Strewn all across the South are plantations, where wealthy southerners lived in mansions along with slaves that lived in cabins on the premises. Today, these grand houses have mostly been converted into museums to remind Americans of the dark past that helped to build this country.
Monmouth Plantation, in Natchez, Mississippi, is the only plantation I have visited. Built in 1818, it remained a slave-owning household until the Civil War put an end to the practice in the 1860s. Following the war, the mansion and grounds fell into disrepair because the family could no longer afford the lifestyle that they had once had (a real tragedy, I am sure). However, about a century later it was purchased and restored to its 1830s appearance. It is now designated a National Historic Landmark, and is a "luxury hotel."
I use quotation marks because both I and my mother were less than impressed with the experience when we stayed there. We had hesitated on whether or not to stay anyways. We wanted to visit, as plantations and slavery are a major part of the American history and story. But it was another thing to spend over $200 for the cheapest room in order to stay there. But the enticement of free mint juleps upon arrival, fresh-made snacks, and a Southern breakfast swayed us to experience a white-person's Antebellum experience for a single night. (Amendment - a white person's Antebellum experience WITH electricity and running water).
Promised in the package was access to the mansion and grounds, which included a garden. Also the aforementioned mint juleps, food, and a tour of the mansion. What we got was indeed access to the mansion and garden (though it was February in the pouring rain so we didn't enjoy that bit much, but that's not the plantation's fault), as well as the Southern breakfast. We did not get any mint julep's, which to this day we complain about. That had been one of the reasons we had decided to spend the money and stay here, because the idea of sipping such a southern drink in such a southern place was enticing.
I know it looks ungodly snooty that the lacking mint julep was a sticking point for us, but it's more to show you the level of customer service we received. We had spent a lot of money to stay at the plantation, and that famous southern charm was non-existent in return. Half of the promised package was not included, and when we politely asked about these supposed amenities, we were met with stony expressions of a staff that clearly thought their guests were wasting their time.
Disappointed but not willing to let the loss of our mint julep dream ruin our day, we headed out in the rain to explore the grounds. Like I said, it was winter so even if it had not been raining there would have been only so much to see from a beautiful garden perspective. We retreated back to our room after only about 45 minutes outside.
There were no dinner options at the plantation, so we headed into town to find something. The trend of polite service workers continued at the restaurant. Something that also struck me at both the restaurant and at the two gas stations we stopped at in the state - there was never, not one time, soap in the restrooms. Mississippi is constantly at the bottom of various lists of "the 50 states ranked in health, education, happiness, etc". No soap in any of the public restrooms we stopped at was a great example to further that point in my head.
Back at the hotel, I turned the tv on while Mom went to find the touted "freshly-made snacks" that were included in our $200+ room. She came back with the report that these snacks were simply cookies purchased from the local grocery store. At this point, neither of us were surprised, and we ended up turning in early.
The next morning, we walked across the grounds to the admittedly very lovely Restaurant 1818, housed in what had originally been the mansion's parlor. It was here that we experienced our only truly kind experience with a local, in the form of our excitable waitress. We both ordered the breakfast pictured, mainly because it came with grits and a biscuit, both Southern staples. I had never had grits (ground corn) before and I have nothing but great things to say about the dish.
After breakfast, we went on the tour. At this point, we did not have high expectations of any level of greatness that this tour would provide and were really just ready to get going. We were especially ready to go after the front desk woman we were chatting with while we waited revealed that she had spent the night throwing up. A story she only told us after she's touched our credit card and handed us a pen. Again, Mississippi.
The tour was interesting enough, and I learned quite a bit. I have been to many history museums throughout the years, was an interpreter at one for a year, and hold a bachelor's degree in the subject. But I am from the North and have not traveled the South as much as I have other regions in the US. To hear the history of a plantation while in one was very interesting, made especially so because in the North we are taught a different perspective than the South is. As in, the level of acknowledgement of the evils of slavery are much more prominent in the North than the South. Even if you go onto the website for Monmouth now, there is very little mention of the slavery background of the property. It was mentioned very little on the tour itself. The focus was much more on the rich white families who had owned the plantation. While these omissions were a bit...well, obvious from my perspective, I still learned a lot about what they wanted me to learn about. My favorite fact from the tour regards portraits of that era: as photography had not been invented yet and portraits were expensive, they were used sparingly. Thus, if you see a portrait of an American child from the pre-camera era, it is usually because they had died. This is why they are so often holding flowers (like the above portrait), or are floating in the clouds.
Overall, we were both really disappointed in our experience here. Perhaps it was our karma for deciding to spend a night in somewhere with such a dark history. The history itself was interesting, and the building was absolutely stunning. But given the price tag, especially with the lack of promised inclusions for the high cost, combined with the rudeness of most of the staff, ensured that I see no reason to return.