For many years, the interpretation of Liberty Hall Historic Site (LHHS) in Frankfort focused on the white owners of the property, the Brown family. Recently, the site has expanded the interpretation of the enslaved African Americans that the Browns owned and who lived and worked at the site.
Site officials say being able to tell a more complete and diverse history will help visitors better understand what early life in Kentucky was like.
LHHS has a vast collection of family letters and documents. From the letters, historians learned the names of the enslaved people who lived and worked at Liberty Hall. Although many enslaved African Americans are mentioned in the documents, their stories, for the most part, are hard to find.
One family that the Browns enslaved is the Stepneys, whose full names appear in eight deeds of manumission filed by John Brown in 1836. Miles Stepney, the father, was born in North Carolina or Virginia around 1770. His wife Hannah’s first appearance in the Brown family letters was in 1819, but between 1808 and 1826, she gave birth to at least eight children, Rose, Joseph, Selim, George, Mary, James, Mourning and Edwin.
The Stepneys, as well as the other enslaved people, did a variety of work on the Brown’s property. Because the preparation of food was such an integral part of life in the 19th century, historians chose the kitchen as the site of a new exhibit focusing on the Stepney family. The enslaved people maintained the gardens, cared for the livestock and prepared and served food.
Using the kitchen as a starting point, the exhibit explains various tasks as well as other aspects of the Stepneys’ lives.
To illustrate the workings of a 19th century kitchen, reading rails, interactive elements and flip books were installed to encourage visitors to explore the intersection of slavery and foodways in early 19th century Kentucky. Staged to interpret preparation of a breakfast served to President James Monroe in 1819, the kitchen reflects the Browns’ upper-class lifestyle — and the enslaved women and men who made it possible.
Liberty Hall Historic Site, consisting of Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House, is on Wilkinson Street in Frankfort. In addition to the houses, there is approximately four acres of grounds and gardens that were initially orchards, vegetable gardens and animal pens.
The original property owner was John Brown, one of the first two U.S. senators from Kentucky. His wife, Margaretta Mason Brown, was instrumental in the early religious education of Frankfort’s children.
Being able to tell the complete story of life at Liberty Hall is a great step forward in being more inclusive in the telling of Kentucky history. The enslaved of the many fine homes in Kentucky provided the labor that made the owners’ lifestyles possible. The efforts of LHHS historians is one small step in making the histories more prominent and impactful.
The exhibit is viewed through a guided tour of Liberty Hall. Tours begin at Liberty Hall, 218 Wilkinson St., Frankfort. Tours are available Monday-Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Tours cost $8/adult, $6/seniors and $4/youth (6-18). Ages 5 and under are free.
For more information, contact LHHS at 502-227-2560 or at email@example.com.