The famous home of Thomas Jefferson was a work-in-progress during most of Jefferson’s lifetime, designed and redesigned, built and rebuilt over more than forty years. Jefferson described the house as his ‘essay in architecture.’ The final product is a monument to Enlightenment rationality and the cultivation of a refined and 5centscontemplative way of life. The home and grounds are now lovingly (that’s not too strong a word) maintained by the private Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The waiting line for entrance to the house can be two or even three hours long during the summer. It’s worth it, but even a stroll around the grounds is rewarding if you don’t have the time to wait. The guides are very well informed, so ask lots of questions. Don’t ask about Sally Hemings, though (somebody will bring that up anyway). Ask about the contributions of slave labor to Jefferson’s way of life, and why he (unlike Washington and Madison) did not free all his slaves in his will.

Located in the Virginia Piedmont, Monticello is about two miles southeast of Charlottesville and approximately 125 miles from Washington, D.C.; 110 miles from Williamsburg, Virginia; and 70 miles from Richmond, Virginia. From Interstate 64, take exit 121 (if traveling westbound) or 121 A (eastbound) to Route 20 South (If traveling westbound, turn south, or left, on Route 20). To go to the Monticello Visitors Center, turn right at the first stoplight. To go to Monticello, turn left on Route 53, just after the first stoplight. The entrance to Monticello is located on the left, approximately one and a half miles from Route 20.

Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia

Fort Pulaski guarded the barrier islands off the Georgia coast and the entrance to Savannah harbor at the beginning of the Civil War. In April of 1862, Union troops attacked the fort and successfully employed experimental rifled cannon to breach the fort’s southeast angle and force its surrender. The fall of Fort Pulaski halted export of cotton from Savannah. After the taking of Fort Pulaski, Union Major General David Hunter, an ardent abolitionist, ordered the release of area slaves and recruited many of them into the Union army as the First South Carolina Colored Regiment. The park includes 5,623 acres of scenic marsh and uplands that support a variety of animal life, including white-tailed deer, alligators, and raccoons and migratory birds.

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Rankin House, Ohio

John Rankin was a Presbyterian minister and educator who devoted much of his life to the antislavery movement. In 1826 he published an antislavery book, “Letters on American Slavery,” and in 1834 he founded the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. From 1825 to 1865 Rankin and his wife Jean sheltered more than 2,000 escaping slaves in Brown County, Ohio. The house sat on a high hill over the Ohio River, the border between the free state of Ohio and the slave state of Kentucky. A beacon in the attic window supposedly guided fleeing slaves across the river. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the house in 1834, and John Rankin’s stories of escaping slaves influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The Rankin house is a National Historic Landmark, and is now maintained by the Ohio Historical Society. Outside is a reconstruction of the stairway used by the fugitives to climb up to the house from the banks of the Ohio River.

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John Brown Farm State Historic Site, New York

“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave” in upstate New York, near Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains. Brown bought this Adirondack farm in the late 1840s and owned it for the rest of his life. He was buried there immediately after his execution in Virginia for murder and “treason” in the doomed Harpers Ferry raid of 1859. Brown came to the Adirondacks because a wealthy abolitionist had purchased land there to develop a settlement for free African American families. He spent relatively little time there, however. His abolitionist activities took him from there to England, Ohio, Kansas, and finally Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The small graveyard at Borwn’s farm also includes several others who fought and died with John Brown at Harpers Ferry.

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John Dickinson Plantation, Deleware

John Dickinson was one of the most effective spokesmen for the colonial cause in the disputes with Great Britain during the years leading up to the American Revolution. Dickinson (1732-1808) grew up on his father’s plantation near Dover, Delaware, but practiced law in Philadelphia during the 1760’s and 1770’s. He attended the Stamp Act Congress which organized resistance to British tax policies, and his series of “Letters of a Farmer in Pennsylvania” in 1767 became the classic statement of opposition to direct parliamentary taxation of the colonies. Dickinson eventually voted against the Declaration of Independence, but remained in the Continental Congress and drafted America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Dickinson’s restored boyhood home is now preserved. along with reconstructions of other farm structures, on 18 acres of the original plantation. Living history interpreters enact the life of a working colonial plantation, including members of the Dickinson family, plantation tenants, and the family’s slaves. The visitor center contains permanent exhibits on the life of John Dickinson and the history of the plantation.

