We’re beginning our tour today in the Plank Kitchen at Historic Oak View County Park. The Plank Kitchen was built around 1825, making it the oldest structure on the property. It is decorated to represent Christmas in the years leading up to the Civil War, known today as the Antebellum Period. At that time Oak View was owned by Benton and Burchette Williams, who first started farming here around 1830. By 1850 they had six children ranging in age from 8 to 21-years-old: Clinton, John Quincy, Cicero, Napoleon, Virginia, and Elizabeth. The Main House across the yard wasn’t built until 1855, so the family may have lived here before it was completed. Once the Main House was finished, this structure became the farm’s kitchen.
You’ll notice there isn’t a decorated tree because that tradition had not yet come to the United States from Europe. Decorations would have been simple, home-made items or things found in nature. A stocking might be draped over a chair to be filled with small homemade toys, bits of ribbon, lace, or candies. An orange from Florida, placed in the foot of the stocking, would have been a rare and luxurious gift to receive during the 1800s.
The Williamses were slaveholders during the Antebellum Period. By 1860 this farm was the home for 12 enslaved people, several of them children. There are no records telling of their experiences during the holiday season at Oak View, but it’s unlikely their work stopped during Christmas. They would probably have prepared the Christmas meal while continuing to perform daily duties on the farm such as harvesting cotton, taking care of livestock, smoking hams, stuffing sausage casings, washing clothes, and bringing wood in for the fire.
Enslaved families may have exchanged simple gifts with each other, held dances, or exchanged marriage vows on the holiday. On some farms they might also receive gifts from their slaveholders. These could include their yearly allocation of new clothing, time off from work to visit family members located on other farms, or, in rare cases, a small amount of money. What occurred at Oak View is not known.
Please use the ramp entrance across from the Plank Kitchen to enter the rear door of the Main Farmhouse. Once inside, turn right immediately to access the Living Room. Then, please enter the number ‘52’ to continue the tour.