Honoring the Enslaved
Research Publication and Exhibit Panel
Over the years, Belmont Mansion staff, volunteers, and university students have uncovered many records about the enslaved here at Belmont. A partnership with Dr. Erica Hayden and her students at Trevecca Nazarene was instrumental in expanding that knowledge base. These sources have then been complied into a research publication titled "In the Shadows - The Enslaved People and Estate Workers of Belmont Mansion." Our goal with this book is to make all of this research easily accessible to the general public. However, history is not static and new information often comes to light when it is least expected. Consequently, this publication is regularly updated to reflect our most current research.
Another way visitors are able to engage with the story of the enslaved here at Belmont is through an exhibit panel in our museum shop which focuses specifically on the stories of Eva Snowden Baker and Brutus Jackson.
Additionally, we are regularly updating our tour materials to help all of our historical interpreters better explain the history of all the enslaved people here at Belmont.
Freedom Plaza: A Memorial to Those Once Enslaved
The location of this memorial was intentionally selected. For it was on and near this site where housing once stood that served as homes for the people who, not by their own free will, lived and worked on the Belmont Estate.
The enslaved people moved onto the site Belle Monte before the Acklen family. In October of 1850, 13 men, women and children were living and working here. They were aiding in the building the many structures and landscaping this 180-acre property. When the Acklens moved onto the estate in late summer of 1853 approximately 13 more enslaved people joined those who were already here. By 1860, there were five - two room houses of brick located where Freedom Plaza is now as well as an additional five houses on the adjoining garden farm of the estate - Montvale. In the 1860 census, 32 enslaved people lived on the property, ranging in ages from 1 year old to 32.
The houses and other buildings on the adjoining garden farm where torn down by the Union army in December of 1864 in preparation for the Battle of Nashville. The houses on this site, not a part of the original college campus, along with the stables and carriage house were torn down when this part of the estate was divided into residential lots for growing Nashville. The buildings - like their stories - were then lost.
But here - on this site - men and women who by their forced labor made this estate come to life. People like Mortimer and Amanda cooked the food for all who lived here. People like Fred and James grew most of the food that fed this community. People cared for the farm animals, including William who drove the wagons and the carriages and tended the horses. Rena Gibbs, Maria and her daughter Mary Ann served as maids; Joseph served in the house; Frances and Aggie raised the children; Brutus worked as the valet and others like Ben, Sally, Alexander and Betsy who served in many other roles that made life here possible.
And at night, - on this site,- those enslaved people found the freedom needed to create a life for themselves. At this location they formed relationships, birthed and raised children, cared for their loved ones – and for at least two – George and Randolph – they sought freedom through laboring for the Union Army. But for many, their stories are still largely unknown to us. These names stand as testament to their work and their humanity. This memorial exists to bring them back into view to those who pass here today.
Freedom Plaza was dedicated to the men, women and children enslaved at Belmont Mansion on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, January, 18, 2021.
London and Salley's Grave Markers
While researching the lives of the enslaved at Belmont Mansion, staff and volunteers uncovered information that led to two unmarked graves in Nashville City Cemetery belonging to two of the people enslaved by the Acklen family.
London died at the Acklen's townhouse (in downtown Nashville) on Cherry Street in February of 1850 and was buried on February 16th. Neither the cause of death or London's age was recorded. Salley died at Belmont in March of 1862 at the age of 23 and was buried on March 21st. The cause of death was recorded as "Pneumonie". Both were buried in what was then called the "Negro lot".
In 2016, headstones for both London and Salley were installed by the Belmont Mansion Association. That following spring, a memorial service was held at their gravesite.
It is unclear if other enslaved people died at Belmont between 1853 and 1864. There is no recorded data documenting any burials on the Belmont estate.
Research Will Continue
We acknowledge that these steps we have taken do not complete the story - they only add details to it. Our work learning and sharing the stories of the enslaved people here at Belmont will always be an ongoing process.