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Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, Louisiana

Rosedown Plantation is in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, north of the town of St. Francisville. West Feliciana has historically been a largely agrarian region where the proximity of the Mississippi River, which forms its western boundary, has created deep soil deposits in relatively flat valleys. These rich soils became extremely productive and valuable during the cotton boom of the nineteenth century. Rosedown Plantation was one of the largest and richest of the plantations that developed out of the cotton boom. At its height, Rosedown Plantation comprised approximately 3,455 acres, the majority planted in cotton and worked by as many as 450 slaves. The main house at Rosedown was constructed in 1834 in the Carolina Tidewater style with a neoclassical columned facade and double front galleries. The home was furnished with the finest pieces the family could obtain, many of which are still on display at Rosedown today. Formal gardens covered approximately 28 acres around the house. The plantation declined after the Civil War because of the loss of slave labor. Today, the main house, historic gardens, thirteen historic buildings, and 371 acres of Rosedown Plantation are preserved as an historic site by the state of Louisiana.

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Somerset Place, North Carolina

Somerset Place is a classic antebellum southern plantation. The plantation at Somerset Place was active from 1786 to 1865. It cultivated rice, corn, and wheat and included as many as 100,000 acres during its history. The plantation was worked by more than three hundred slaves of African descent, including 80 who were brought to Somerset directly from their west African homeland in 1786 because of their experience with rice cultivation. The plantation house was built by wealthy planter Josiah Collins III, around 1830. The plantation declined immediately after the Civil War when the end of slavery deprived the plantation system of its economic viability. Today the main house at Somerset Place is furnished with period pieces, including a few that belonged to the Collins family. Outbuildings include the kitchen, smokehouse, dairy, and a small house which served as the residence for the Collins family until the mansion was built. Since the early 1950’s archaeological excavations have investigated the lives of the plantation gentry and the slave community. Living history reenactments depict the persistence of African culture and traditions in the slave community as well as the agricultural and domestic technology with which the slave laborers worked.

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Charleston County Courthouse, South Carolina

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was among the first black regiments to take up arms for the Union during the Civil War. The 54th was composed predominantly of free blacks from the North including two sons of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The use of black troops in combat was highly controversial in both the North and the South. In the northern states, it was widely believed that black soldiers were not as dependable as their white counterparts. In the South, the use of black soldiers was met with great disdain. So much so, that the Confederate Government issued a proclamation stating that any colored soldiers captured at arms against the Confederacy would be sold into slavery, and any white officers leading black troops would be put to death. The 54th Massachusetts was organized in 1863 as a test case in this controversial debate. Unlike earlier black regiments, the 54th was equipped and trained as well as white regiments. On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts led the attack on Battery Wagner, a part of the coastal defenses of Charleston. In a vicious assault, the 54th charged into the teeth of the forts defenses. The attack penetrated the Confederate lines, and under withering musket and cannon fire the flag carried by the 54th was planted atop the parapet of Battery Wagner. The intense fire from the Confederates and the staggering casualties, including the regiments Colonel, Robert Shaw and over 250 men eventually forced the 54th to retreat. In the aftermath of the assault, some 60 members of the 54th were captured and taken to the Charleston Jail to await trail for insurrection. Two of these men, a sergeant and a corporal, were tried for their lives at the Charleston County Courthouse. With the help of local barrister and northern sympathizer, Nelson Mitchell, the men were aquitted. Spared the death penalty, the men of the 54th remained imprisoned until the end of the war. They were finally released in the spring of 1865. Today, the Courthouse where the trial took place, as well as the jail still stand.

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Levi Coffin House National Historic Landmark

The Underground Railroad is described by many historians as the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history. It was a loosely organized network of aid and escape routes provided by ordinary people to assist escaped slaves on their journeys to freedom. Beginning in the colonial period and continuing through the Civil War years, its participants included abolitionists, enslaved African-Americans, Native Americans and members of religious groups including Methodists, Baptists and Quakers. Indiana lauds two Quaker participants, Levi and Catharine Coffin, for their distinguished 20-year service on the railroad. Between 1826 and 1846, the Levis provided a freedom stop on the Underground Railroad. During those years, Fountain City was a predominantly Quaker community. It was a known refuge because many of its citizens shared anti-slavery sentiments, and it occupied a strategic location near the Ohio River crossings used by many escaped slaves. The Levis opened their home and offered a temporary respite, food, and encouragement to the escapees on their arduous journey. They are credited with assisting more than two thousand escapees reach freedom during the 20 years they lived in Fountain City. The Coffins’ 1839 National Historic Landmark home is open to visitors.

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White Hall State Historic Site

White Hall State Historic Site preserves the home of Cassius Marcellus Clay, antislavery activist, politician, publisher, minister to Russia, and friend of Abraham Lincoln. The surviving home is really a “house within a house.” The “old building,” the Georgian-style Clermont, was built by Cassius Clay’s father in 1798-1799. Cassius Clay himself built the “new building,” White Hall, above and around Clermont in the 1860s. Clay was a very common type of antislavery man in the pre-Civil War period: as much anti-black as antislavery, he sought not only gradual emancipation of slaves in Kentucky but the removal of slaves and former slaves to make Kentucky a pure white man’s democracy.

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