Crafting History and a Place of Honor for Mary Brice at Point of Honor
March 26 - March 28
In 2019, a neglected nineteenth century encased photographic portrait of a woman resurfaced in a pop-up exhibit at the Lynchburg Museum System. Currently kept by the Library of Congress, the daguerreotype was labeled by staff with the following inscription:
“Mary Brice (or Bryce) of Point of Honor, Lynchburg, Virginia, half-length portrait, seated of middle-aged African American slave woman.”
The Lynchburg Museum System, a municipal entity, currently manages the early nineteenth century house called Point of Honor. Deeply enmeshed in Lost Cause narrative for all of its life as a historic house museum, the strict adherence to a fifteen year curatorial and interpretive timeframe dating from 1815-1830–before the date of this daguerreotype–meant that Mary Brice was completely left out of the life history of Point of Honor. This was the case for all enslaved people at the house, because in the years of the “Era of Good Feeling” to which the house is decorated and interpreted, no enslaved person, man, woman, or child is named in the existing
records at Point of Honor.
In the past, lack of documentary evidence for the enslaved community gave historic house museums–which have historically relied on archival material and academic scholarship to establish legitimacy–a way out of dealing with difficult subjects such as slavery, Reconstruction, and segregation. Although the documentary history about Mary Brice is scant, what we can we learn by looking anew at this fascinating and important image of an enslaved woman in Virginia? And, what does the City of Lynchburg and its people have to say about this image of Mary Brice?
After spending time with the genealogy of Mary Brice and an examination of the photographic implications of the daguerreotype, we ask the question, how can we craft a history and a place of honor for Mary Brice at Point of Honor?