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“Mysteries of the Abandoned” Leaves Locals Questioning the Way Pratt was Portrayed

By Gerri Miller

Staff Writer

Local historians and volunteers said the recently aired “Mysteries of the Abandoned” show about Daniel Pratt and his historic gin shop has left them as dry as the cotton that would be processed in the gins he sold.

“When they came to film the show last spring, they told us the purpose of the show was to highlight former military sites, industrial sites and engineering feats and to show how they came to be formed and what caused them to be abandoned,” said Prattville historian Ann Boutwell.

It was supposed to be a look at the marvel of Daniel Pratt’s cotton gin manufactory and what it meant for the people who lived and worked around Prattville.  The show that aired on the Science Channel, however, said Pratt was responsible for the rapid growth of slavery in the South because of the success of the cotton gin and its ability to process cotton at a much more rapid rate.  Because of this growth, the show said more people were enslaved to pick cotton.

“Not even Pratt could have imagined the wealth that the cotton gin would generate or the scale of the destructive impact it would have,” the introduction to the show said.

“They left out all of the good things Pratt accomplished during his lifetime,” Boutwell said. “What Pratt did was build an industrial village. His intent was to provide jobs for poor farmers, most of whom did not own slaves.”

“Prattville was held up for other towns to model,” Boutwell said. She said when he started his textile mills, at first, he could not get men to come work for him. “Textile manufacturing was women’s work. “Pratt wanted to bring dignity to labor” she said.

Boutwell said that when the film crew visited Prattville last spring, they said they loved Prattville. They spent three nights in the area and filmed at Sloss Furnace in Birmingham. 

Prattville volunteer Ernie Edwards spent about seven hours with the British film crew and was extremely disappointed with their final product.  “It was not what I was expecting it to be,” said. “I thought it would be about the history or the future of the abandoned buildings, but it was more about slavery coming to the South.

Former Prattville resident Margaret Roy said she was disappointed in the way the company presented the story. ‘They made it sound like he single-handedly was responsible for slavery in the state, then they brushed over the next 100 years of the history of the company. They also distorted the meaning of the cemetery,” she said.

Boutwell said Pratt was a devout Christian and much of what he did to take care of the people working for him was because of that. He paid overtime to all his workers and made sure they had housing, churches, schools and much more, for all in the community.

“I believe you can’t judge the past by today’s standards,” Boutwell said. “Slavery was not right-not then and not now- but to put that on Pratt and say that he perpetuated slavery is wrong. He was a humanitarian in a sense that he cared for all people.”

Boutwell shared a quote from Pratt to his father, while living in Georgia, prior to coming to Alabama, that she said summed up his views on slavery:

“My slaves which you mention are not numerous.  I have but three and it is not probable that I shall keep them long.  I did not intend that you should know anything about that as I supposed that you would think I was ruined eternally. But did you know my situation and the situation of the country I live in you would think differently. I assure you that to live in any country it is necessary to conform to the customs of the country in part. I have bought no man into bondage and I am in hopes I have rendered no man’s situation more disagreeable than it was before, but on the contrary I am in hopes that I have bettered it.”

The show can be purchased on Amazon Prime or viewed during scheduled times on the Science Channel. On Amazon, the show is on Season Five, Episode Five and is featured second.