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One Night Only—Tours run every 30 minutes
Experience an evening with Thomas Jefferson at his Poplar Forest plantation in the aftermath of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. “Fire Bell in the Night” brings history to life with a guided tour where participants interact with historical actors and interpreters in and around Jefferson’s retreat house, exploring the fears and hopes of Thomas Jefferson, the enslaved men and women and our new nation.
Hear Jefferson’s anxiety regarding the Missouri Compromise, which he said was “the death knell of the Union.” Engage with Burwell Colbert, Jefferson’s enslaved butler, and other enslaved workers on the property as they ruminate on their concerns about this political compromise that ensured their continued enslavement at the same time it secured others’ freedom. Observe how Jefferson and the enslaved individuals at Poplar Forest wrestled with the idea and the institution of slavery in this dynamic program performed by a stellar cast of interpreters and actors, including, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson and Stephen Seals as Burwell Colbert. The program also features Dylan Pritchett and Robert Watson, two accomplished historic interpreters in African American folklore and culture.
About the Missouri Compromise
In 1820, Congress made an effort to ease tensions between the slave and free states by passing the Missouri Compromise, which permitted Missouri’s request to join the Union as a slave state, admitted Maine as a free state to maintain numerical balance between slave and free states and set a physical boundary between the free and slave regions of the country. Bitter debates and anxieties ensued across the country and here in Virginia, where slave owners and enslaved individuals alike pondered how the compromise might affect their futures.
AN AMERICAN EVOLUTION EVENT
“Fire Bell in the Night” is supported by American Evolution™, 2019 Commemoration. American Evolution marks the 400th anniversary of several key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence America today, including the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America. Featured events, programs and legacy projects inspire local, national and international engagement in the themes of democracy, diversity and opportunity.
With “Fire Bell in the Night,” Poplar Forest provides a unique perspective on the American Evolution within the context of Thomas Jefferson and the men and women he enslaved at his retreat home and plantation. These stories relate to the larger narratives of democracy and diversity that began in 1619—and continue to impact us today.
"But this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror." –Jefferson discussing the Missouri question to John Holmes, April 22, 1820
In addition to “Fire Bell in the Night,” Poplar Forest will present Dr. Adam Dean, an associate professor of history at the University of Lynchburg, as he gives his talk “The Origin of Disunion? Rethinking the Missouri Compromise” on September 25th at 6 p.m.
The panic of 1819 and the debate over the presence of slavery in Missouri shattered the illusion that America could exist without political factions or parties. But did the Missouri Compromise put the United States on the road to war? By exploring the origins and aftermath of the debate over slavery in the Louisiana Purchase, Dr. Adam Dean will suggest that while the Missouri Compromise showed the potential for sectional divisions on slavery, it did not mean that the Civil War was inevitable. Admission is $5 per person and tickets are available below.