Consider historic lessons held at Longwood
At this time there have been renewed calls for the destruction of monuments and other memorials to the Confederacy.
By extension this includes the buildings built before and during that period, which are now preserved as museums.
The call goes out that these museums be permanently closed or even destroyed. This is a move, which would ultimately be counter-productive and I shall explain my reasoning.
I currently serve as the curator at one of these museums, the Longwood House museum, located in Natchez.
We at Longwood are keenly aware of the sordid history of slavery in this country, and we do nothing to hide or sugar coat this history. Over the past few years we have been working to weed out the myths about the house and go with a strictly document-based interpretation. This could be done with any house of that period, but one visit to Longwood will show you that we are not just another old house.
Longwood is a unique piece of American architectural history, on several levels. First of all, it is a home where construction was started in 1860 and never completed.
It is also is the largest octagonal home in the country. It is considered to be the finest work of its designer, Mr. Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia, and it gives insight to how buildings were put together 160 years ago.
It gives us the chance to not only tell the story of the wealthy plantation owners who commissioned its construction, but also those who labored to build it (both free and enslaved).
Thousands of man-hours of work were involved in the construction of Longwood. While some of them were Northern contractors with the specialized skills needed for such a project, the majority of the labor was from the enslaved. The most tangible evidence of their lives can be found in the bricks of Longwood itself.
The house contains approximately 750,000 bricks. Each one of these bricks was hand made by an enslaved man, woman or child, the names of whom will probably be forever lost to history.
Some trace of their lives remains though, if you look carefully you can find their fingerprints preserved in the fired bricks. This is their legacy and it is of paramount importance that we preserve and maintain it.
Research is ongoing into the lives of the actual builders of Longwood and in the next few years we plan to unveil new displays and exhibits about those enslaved by the Nutt family. These would be valueless without their context, Longwood. My goal as curator is that we use Longwood as a tool to teach the future about the past.
James Wade is curator, Longwood House Museum in Natchez.