Account of Slavery at Belmont

 

Although little is known about the life of the enslaved people and other estate workers at Belmont, we have located a few accounts which are incorporated into our tour and our publications. Our objective is to continue gathering details on all aspects of the 19th century story of Belmont Mansion. A story that includes the full diversity of people who lived on this estate.   

To that end, we invite researchers and descendants to share information on the enslaved population. Discovering the details that complete the story comes through many forms: family stories, papers and letters, and legal documents. Join with us on the journey to telling a more complete 19th century history; a journey best done in partnership. If you have questions about an individual known to have been at Belmont, we welcome your inquiries.

Image of enslaved man in the original 1860s Belmont Landscape Painting

The following excerpt presents a biased and glorified picture of life in the antebellum south. It was written at a time and in a style that valued an idealized image of Southern life and is shared as evidence of the scarcity of objective and factual evidence of life for the enslaved people of Belmont. Additionally, the passage documents the demeaning racial stereotypes commonly held and recorded by whites at the time. 

From “Hospital pencilings: Being a diary while in Jefferson General Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind., and others at Nashville, Tennessee as a matron and visitor” by Elvira J. Powers, pages 33-34. 

 

That beautiful baronial domain known as the Achlen estate is situate about two miles out of town. For attractions it has extensive grounds, with great variety and profusion of shrubbery, among which flash out here and there, life-like statues of men and animals, and miniature monuments and temples. A fountain jets its diamond drops, while an artificial pond is the home of the tiny silver and gold fish. Beside the noble family mansion is another building nearly as spacious, which is used as a place of amusement. A well-filled conservatory is another beautiful feature, while an observatory, which crowns an imposing brick tower, gives a view of the scenery for miles around.

 

This estate with large plantations, in Louisiania, were accumulated by the owner, while in the business of slave-driving and negro trading. His name was Franklin. After his death his youthful widow married a gay leader in the fashonable world, known in the southern society of Memphis and New Orleans, as Joe Achlen. Under his direction the estate was improved and beautified at a cost of $1,000,000.”

 

At the commencement of this war, it was had in contemplation by the Confederate officials, to purchase the estate and present it to his Excellency, Jeff. Davis; but they will probably defer making that munificent gift, until the Federal army is at a safer distance.

 

An intelligent chattel, who has been on the place twenty years, informs us that Achlen was a kind master. That when he visited his plantations in Louisiana, the negroes would welcome him at the wharf, and if it was the least muddy, would take him upon their shoulders and carry him to the house. But despite this fact, the negroes have somehow got the impression that freedom is preferable to slavery. So strongly are they impressed with the desire of owning themselves, that out of 900 who were on the estate and plantations at the commencement of the war, but five remain at the former place, and these with wages of $15.00 per month, while about the same number are at each of the plantations, these kept also by wages.

 

The death of Achlen occurred last fall; his widow is much of the time in New Orleans, but the property is neatly kept by what was formerly a part of itself.