Special Report

Civil War Artifacts in the Smithsonian

The museum collections house many items from the Civil War, including photographs, uniforms and personal diaries

Lincoln's Top Hat (National Museum of American History)

A Slave’s Diary, Anacostia Community Museum

A slaves diary
(Anacostia Community Museum)

Adam Francis Plummer was born into slavery in 1819 in Prince George’s County in Maryland, and lived as a slave on the Goodwood Plantation and the Riversdale Plantation, both owned by George Calvert. He began keeping this diary in 1841 after his marriage to Emily Saunders Arnold and continued until his death in 1905. His daughter, Nellie Arnold Plummer, began writing her family’s history in the same journal after his death. The diary spans the better course of his life, from enslavement on the Riversdale Plantation until his death as a freedman.

The journal gives a vivid glimpse into the everyday life of the Plummer family. “It is a rare first-person account by an enslaved African-American telling you in his own voice about himself and his life, as opposed to the typical retelling provided by historians or scholars interpreting slavery and its aftermath,” says senior curator Portia James. The diary also contains dates of events, such as births and deaths, and inventories of possessions and the prices Plummer paid for them. Information contained in these lists and inventories, says James, helps us understand the conditions under which the family lived and gives us insight into the things they valued.

Madeline André


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