Confronting the Confederacy in Interpreting a Historic Home

Posted on: April 7th, 2011 by Guest Writer 20 Comments

Written by Samuel Collins III

The house at Stringfellow Orchards, after restoration. (Photo: Samuel Collins III)

As a student of history, I am constantly seeking opportunities to grow in areas in which I am weak.  I recently found out that April is Confederate History month. In 2005 I purchased a home built in the early 1880’s by Henry Martyn Stringfellow, a former confederate soldier.  Being a preservationist I frequently open my home in Hitchcock, Texas to the public. I struggle with whether my interpretation of the site should acknowledge his role in the Confederacy or just avoid telling that part of his story.

I recently attended a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting in Galveston. My goal was to share some history about Mr. Stringfellow and to discuss a possible event to be held at Stringfellow Orchards in recognition of Confederate History month.

I discussed this subject with my wife and several different individuals. As an African American and descendant of slaves, should I even consider this? As the owner of this historic site with ties to a confederate soldier, should I not tell the confederate part of the story?

I realized that if I chose to tell only the history that I like about Mr. Stringfellow and the site, then I too would be guilty of discrimination. In the spirit of tolerance, I felt I should at least be open to talking about the subject.

The house at Stringfellow Orchards, before restoration. (Photo: Samuel Collins III)

The house at Stringfellow Orchards, before restoration. (Photo: Samuel Collins III)

This year marks the 150th year of the beginning of the Civil War. I am the first to admit that I am not a scholar on either subject, yet in researching the Civil War many argue that it was primarily about “economics” or “states’ rights.” I question whether economics or states’ rights should have superseded human rights.

I have been warned that this controversial topic should be avoided. After 150 years we can hopefully sit down to have a civil conversation about Confederate history and the Civil War.

Mr. Stringfellow was a remarkable man.  One of the best examples of this is how he treated the 30 African American men working at his orchard in the 1880s and 1890s.  When surrounding land owners were only paying them fifty cents per day, he paid each man one dollar per day.

His actions upset many other land owners. They accused Stringfellow of driving up wages. In spite of social pressure to lower his workers’ payment, he paid what he felt was a fair wage. What can we learn today from his example not just with regards to race relations but employer and employee relations?

For this former Confederate soldier, it was about economics. Because of his success he was able to pay the highest wages to attract the best talent. Hopefully the Sesquicentennial gives us an opportunity to talk about the Civil War and Confederate History. On Saturday, April 9, 2011 from 10am until noon I am hosting a round-table discussion on the subjects at my home at Stringfellow Orchards (7902 Hwy 6, Hitchcock, TX).

Sam Collins III is one of three National Trust Advisors representing Texas and owner of the Historic Stringfellow Orchards property in Hitchcock, TX.

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20 Responses

  1. Jim Bertolini

    April 7, 2011

    Kudos for tackling this issue head on. If you are interested in some pointers, the Eppley Institute at Indiana University has an online training course that might help that is currently free of charge, titled “Causes of the Civil War. It is designed for National Park Service interpretive programs but may of help to you as well. The central contention is that the central cause of the Civil War was the argument over slavery and provides a wealth of primary source documents from Southern states to that effect. I recommend checking it out. Good luck!

  2. Schelley Brown

    April 7, 2011

    I think you are doing the most historic thing possible for your property. And I think your past owner would be proud of you!

  3. Kathleen McCormack

    April 7, 2011

    That is one fine looking house.

  4. Sam Collins III

    April 7, 2011

    Thank you for the information and comments.

  5. melissa noble

    April 8, 2011

    I encourage the dialogue and the use of objectivity.

  6. LeCount Holmes, Jr.

    April 8, 2011

    This is wonderful youngman, I’m always amazed with your go get it! attitude! Thank you for keeping me in the loop.

  7. Daniel Ray Wells

    April 8, 2011

    Mr. Collins,

    Follow your heart!

    Daniel R Wells

  8. Linda Hill

    April 8, 2011

    This is not only necessary, it profoundly illustrates the need to address our entire progression in American history. The conversation concerning African Americans in the United States embraces every occurrence realized by this country’s formation. We fought in the confederacy, not to maintain enslavement, but because we had no choice. You and I talked about an unrealized defining presence regarding inclusiveness in telling our complete story, during your visit and presentation at our campus here at Southern University at New Orleans.
    Linda Hill
    Center for African and African American Studies
    Southern University at New Orleans
    6801 Press Drive
    New Orleans, Louisiana 70126
    504-284-5550 Office
    504-286-5005 Fax
    Public trust is a precious commodity. The civic engagement involved with caring for any collection embraces high esteem that captures respectful appreciation from each community served. Linda Hill

  9. Naomi

    April 8, 2011

    Sam, I’m glad you opened the forum for discussingthis and the Civil War. You shouldn’t ignore the confederate ramificatons of your site. Southern sites have confederate ramifications. Highlighting the contributions of the folks Stringfelow hired and his desire to institute fair compensation is important. African Ameriicans had skills and contributions that often are ignored.

