When finally we entered the house we were greeted by a woman in period dress. She took us in to a room and started to tell us the stories of the two most prominent families that lived in the house. A house made possible by the hard work and slavery of other human beings. She made no excuses for slavery. She told us the facts and did not try to sugar coat any part of how the slaves were treated. She seemed proud to, as she put it, "finally tell the story," of those that suffered.
The beauty of the house was obscured, to me at least, by the pictures in my mind. A slave boy working a huge fan. A slave woman serving tea to those who looked at her as an object with no depth. It was hard for me to let go and separate the house from the slave shacks. I wondered what it took for one person to believe they had the right to own another. It was foreign to me. How do you look a man or woman in the eyes and believe you are allowed to buy and sell them? Split up their families on your whim. Sell their children like a piece of furniture. Then go into an extravagant house to let one of their other children cool you with a giant fan.
|A fan used to cool the family during dinner, operated by a young slave.|
Along with the large silverware and gold rimmed dinner plates sat cloth napkins draped over something. Underneath, was explained, were fly catchers. Windows didn't have screens, so an apparatus with sugar water was on the table. It was made in a way that a fly could get in, but not get out. The napkin, well, would you want to eat with a jarful of dead flies staring at you?
The rest of the house was full of beautiful furniture and craftsmanship. Yet, I found myself feeling suffocated and wanted the tour to end. Our guide, was doing a very good job telling the stories. Yet I was in another place. Thinking of people playing games in the parlor, or giggling with their young children, all the while planning to rip someone else's child away to be sold. Teaching their young children that it was perfectly normal and acceptable to buy and sell people. To let people be beaten and whipped to make their own lives easier. To enrich themselves on the backs of other's hard work.
I couldn't breathe.
On the second floor was a set of large double doors leading to a balcony. Our tour guide built up the opening of the doors in anticipation of the view. Once opened, I felt the fresh air hit my face. I started to feel better. I took a large breath and looked out the doors.
There, the trees took over. The oak trees that gave the plantation its name. They estimate the trees at 300 years old. They have no record of who planted the trees. The way they are planted seem to suggest perhaps a Spanish arborist. They honestly don't know though. It doesn't matter. The trees were beautiful. Tunneling fresh air from the river. Each tortured turn of a limb a memory in the past. They were there before the house. They were possibly there before slavery began on the land. They have seen the best and worst of the people who have passed through. They know where the people came from, and where they ended up. The trees know the beauty and the ugliness that happened around them. They grew tall through strength, and with each twisted limb they honor those forgotten.