Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site features a 9.65-acre United States Historic Site located ten miles Southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, within Grantwood Village. The property, also called White Haven, displays the life, military exploits, and Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Five historic buildings are on display at the site, including the home of Julia Dent Grant, Ulysses Grant’s wife. White Haven was historically known as a slave-operated plantation when Grant and his wife were married in 1848 and stayed this way until the end of the Civil War.
History of Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
After he married Julia, Grant was posted in both New York and Michigan. Julia went with him to these stations, going back to White Haven to have her first child, Fred, in 1850. Grant was then sent west in 1852; Julia could not accompany him, as she would have their second child. She visited her parents’ home after visiting the Grants’ parents’ home in Ohio, where Ulysses Jr. was born. Grant’s army pay was meager, preventing him from moving his family to the West Coast. He attempted several businesses to supplement his income at the time.
Suffering from depression after being separated for two years, Grant decided to leave the army. He returned to White Haven in 1854. Grant worked with the slaves owned by Julia’s father to farm the White Haven property for his father-in-law. Ulysses and Julia had 2 more children; Ellen was born on the Fourth of July, 1855, and 3 years later, Jesse was born, February 1858. In 1857 there was a financial panic, which included bad weather that ruined many farmers’ crops, forcing Ulysses to work briefly in St. Louis as an engineer. In 1860, the Grant family moved to Galena, Illinois. Ulysses and his brothers worked together selling leather goods produced in their father’s tannery.
The Slave Setting
In Missouri, most slaveholders owned few slaves; wealthy families owned roughly 10 slaves in total at the time. In the Southeastern Bootheel region and along the edge of the fertile Missouri River Valley, also known as “Little Dixie,” large, single-crop plantations could be seen everywhere and required massive use of slave labor. Across the state, large farms produced a variety of crops, including wheat, hemp, hay, oats, and corn. On a number of the estates, the landowner worked alongside the slaves to ensure the best economic benefit from the land. Slavery was not as prevalent in St. Louis, where the African American population was down from 25% in 1830 to 2% in 1860. Slaves were often “hired out” to other owners in return for an agreed wage. Sometimes, part of the wage was given to the slaves, increasing self-determination and allowing an opportunity to purchase their freedom.
Early farm ownership
All of the farm’s early residents had slaves during their time on the Gravois property. In 1818, Theodore and Anne Lucas Hunt bought William Lindsay Long’s home. There were a few good log cabins on the land and potential housing for five slaves purchased by Hunt. The work of Wallace, Lydia, Andrew, Adie, and Louette would be a significant part of the Hunts’ farming venture.
In 1820, Frederick Dent bought the property from the Hunts for the sum of $6,000. He named the property “White Haven,” as was his family home in Maryland. Colonel Dent considered himself a Southern gentleman but had slaves do the heavy labor for the plantation. Eighteen slaves worked at the White Haven Plantation in 1850.
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