured Lincoln had broken off his relationship with the bright and attractive young woman, Mary Todd. He had even decided against running for reelection. So when Joshua invited him over it was welcomed as a way of soothing his despair. Lincolnâ€™s
three weeks at Farmington would prove to be restorative. For he was warmly welcomed and befriended by the Speeds. Here he took long walks with his friend Joshua, borrowed law books from Joshuaâ€™s brother, James, who was later to become Attorney General in Lincolnâ€™s last cabinet. The recently widowed Mrs Speed gave Lincoln a Bible, counseling him to be reading it regularly. Farmington was important to Lincoln for it was probably the first slave plantation he had visited. So when writing back to Joshuaâ€™s half-sister, Mary in September 1841 following his departure from Louisville were said to be his first known written observation of slavery. Lincoln was shaken by seeing shackled slaves and slaves on the verge of being resold. His impressions of the horror of slavery never left him, and over the years slavery was perhaps the one subject he and Joshua could not agree on, though that did not undermine their lifelong mutual devotion to each other.