Slavery at Belmont Mansion
While slavery is often associated with large plantations, the institution permeated Southern culture. Belmont Mansion, or Belle Monte as it was known in the 19th century, was not a plantation but still relied on a large number of enslaved workers to maintain the estate.
A variety of factors have made researching the lives of Belmont's enslaved residents difficult. Beginning in 1889, the basement of Belmont, which served as the main workspace for many enslaved persons, was significantly remodeled with no care given to historic preservation. By the following year, in 1890, all the houses occupied by enslaved Blacks on the estate had been destroyed, leaving no physical presence for interpretation. Very little historic data, including census records, include last names of those who were enslaved, making it challenging to locate descendents through geneaology records. However, the staff continues to research as we endeavor to tell the stories of all who lived at Belmont.
Belmont Landscape Painting
This ca.1860 painting by an unknown artist depicts the entire Belmont Mansion estate. On the far right side of the painting, located on the hill behind the tree, you may make out the slave quarters where Freedom Plaza is today.
Slave Quarters at Belmont
To date this is the only surviving image of houses for the enslaved people at Belmont. In addition to these two buildings, we know there were five more located behind the Water Tower (now the Bell Tower) and five more between the Mansion and carriage house.
Fairview Slave Quarters
Although we have no photographic evidence from Belmont, we do have photographs of slave houses at Fairview plantation, Adelicia Acklen's home with her first husband Isaac Franklin. This photograph shows slave quarters and the overseer's house. (Photograph: Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Fairview Slave Quarters
Another image of the homes of enslaved people at the Fairview Plantation. It is likely that the houses at Belmont were similar, if not identical, to these. (Photograph: Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Montvale, the farm at Belmont, was destroyed in 1864. Records of the property's destruction includes information related to the number of slave dwellings on the property.
At Belmont, several extended families lived in slavery over the course of several generations. These families included the Baker and Snowden families, among others.
We have located just two first-hand accounts of slavery at Belmont. One account is from young William Acklin, a enslaved worker, and the other from a visitor to the estate.