Friday, September 24, 2021

A visit to 'The Quarters,' cabins of Gideon Pillow's enslaved

Farmer Campbell Ridley explores one of the slave cabins on his property.
The exterior of a log slave cabin.

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Gideon Pillow
Steps from the east fork of Green Lick Creek in Columbia, Tenn., stand log cabins where the enslaved of Gideon Pillow lived. A wealthy politician, lawyer, speculator and underwhelming Confederate major general, Pillow resided at Clifton Place, a magnificent mansion that still stands astride Mount Pleasant Pike. 

On Thursday afternoon, farmer and friend Campbell Ridley—a Pillow descendant—showed me and Cliff Roberts of the General Barton & Stovall History/Heritage Association the interior of one of the slave cabins, tucked on his property behind trees, brush and weeds. We didn’t go inside another slave cabin, but examined its brick chimney and deteriorating porch.

Pillow was one of the wealthiest men in Maury County—one of the wealthiest counties in the country before the Civil War. Much of that wealth was accumulated because of those who toiled for him—the enslaved who lived in these cabins.

Ridley, whose family has farmed in the area for generations, has long called these structures “The Quarters.” In addition to slaves, the cabins housed workers on the farm into the 20th century. Ridley also farms the land where Ashwood Hall—one of the most magnificent residences in Tennessee—once stood. The fabulous plantation mansion, owned by Leonidas Polk, “The Fighting Bishop” of the Confederacy, and later his brother, was destroyed in an 1874 fire. I wrote about it for Civil War Times magazine. 

Farmer Campbell Ridley slips inside the door.
Ridley examines the interior of a cabin, once occupied by slaves and later by workers
on his family farm.
Evidence of a fireplace in the cabin.
The deteriorating porch on another cabin.
The original, brick chimney.

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