Tag Archives: history

Sinister Idyll: Historical Slavery in the Modern Pastoral Landscape – Hampton Estate

Here are the first two from my visit to Hampton National Historic Site, in Towson, Maryland (just north of Baltimore). More will be forthcoming, but I wanted to get these two posted right away. Hampton was at its peak, a several thousand acre estate. It was built as the country home for the Ridgely family, who made their early wealth through ironworks. One Ridgely would be governor of Maryland. The house itself was famous for being a centerpiece of entertainment and gracious living, having greenhouses and a subterranean icehouse on the property, providing the Ridgelys and their guests with seasonal fruits, ice water and chilled beverages year-round, an extreme rarity in 1790 when the house was built. The main house has thirteen bedrooms on three floors, a sitting room, great hall, dining room, parlor, library/music room, kitchen and laundry.

House Slave Quarters
House Slave Quarters

This octagonal garden, roughly 8 feet on a side, is built inside the foundations of the house slave quarters. It was a two-story structure, and some three families of house servants shared it. While the US Park Service guides (who give outstanding tours of the property) tell you explicitly about the structure and its purpose, no marker in the garden indicates its history.

Park Road, Hampton
Park Road, Hampton

Today, Hampton Lane divides the Hampton historical site. What is remarkable about the property is that so many of the farm structures remain – the dairy with its spring-water-fed cold water bath for the milk and butter, the horse stables (the Ridgelys were big horse racing fans, and kept the stables within eyesight of the mansion, another unusual feature, as well as a no-longer-surviving racetrack of their own), the overseer’s house and slave quarters for the skilled labor (stable hands, dairy workers, etc).

You can see the overseer’s house inside the white picket fence to the right of the scene. Hampton is open as a public park, and many people come there to ride their bikes and exercise their dogs. Today it is a beautifully maintained pastoral landscape in suburban Baltimore. While again, the Park Service does yeoman’s work in interpreting the space, and has provided outstanding documentation on the website for Hampton, the interpretation of the site requires you to actually go inside the structures and talk to the park service guides. It is possible to visit, and if you don’t engage, be completely oblivious to the fact that the parkland you are walking through exists by and for slave labor.

Anonymous Young Boy, by Alexander Gardner

Young Boy, by Alexander Gardner, Washington DC
Young Boy, by Alexander Gardner, Washington DC

Here’s another portrait by Gardner. Funny thing – Gardner was much more successful in business than Mathew Brady, yet Brady images are far more common than Gardner’s CDVs. I don’t know if it is that he did fewer (certainly seems so) or that his subjects’ heirs are largely holding on to them still. Given the disproportion between his images and Brady’s in the marketplace (not a statistically validated survey, but in my estimation, there’s a 10:1 ratio or more on the Brady:Gardner ratio), I’d say that he just didn’t make that many. This was obviously from his civilian commercial operation, and probably a few years after the Civil War as there is no mention on the back of being “Official Photographer to the Army of the Potomac”. The country as a whole grew war-weary in the aftermath of the war – all aspects of society were changing, and quite radically. Slavery had ended, the agrarian/industrial divide fell heavily in favor of industrialization. Women were a (temporary) presence in the workforce after the death of nearly 700,000 men of working age over four years of truly brutal combat.

With all this change and stress, it’s not a surprise that an association with the US Army that was trumpeted in 1864 would be quickly effaced from advertising copy.