‘Within the Pale of the Plantation States’: Slavery and the Governance of the University of the South in 1860

Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states and the United States (1861).

[Click here to go directly to the interactive map.]

Across the United States today, many of the nation’s oldest universities and colleges have, for the first time, begun researching their historical ties to slavery and uncovering the ways  their institutions relied on enslaved persons for the labor performed on their campuses or as the basis of fortunes they tapped for funding.

The University of the South is at the start of its own six-year investigation, led by its Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. Today the Project shares part of the research it has amassed by introducing an interactive map feature entitled ‘Within the Pale of the Plantation States’: Slavery and the Governance of the University of the South in 1860.

Our aim with the publication of this map is to gain a better understanding of the significance of slavery in the campaign to establish the University of the South. The Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, Leonidas Polk, launched that drive in July 1856, when he wrote a letter to nine of his fellow southern bishops, rallying them to join forces in founding a southern and Episcopal university. This great center of learning would be the equal of any other in the world and centrally located, he explained, “within the pale of the plantation states.”

With that telling phrase, Polk rooted the identity of the planned university in the region defined by slave-based plantation agriculture, its enslaved population numbering some 4 million persons, and the phenomenal wealth it generated. Polk’s bold proposal later materialized as The University of the South, chartered in 1858.

Continue reading “‘Within the Pale of the Plantation States’: Slavery and the Governance of the University of the South in 1860”

CLOSER LOOKS: The Thompson Union Story

By Tanner Potts
Research Associate
Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation

How well do we really know our campus landmarks?

For example, take Thompson Union. Standing on University Avenue directly across from All Saints’ Chapel, it is one of the Sewanee campus’s legendary and most recognizable buildings. Originally a science hall and later the storied student union and still the location of the SUT (Sewanee’s movie theater), it has served the last two decades or more as the home of the university’s fundraising arm.

But how did it come about? And whom does its name honor?

In this interactive slideshow  (available at this link), the Project’s researcher Tanner Potts, C’15, shows why we need to follow his lead in taking much “closer looks” at this building and our campus as a whole to understand the histories of the memorials it retains to the leaders of the antebellum slaveholding order and to their resurgence to wealth, power, and influence as they succeeded in defeating Reconstruction.

Please email us (slaveryproject@sewanee.edu) with comments or questions.

 

Builders and Buildings

St. John’s Church, Ashwood (1839-1842)

By Woody Register, Professor of History and Director, Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation

Back in November, on a drizzly, blustery Saturday morning, an architect and three historians from Sewanee – John Runkle, Jody Allen, Ben King, and I – drove two hours west to a place near Columbia, Tennessee, to visit the church at the Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk’s Ashwood plantation. Polk’s neoclassical mansion house burned in the 1870s, but St. John’s Church, completed in 1842, endures. Continue reading “Builders and Buildings”

The Cornerstone Gift: John Armfield and the University of the South

By Tanner Potts
Research Associate
The Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation

John Armfield (1797-1871), who made his fortune in  the 1820s and 1830s in the slave-trading firm of Franklin & Armfield, was a critically important operator in the founding of the University of the South in the late 1850s. However, much misinformation and exaggeration surround his involvement and contributions.

This slideshow feature, prepared by the Project’s researcher Tanner Potts C’15, outlines Armfield’s importance to the founding of the university and in light of his formative influence in shaping the slaveholding order of the antebellum southern region.

Please email us (slaveryproject@sewanee.edu) with comments or questions.