Since 2018, Antonio Rosa, Pete, and other men incarcerated at Tomoka Correctional Institution (TCI) in Daytona Beach, Florida have been collecting, transcribing, and analyzing archival documents in order to expose the history of enslavement on a plantation located about thirty miles from the prison. Without access to the internet or physical records, Antonio and Pete have built an archive that testifies to the lives of enslaved men and women on the nearby Spring Garden Plantation, now known as the De Leon Springs State Park. Though an exhibit in the park claims that enslaved men and women are “long forgotten,” Antonio, Pete, and their fellow researchers are demonstrating otherwise.
Antonio and Pete, along with other students enrolled in Stetson University’s Community Education Project, are currently producing a public history exhibit that will bring the legacy of injustice on the land surrounding TCI to life and deliver a “personal” impact, as Pete writes, on local visitors. Through this work, the researchers are challenging what Antonio calls the “historical inequities” of both the lived experience of the past and contemporary public memory.
Antonio and Pete, who prefers to use only his first name, corresponded with Anne Gray Fischer, assistant editor of the Journal of American History, to share details about their Public History Project, how they have undertaken their work, their surprising findings, and their vision for the future of the project.
Pete and Antonio write about this 1950s postcard of the former site of Springs Garden Plantation: “It is not hard to imagine the place as it would have looked when 39 enslaved persons arrived in 1804 and manually cleared dense forests for planting cotton and grazing cattle.” Image courtesy of authors.
The current history of Spring Garden Plantation on exhibit at DeLeon Springs State Park is a prime example of inequitable treatment in the production of history. Mention is made of Joseph and Jane Woodruff, owners of the plantation from 1823 to 1830, while nothing is said about several enslaved individuals whose names made it into the archives and our research has recovered.
Recovering the lives and stories of people like Angelica and Anthony from wills, probate inventories, and voting records is a first step towards lifting them from obscurity, sharing their history with the public, and redressing the inequities in the current exhibit.
By OAH Blog