Amanda Trulock: An Unconventional Arkansas Plantation Owner

Amanda Trulock is remembered for being an unconventional Arkansas woman of her time. She held nuanced conflicted views about slavery, politics, and the Civil War that took place during her time.


Image Credit: JSTOR.org


Amanda Beardsley was born on April 22, 1811, in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Nicholas and Polly Beardsley. She married James Trulock, a slave-owning cotton planter in 1837, and moved to his Georgia plantation. In 1845, they migrated to a plantation homestead along the Arkansas River that was just eight miles east of Pine Bluff. At the plantation they dubbed Prairie Place, Trulock oversaw the domestic affairs, including running a boarding school in service of the daughters of fellow local plantation owners. Only five of her seven children had survived the huge adjustment to the Arkansas climate. In 1849, Trulock’s husband suddenly died leaving behind a mountain of debt and a 555-acre plantation with over 50 slaves to run. Although she was advised by her family in Connecticut to sell all of her assets and return to Bridgeport, Trulock chose to remain in Arkansas instead. She and Reuben Blackwell, one of her slaves whom she endowed with the authority to help run the plantation, were able to pay off all of her husband’s debts and make the plantation more profitable.


Trulock is remembered as an unconventional Arkansas woman of her time for three main reasons. One was the nuanced and often conflicted perspective with which she viewed her slaves. According to her letters to her family, though she initially refused to leave Arkansas partly because of the responsibility to her slaves, whom she termed "our black family," she was not averse to owning them. Though she endowed Blackwell with the authority to co-manage the plantation and his efficiency incited the envy of the white planters in the region. Blackwell's efficiency came at a cost to the slaves he oversaw, most likely resulting in longer, harder working hours and conditions. Blackwell was probably not just envied by white plantation owners but was most likely envied and disliked by his fellow slaves for his role as their overseer and unyielding taskmaster.


Trulock refused all opportunities to increase her slave holdings through purchase because she may have found the practice of slave trading deplorable, but the number of slaves she owned did increase as her slaves of child-bearing age had children. She and her husband came to Arkansas with forty slaves and though she purchased no new slaves, by the time she left Arkansas almost thirty years later, she was in the possession of sixty-two slaves.

Uniquely, Trulock maintained an avid correspondence she maintained with her family in Connecticut during a time when the nation was polarized between the pro-slavery South and the anti-slavery North. Throughout the 1850s, Trulock spent summers in Bridgeport with her family and alternately left each of her children there to attend school. This was a highly unusual undertaking since the 2,800-mile round trip journey to Arkansas took approximately forty to sixty days.


Lastly, Trulock showed a great ambivalence in supporting either the North or South during the Civil War. For over two years, she and her eldest son lost contact with all of her other children and family in Connecticut. Instead of having her son conscripted to the Confederate army, Trulock purchased him an exemption, and he supervised their slaves until the arrival of the Union army in 1863. In 1864, she also ensured that her second son was not conscripted by either side by discouraging his return to Arkansas. Upon his eventual return though, he was immediately compelled into joining the Confederate army, though his older brother escaped conscription as he had returned to the North.

Trulock stayed in Arkansas with her slaves until the end of the Civil War, but she resented the freedom that the Emancipation Proclamation brought Blackwell and the other slaves. In 1866, her sons took over the plantation and she returned to her family in Connecticut. She died in Bridgeport on April 20, 1891, never having returned to Arkansas.



Sources:

Northwest Arkansas Democratic Gazette -Amanda Trulock, cotton planter

JSTOR.org - Ties That I Have to Bind Me Here": Amanda Beardsley Trulock in the Arkansas Delta, 1845-1866

Encyclopedia of Arkansas - Amanda Beardsley Trulock

UCA.edu - Trulock Family Letters Collection

Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard









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