More than 125 guests celebrated the beginning of the 175th anniversary of the completion of Millford Plantation on Sunday at the fifth Music at Millford concert performed by a string trio of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Gov. John Laurence Manning had the plantation built from 1839 to 1841 when he and his wife, Susan Hampton Manning, were just 22 years old, and before his term as governor from 1852 to 1854. People often referred to the plantation as "Manning's Folly" because it cost a whopping $125,000 to build at the time - "before the furniture was installed."
Peter Kenny, co-president of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, which now owns and manages the property, provided that information and much more during a lecture, PowerPoint presentation and walk through of the house before the concert. Kenny gave a little history of the architecture of the plantation, referring to it as Greek Revivalist and explaining the detail builder Nathaniel F. Potter used in the construction process.
He also told about how after the Civil War when Union Troops went to burn the compound, Brig. Gen. Edward Potter, who shared the same surname as its builder, reportedly told his troops to spare the plantation because his brother built it. Kenny called that an unconfirmed report.
Kenny brought the day into perspective, though, when he explained that Manning appreciated classical music to the point that he had musicians train slaves to play string instruments and provide performances much like the musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In fact, the pieces performed Sunday included works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an English-born black composer from the late 1800s. Robert deMaine, the principal cellist with the L.A. Philharmonic and one of the string trio performers, said he arranged the five Southern Love Songs written by Coleridge-Taylor with his race in mind. deMaine, who performed for Music at Millford in 2015, said he researched African composers from the period after performing at Millford last year. He said he could envision the black musicians playing in the same room many years ago.
Other members of the trio included Nathan Cole on violin, who serves as first associate concertmaster of the L.A. Philharmonic, and Ben Ullery, assistant principal viola of the L.A. Philharmonic.
One of the more touching moments came when each musician explained the history of his musical instrument and how he travels with valued property. deMaine, the cellist, said he travels with a cello on loan from the philharmonic. And while many guests expressed joy to see the 175-year-old plantation, many "oohed" and "aahed" when he explained the cello was built by Antonio Stradivari in 1684 - 332 years ago. Because of its size and value, deMaine said he always buys two tickets when traveling with the cello so it can travel with him. He said it has as many frequent flier miles as he does, and it always gets the window seat for protection from the aisle.
Likewise, violinist Cole performed with a Stradivari violin built in 1729 and on loan from the philharmonic. He told the audience he named it "Benny" because it was owned by Jack Benny, who donated it to the philharmonic upon his death.
On Saturday, the string trio played a free concert featuring Star Wars-themed compositions for about 30 youth which included descendants of Ben Pleasant, a slave who served as Manning's right-hand man.
During Kenny's lecture, he told of how at one time before the Civil War when Manning and Pleasant traveled to Ontario, representatives of the movement to free slaves separated the two and set Pleasant free. Manning went home without him, and Kenny said that Pleasant was such a loyal assistant to him, he returned to the plantation to serve Manning.
The fifth Music at Millford kicks off the 175th Anniversary Celebration of the plantation. The public is invited to participate in a barbecue picnic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, at Millford. The event includes Lowcountry cuisine, music, tours of Millford's historic interiors and grounds and children's activities. From 4 to 6 p.m., the Friends of the Millford Benefit will have a behind-the-scenes tour, lecture and cocktails. For more information, go to www.classicalamericanhomes.org and search for information about Millford.