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Tours offer inside look of workers at Old Governor's Mansion

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February 10, 2010

Lavinia Flagg and her husband Wilkes Flagg were freed persons who worked during the mid 1800’s at Georgia Governor’s Mansion.

Lavinia served the first ladies, and Wilkes served as the governors’ maitre d’hotel greeting visitors and statesmen in the mansion’s foyer.

The lives of Lavinia and Wilkes Flagg along with other freed persons and slaves are part of a new historical tour at the Old Governor’s Mansion on the Georgia College & State University campus in Milledgeville.

An historically documented tour, “Labor Behind the Veil: The History of Slaves and Free Persons at Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion 1839-1868,” provides visitors to the Old Governor’s Mansion a glimpse of the working lives of men and women who lived and labored on the mansion grounds.

The tour researched and developed by mansion director Jim Turner, curator Matt Davis and former graduate assistant Deitrah Taylor was years in the making and included reading historic letters, ledgers and documents to piece together the workings of the mansion.

“We did a lot of research prior to the 2005 restoration of the mansion,” Turner said. “It’s always been in the back of my mind to present this bottom-up tour. We have the documentation to tell this history through the extensive archives. The mansion could have not functioned without the slaves.”

In celebration of Black History Month, the Old Governor’s Mansion is offering the tours by appointment.

By the end of the tour, visitors should understand issues of race and sex in the Antebellum South and the governors’ political views about slavery, furthering the mission of the Old Governor’s Mansion Historic House Museum.

“Slavery was the most controversial issue in the Antebellum South,” Davis said. “But the story needs to be told.”

And the mansion staff today is on the cutting edge of telling those stories.

“We are the only historic house museum to take on this challenge in the area,” Turner said.

The servants and slaves were paramount to day-to-day life at the mansion and took pride in their work, Davis said.

The governor’s mansion was a small functioning town house in the center of the city.
Slaves took care of the governors’ children, attended to the needs of the governor and first lady, cooked, tended the garden and livestock, cleaned and polished the brass and silver door handles with leather and polished the foyer floor with milk.

“Slaves who worked at the mansion were not provided by the state,” Davis said. “They were handpicked from the home plantations of the governors.”
Governors brought as few as seven and as many as 17 slaves to tend the mansion.

During the hot summer months, a slave would climb on the roof of the mansion to open the cupola windows to provide ventilation.

Slaves also were involved in the construction of the Greek Revival mansion. They molded bricks from the clay on the grounds of the mansion that help form the foundation of the mansion.

One slave carved the bed now on display in the upstairs Clerk and Messenger’s room. The bed is carved in the tradition of the time with fern leaves and fruit, but the slave also added an African touch of banded elements on the bedposts.

Records reveal a slave gave birth to a child while serving at the mansion. And a slave married a freed person in the family dining room.

But things weren’t always pleasant for the slaves and servants.

Gov. Brown once beat a slave to prove he was head of the household.

“Mr. Brown whipped Emma for nothing to show me he was master,” Mrs. Brown wrote in a letter.

“Labor Behind the Veil” tours are available by appointment. Call (478) 445-4545 to book a tour.

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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For more information, contact University Communications at (478) 445-4477.