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Recollections/Saline County loses historic home: The history of the Obannon plantation recounted

Friday, March 7, 2008

The historic big-house as it appeared in March 2007.
(Gary Gene Fuenfhausen/Special to the Marshall Democrat-News)
Editor's note: The author has developed a program, "Little Cabins: Slave Dwelling Architecture in Missouri's Little Dixie" that aims to educate people about historic sites in the area and urge the preservation of remaining sites. "At the present rate of losing these places from accident ... or indifference ... not much will be left for research or for future generations to see them and learn from them," he said.

Last week the historic 1850s "Minor W. and Elizabeth Obannon" plantation big-house was bulldozed by new owners making way for commercial development.

Another view of the historic Obannon plantation big-house as it appeared in March 2007.
(Gary Gene Fuenfhausen/Special to the Marshall Democrat-News)
This historic big-house was once the center of a grand 700-plus-acre plantation that held as many as 29 African-American slaves in bondage.

Located in the heart of Missouri's slave and hemp belt, in a region historically called "Little Dixie," Minor Obannon was the embodiment of the typical southern gentleman yeoman planter building his brick big-house and plantation to mirror other slave estates located all across the Upper South.

Migrating to Missouri from Virginia, Minor was a prominent lawyer in Saline County, as well as a land speculator, planter, slave owner, entrepreneur and civic activist in local political and social affairs.

Toward the end, the Obannon/Godman plantation big-house was not in good shape. After years of neglect and salvage prior to demolition, its mortar was crumbling, its bricks loose and scattered. Still, in these photos taken about a week before the house was razed, there are hints of former glory found in the remains.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
In 1848, he received recognition for his defense of Mrs. Aurelia Renick, who was accused of shooting a man after she was assaulted in her home. Mrs. Renick was acquitted, as was her husband, who they later charged.

Obannon also participated and directed local public meetings during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, and like many in the area he sided with the slave owners of the South.

The Saline County plantation had its beginning in the 1850s, subsequent to Minor Obannon's marriage to Elizabeth Payne in 1847 in the County.

The sun is about to set on a Saline County landmark, the Obannon plantation, which until the last week of February stood on the northwest corner of Marshall just off U.S. Highway 65.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
By 1850, Minor and his wife owned a substantial amount of prime Saline County real estate along with 19 slaves managed by the estate's overseer Sydney Smith.

As the new decade passed the Obannon family grew wealthy and by 1860 owned over 1000 acres of farm land and city properties along with lucrative coal and mineral rights in the County.

The Obannon plantation encompassed some 700-plus acres and was valued at $55,000 in 1860, which made him a millionaire of his day. He was also consistently listed among Saline County's largest tax payers.

Like many of the Little Dixie farmers and planters, much of Minor and Elizabeth's property was held in the form of human slaves. The majority of the Obannon slaves were of a working age. The slaves lived in the Saline County estate's four slave quarters located on the property and managed by the plantation's overseer, William Elgin.

The 1850's plantation big house as it is seen just days after it was bulldozed at the end of February 2008.
(Gary Gene Fuenfhausen/Special to the Democrat-News)
Living also at the Obannon's farm village were their daughters, the overseer's family, and an Irish farm laborer named James Coffin.

After the Civil War, the Obannon family moved to Obannon, Jefferson County, Kentucky, and in 1868 sold the grand Southern estate to Melvin and Mary R. Godman of Kentucky.

Like the Obannons, the Godmans were also slave owners back in old Kentucky. Melvin was originally from Palmyra, Mo., where his father owned a plantation and slaves.

(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
At an early age, Melvin moved to Kentucky where he "dealt extensively in live stock and slaves" and became a well known Bourbon County, Ky., entrepreneur.

During the Civil War Melvin entered into the Confederate service, as did his son W.C. Godman. W.C. Godman was also from Saline County, moving there after the Civil War.

The son, while in Confederate service, took part in several engagements and was captured, imprisoned, and released on many occasions.

At one point he was incarcerated at Camp Douglas in Chicago, which many historic scholars refer to as the Andersonville of the North.

At the close of the war, W.C. Godman was a bod guard for Confederate President Jefferson Davis just prior to his capture by Union forces.

Melvin Godman maintained the plantation's village appearance, and living on the estate were his wife and six children, a school teacher, a Kentucky lawyer boarder, two ex-slaves, farm laborers and an English house servant.

Over the next 130 years the estate and big-house were owned by other known figures in Saline County's history, such as local business owner J. Van Dyke.

Other owners also farmed the rich prairie soils, but in recent years the house fell into disrepair as a rental property, a state in which it served as recently as the autumn of 2007.

Located on the fringes of northwest Marshall, the historic site is now in a commercial area that the city has been developing over the past decade.

Due to the historical information that such sites provide us about Missouri's slave and African American history and plantation past, the loss of the Obannon/Godman historic home and site is immeasurable.

With only a limited number of these properties and sites still with us, saving and preserving them needs to be a priority for local Missouri communities and historical groups.

For additional information, contact Gary Gene Fuenfhausen, (660) 837-3199.

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I think this is an excellent informative article. I am looking for information on a plantation not far from Hannibal -- west of Palmyra, on the North River.

I believe Col. Robert Fowler was the owner. I was told that slaves slipped away at that location and made their way to Illinois and freedom. Any information appreciated.

Thanks for this article, I have it in my "Favorites".

-- Posted by Midwestern Seeker on Fri, Aug 28, 2009, at 10:02 PM

Where was the house located?

-- Posted by radargart on Fri, Mar 7, 2008, at 6:11 PM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
Ah, that would have been a good detail to add. Sorry. It was on U.S. Highway 65 between FCS Financial and Head Start.

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