The Plain Plantation

When we think of plantations, we think of those big white houses with tall columns and wraparound verandas. We think of Tara. 

There were some grand houses in Georgia, most of them along the coast or in the western part of the state near the river delta. They were houses on large plantations with thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves. But most cotton planters in Georgia, especially in the Piedmont, had a few hundred acres and about ten slaves. 

Tullie Smith house in Atlanta, Georgia. Creative Commons Tullie Smith Farmhouse by Jim Bowen licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tullie Smith house in Atlanta, Georgia.
Creative Commons Tullie Smith Farmhouse by Jim Bowen licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Tullie Smith House, now surrounded by the city of Atlanta, was built in 1840 when DeKalb County was open land. Its owner, Robert Smith, worked 200 of his 800 acres with the labor of eleven slaves. The house was covered with weatherboard siding; it had a gabled roof and a large brick chimney. Inside, the family lived in six rooms, four on the first floor and two above.

Small planter's house in South Carolina, 1856, from Frederick Law Olmsted's Journey in the Seaboard Slave States. Courtesy of the University of North Carolina.

Small planter's house in South Carolina, 1856, from Frederick Law Olmsted's Journey in the Seaboard Slave States.
Courtesy of the University of North Carolina.

Frederick Law Olmsted, better known as the designer of grand city parks after the Civil War, traveled in the South in 1856 and wrote about it in his book, A Journey in the Seabord Slave States. He sketched this house in the piney woods of South Carolina. It is the Tullie Smith house come to life. The master sits on the porch steps while the mistress and her friends stand on the porch. The children play in the yard as the two slaves labor. 

The white columns make a pretty picture. But we should leave it to the movies. The reality was the “plain plantation.”