In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

A Slave’s Christmas Inside the Telfair Mansion

We've all heard stories about Christmas in the South, but THIS story is one of the most fascinating stories about what it was like to be a slave inside the Telfair Mansion during Christmas in Savannah.

“So, how do we celebrate Christmas at the Telfair Academy and Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters? During the Christmas season, the period rooms of the Telfair Academy are interpreted to represent the 1820s-1860s era of Mary Telfair, her brother Alexander, sisters Sarah and Margaret, and their enslaved house servants George, Juddy, Coomba, and Lavinia. The oak room depicts the holiday season as per a December 24, 1838 letter from Mary to her friend Mary Few. “This is Christmas, dear Mary, when all the world here are preparing for their family feasts. We three are seated in our quiet parlour drawn close around a large wood fire for the weather is intensely cold and no sound invades my ear but the report of pop guns.”

The Telfairs were Presbyterians and attended church on Christmas Day. The dining room is set to show their enjoyment of the holiday dinner as noted in Mary Telfair’s journal of 1958. “We had a small dinner party consisting of five guests – more than the Graces and less than the Museum. Conversation was general and occasionally playful.”

In the basement kitchen, one example of a Christmas tradition involving enslaved in an urban setting comes also from Mary Telfair’s correspondence with Mary Few. “It is a custom with us to cook a large dinner for our servants. Each has the privilege of inviting their friends – so they keep the festival and are made happy by it.” The reversal of typical roles at Christmas as Mary and her family serve their enslaved household was a tradition. We can see how closely urban domestic slaves lived with their owners. They did not have the freedom to celebrate as they chose. Instead, they were forced to spend the holiday in the company of their oppressors, even if they were being served. I would love to know what these meals were like. I can’t imagine that the Telfair women were well versed in food preparation. It is possible that Juddy, the enslaved cook, had to prepare the meal that the Telfair sisters then served to them. The enslaved people at the meal were likely George Gibbons, Coomba, Juddy, and Lavinia.”

~ Shannon Browning-Mullis: Curator of History and Decorative Arts, Telfair Musuems

Read more about the Holiday Season at the Telfair Mansion by following the link below.
Celebrating a Telfair Christmas <<<