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History of colonial era family known for science interwoven with slaves'
LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation
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It is difficult to reconcile the fact that one of the premier families of 19th century American science and exploration were slaveholders. One can only hope that, 150 years from now, we won’t be judged too harshly for our own policies and practices.
But the LeContes were slaveholders, and those who served on the Woodmanston Plantation did interact with the family, passing a lot of knowledge back and forth. And no doubt, the LeContes were enriched by that relationship.
With Black History Month just past, the LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation would like to share a few stories research has produced:
In 1789, the home at Woodmanston was attacked by Native Americans. The first home had been destroyed by the British during the American Revolution only a few years before. The second home, which the family referred to as “the lodge,” had been fortified with a stockade and Revolutionary muskets that could be fired through loopholes.
The Georgia Gazette reported that “as soon as Dr. LeConte’s Negroes turned out of the fort, the Indians attempted to seize them. Six fellows went out with guns. As soon as the Negroes discovered the Indians, they made back for the fort and the Indians pursued them. There were some Negroes in the fort with arms, who, with the doctor, fired on them whilst those who went out armed attacked them in the rear, which soon made them retreat …”
Joseph LeConte, a child of the doctor, heard this story many times while he was growing up from a slave named Samson, who had been captured by the natives with four others: Jim, Tomban, Fenna and Peggy. Samson, who was about 15 at the time he was taken, escaped a few years later and returned with Fenna. Tomban returned to the plantation in 1820, more than 30 years after he was abducted.
Joseph also wrote about three very old blacks on the plantation who were native Africans and remembered their homes in Africa: Sassy, who was very fond of alligator meat, Nancy and Charlotte, who left Africa when they were about 12. He recalled an old African native named Philip from a neighboring plantation. Philip told Joseph about the customs and religion of the country he came from. A Mohammedan, he would go through all the prayers and prostrations. Philip taught the children how to count in his native language “go, dede, tata, nigh, ja, ja go, ja dede, ja tata, ja nigh, suppe, suppa go, suppa dede, suppa tata, suppa nigh …”
Joseph’s nephew, William, wrote of the children going out to the slaves’ quarters, clustering around the knees of an old “daddy” and listening to tales of Africa.
Generations of LeContes experienced the influences of their African work force. It is not documented how this contact impacted their lives, but it certainly impressed them, as evidenced by their writing.
Members of the LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation hope that through “The Walk” memorial, scheduled for completion in 2010, these people who were called “slaves” will become more real to us, the human beings they were.
Join us for our Super Saturday program, the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m.-noon. Call 884-6500 for more information or email

Evans is president of LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation.
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