  10. Jude Rickman

    April 8, 2011

    Mr. Collins,

    As a preservationist and a native Texan transplanted to New York, a person who has spent some time exploring Virignia history and sites including the White House of the Confederacy, and who just enjoyed a rebroadcast of the Burns series on the Civil War, I was very interested to read your post and the honesty with which you are approaching the presentation of the site’s history.

    I was very impressed with the openness with which these issues are addressed in Virginia sites and in particular in the community of Richmond. I applaud you for the integirty with which you are approaching the history of your wonderful house. Yes, after 150 years we certainly can have a civil conversation that will enrich us all about the Civil War and the Confederacy, and as the steward of the property, you are to be applauded for your efforts.

  11. Sam Collins III

    April 9, 2011

    Thanks again for each of the post. Jim B., I signed up online for the course and just completed it. I have my official certificate of completion from the NPS & IU. I had been reading about the Civil War prior to your post preparing for this weekend. Several of the items discussed I had recently read about, plus I prayed that I would pass it the first time. I was just too tired to take it again tonight had I failed. I will encourage attendees at the event later today to sign up for the online course. That was a great tip, I am sure it will help with the discussion.

  12. Ellen Adriance

    April 10, 2011

    Hello –
    Just stumbled upon your efforts in today’s paper, and would like to keep up with your efforts/disucssion. I do a bit of genealogy research in Galveston/Brazoria.
    Ellen Adriance

  13. Carolyn Brackett

    April 11, 2011

    Thank you for writing this thoughtful article. It is an issue that I believe all Southerners struggle with to some degree and your eloquent consideration of how to dwell with it was excellent. I hope your roundtable discussion on Saturday was very successful!

  14. Sam Collins III

    April 12, 2011

    It is almost 3:30am here in TX (4:30am EST) and I just posted the flags at the entrance of our property. One Confederate and one Union flag. As my wife and children sleep I am thankful for the men that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be a more perfect Union. We are far from perfect, but I do believe we are constantly evolving to that more perfect Union. Take a moment to remember the men and women that died during the Civil War and pray that we may never experience type of lost of human life again.

  15. Sam Collins III

    April 12, 2011

    The first shot was fired at 4:30am.

  16. Evelyn Terry

    April 13, 2011

    Thank you for sharing. It is only through discussing information and facts about the past that we can keep our legacy alive for those that will come after us. I was able to save my grandfather, George H. Black’s house and brickyard and am now working on a tax credit application for its restoration. His story must also be written and I hope to do that before I die.
    It is we that are responsible for telling these facts…no matter what it may seem like the facts are what they are. Perhaps discussing them will make us all become better individually and collectively.

  17. j finger

    April 14, 2011

    As I was intriqued by the beauty of the restored home shown in the newsletter photo, I began reading the article. I was enlightened by the information, but wondered if the writer knew that the home had been owned by a confederate soldier. Was this a partial reason for the writer’s purchase? Indeed, the restoration appeared to be massive, but well worth the effort. To celebrate Confederate History seem to be defeating the purpose, as slavery was at the heart of the strife that tore the country apart and laid claim to centuries later of racial divide.

  18. C. Richard Bierce, AIA

    April 14, 2011

    Mr. Collins:

    As your article illustrates well, ‘history’ is the story of ‘what happened’, including all of its glorious achievements, as well as all of its shameful failures.

    What matters for us today is to understand ‘what happened’, understand ‘why it happened’, become acquainted with ‘who made it happen’ and then extract the vital lessons we need in order to continue the quest of building the ‘more perfect union’ here in the 21st c.

    Your home and property are essential primary documents for telling the story from which we all must learn. Thank you for preserving these ‘documents’ and thank you for allowing them to be available to teach us.

    C. Richard Bierce, AIA
    Historical Architect

  19. Carolyn Kane

    April 14, 2011

    Your home seems to have had a loving restoration and I applaud you. As to the background of your home, I do believe that all sides of the story should be told. It does seem that Mr. Stringfellow even though a Confederate came away from the War with a different outlook than he probably went into it with. It is our legacy whether good or bad and it is a sorry day when we cannot learn from that.

    My great-great grandfather (a Northerner – Vermont) was taken prisoner at Weldon RR (June 23, 1864) in Virginia and sent to Andersonville where he died six months later. I was always angry about that but after reading a great book by a Vermont teacher who researched everything about that particular conflict, it was blunders on both sides, even in Andersonville. Sadly, sometimes we only hear or look at one side of the story. I have learned a great deal and feel forgiveness for all involved.

  20. Lori E. Mazzola

    April 14, 2011

    It is important when learning history to learn as much as we can to not repeat the same mistakes as those before us. We as humans are not perfect and love makes up for our faults. God is love and perfect love casts out all fear. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.” He was an intelligent God fearing man.