The Things We Leave Behind: A Study of Material Culture and Silenced Voices

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NeeSmith, Amy
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Middle Tennessee State University
The Singletons were a pioneer family of Bedford County, Tennessee that eventually took part in the Civil War with a son, Robert, serving on the Confederate side and an enslaved individual, George, serving on the Union side. Just prior to the beginning of the Civil War, the Singleton family lost their patriarch and thus became a home operated exclusively by women until the year 1900. During the immediate years after the Civil War and through Reconstruction, George, the formerly enslaved individual, became a husband, father, landowner, and Civil War pensioner, exemplifying the radical changes possible for African Americans in America after emancipation. The white Singletons left behind household items found within the home, as well as letters written by many generations of family members, some that even mention George. Through careful study of these objects, written letters, and local, state, and federal records historians can uncover more about life after the Civil War on rural, middle-class farms and how relationships between former master and former slave changed during this time. This research can be applied to public history literature by presenting general audiences with the material in the historic home and through various other approaches.