Missouri's Little Dixie
1850s Minor W. & Elizabeth O’Bannon” Plantation
Marshall, Saline County, Missouri
Historic big house, as it appeared in March 2007, just northwest of the city in the
commercial industrial park, Marshall, Saline County, Missouri.
In February of 2008, the historic 1850s “Minor W. and Elizabeth Obannon” plantation big house was bulldozed by new owners making way for commercial development. This historic big house was once the center of a grand estate well over 700 acres 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 (O'Bannon) 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. 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, whom 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 Saline County. 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. (Central Missouri is rich with a large coal reserve, but it is not used in modern times because it is high in sulfur. Most of the area, including Howard, Lafayette, and Saline, had several operating coal mines as late as the early 1900s. You can still see many of the remaining coal mine trash hills in and around Lexington, Missouri.) The Obannon plantation encompassed some 700 + 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 4 slave quarters located on the property and managed by the plantation’s overseer William Elgin. 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, Missouri, where his father owned a plantation and slaves. At an early age, Melvin moved to Kentucky where he “dealt extensively in livestock and slaves” and became a well known Bourbon County, Kentucky 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 body guard for Confederate President Jefferson Davis just prior to his capture by Union forces. Melvin Godman maintained the plantation’s village appearance, and on the estate with his wife and 6 children, 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 Fall 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.
by Gary Gene Fuenfhausen, March 2008
The historic "Obannon" big house after being demolished in March 2007, Marshall, Saline County, Missouri.
Research and Photographs by Gary Gene
Fuenfhausen . All published materials on this site are fully
copy written and may not be used in any manner without the written
consent of its owner.
. All published materials on this site are fully copy written and may not be used in any manner without the written consent of its owner.
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