Visiting the Hampton Mansion truly felt like a step back in time. I have frequented numerous former plantation homes throughout the south, however, the level of preservation at Hampton’s historical site was nothing short of amazing. The Hampton Mansion was completed in 1790 and is the epitome of what historic preservation should look like. It serves as a reminder of what skilled laborers were able to accomplish without all of the swanky computer home design programs and modern-day tools.
It was explained to me by a friend and fellow history fanatic who lives in D.C., how important the former plantation was to the region prior to me researching. In most cases, when visiting former plantations, the “Big House” is highly touted with an abundance of information, however in the case of Hampton, I found it surprising that all aspects of the plantations structures provided adequate information to help curb one’s curiosity. Each remaining structure obtained detailed descriptions and it’s relevancy to the former plantation. While sitting on the steps of the Mansion, I looked across the lawn and imagined horses, buggies, men in suits and women dressed in the most up to date “southern” attire. The enslaved serving guest libations and food, while greeting guest by the dozens. With this mansion being one of the largest Georgian houses in the United States, it oozed the word formal parties, as well as mischief and other thoughts I shall not mention.
After snapping out of my gaze, I swiftly changed my focus on the white house surrounded by a fence with the fence directly across the street from the Mansion. Now of course the paved street was not original to the property, however it did provide the line of wealth versus “normalcy”. After passing the horse stables and private residences located near the premises, I made my way across the street. It was muddy and my new Cole Hann dress shoes unfortunately were getting more muddy each step, but it was nothing a towel and soap couldn’t fix.
Upon arriving, the home provided the imagery of the “white house with a picket fence”, that many at one point of time embodied as the allure of America. This was to show that you have made it to the upper echelon in society. The reality for me was…it was the overseers home, plain and simple. The responsibility of the overseer was to govern all aspects of plantations life. Overseers directed the daily work of the enslaved and were usually white males but occasionally an enslaved black man known as a “driver” would also govern his peers. The “driver” was promoted to the position by his enslaver. In some instances, plantations had enslaved and white overseers. Most in this generation who has watched the TV series The Boondocks would call the enslaved overseer as “Uncle Ruckus”.
Directly behind the overseer’s home on the Hampton National Historic Site were the slave quarters. The enslaved literally did not have a moment of privacy to themselves. I always felt the eyes of my mother, neighbors and educators watching me from kindergarten up until high school. At 18, I felt I had the freedom needed to explore and adopt my beliefs and interest in life (which often still are subject to change depending on the day). The individuals who inhabited these quarters had no choice. If born prior to 1865, they were most likely recipients of chattel slavery, which meant they would be watched their entire life unless their owner chose otherwise. Still, the fate of their future was not in their hands once adulthood approached like it was for me. During this trip I had to look inside the slave dwellings to look back at how far we have come, in doing such, I appreciate everyone who took on the burden that enables me to pay homage and constantly remind others of the blessings gifted from those who lived prior to 1865 and thereafter.