History of Enslaved Workers at the Davis Plantation
In 1860, fifty-one African Americans lived and labored on this site. They built the Davis Home, crafted furniture, made clothing, cleared the land, and worked the fields. Sadly, we know little of their lives prior to emancipation except through the artifacts they left behind. In 2004, a Middle Tennessee State University class conducted an archaeological dig to find out more details about their lives on the plantation. After emancipation, some of the freed men and women remained in Smyrna, while others moved to nearby Murfreesboro. Three former enslaved workers that stayed in the area were Frank Davis, Gracey Davis, and Charlie Waldron.
Frank Davis, an enslaved worker prior to emancipation, forged most of the metal on the plantation. His blacksmith work was in high demand, and after the war, he ran a successful business in Smyrna. His record books show that he had around 75 customers in the 1870s and charged anywhere from 20 cents to $30.
Gracey Davis was only three years old when the war ended. Her parents were enslaved workers on the Davis Plantation and remained in the area. By age 16, Gracey was working as a cook for Sam’s sister, Andromedia, and her husband, Samuel G. Matthews. Little else is known about her life.
Charlie Waldron (pictured to the right) was born in 1843 to an enslaved woman believed to work on the Davis Plantation, Sallie Waldron. Charlie left after emancipation but returned after 1900. The 1910 and 1920 census show him living on the farm with Oscar Davis, Sam’s brother, and he is thought to have lived in the kitchen. In 1925, he passed away at age 83.
More stories of the enslaved are permanently on display in the museum in our exhibit “Recovering Their Story: The African-Americans on the Davis Plantation.”