A Reunion Without Precedent, at Somerset Place in 1986

A reunion at the 1986 “Somerset Homecoming.” Image from Somerset Place.On August 30, 1986, “Somerset Homecoming” took place at Somerset Place State Historic Site in Creswell. The homecoming was the first-ever event of its kind: a reunion of descendants of the enslaved community of a large southern plantation.

Organized by Dorothy Spruill Redford–a descendant of the enslaved community and in time the site manager of Somerset Place–the happening brought together hundreds of family members from around the country and garnered international attention.

Somerset Place was home to more than 861 enslaved people when it was active from 1785 until 1865. As a historic site it was interpreted for years mainly in terms of the wealth of the Collins family, which owned the plantation, and the fact that the operation was among the largest and most economically successful in the state. Redford shifted the site’s focus and began telling the stories of all the families who lived there.

Recognizing the enslaved people’s contributions to the success of the plantation, Redford was quoted by the New York Times during the homecoming, saying, ”From this day forward, there will always be a shared recognition. They’ll think of the Josiah Collins family, but they’ll think of my family too.”

She described the state historic site as ”a living monument to ordinary folks – to our toil, our lives, our lineage.”

Visit: Somerset Place, located near Creswell in Washington County, is open to visitors Tuesdays to Saturday.

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