Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.
The third installment of my slave cabin research found me spending the night of Saturday, June 19th at McLeod Plantation on James Island, South Carolina. McLeod Plantation was used during the Civil War as a hospital for union soldiers and immediately after the war as the headquarters for the Freedman’s Bureau. The date of this overnight was a significant one: June 19th - or Juneteenth - was the date in 1865 that Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves had been freed.
This stay would also mark a few firsts. It would be the first time that I would be dropped off at a site and not have access to transportation, and would also be the first time that I would not stay in the slave cabin alone. Two of my Civil War reenacting friends, Ernest Parks and James Brown, would spend the night with me.
I arrived at the site at 6:00 p.m., at about the same time as the other members who would be spending the night and the media. The opportunity to open all of the shutters and doors of the cabin revealed some thing that my previous inspection did not: Dead roaches were abundant! It was necessary that some housekeeping be performed before sleeping could occur. After dispensing with the media, and before darkness descended upon us we got a visit from one of my coworkers, Nancy Tinker, who brought along a mutual friend Susan Wall. They brought refreshments and snacks.
After hours of reminiscing, the caretaker of the plantation house came and introduced herself. James and Ernest took advantage of the opportunity to take a tour of the plantation house. When they were through with their tour of the plantation house, we all took a tour of the largest slave cabin on the site before Nancy and Susan left. We then proceeded to the strip mall located across the street in search of food. This was a reminder of how development has encroached upon McLeod Plantation. All of the developed property bordering the plantation was once property of the plantation.
After eating in the cabin and despite the humidity, the three of us had no problem drifting off to sleep. I woke up around 1:00 a.m. and saw the silhouette of a person in the window farthest from me. I had to quickly “man up” and not scream like a girl. I discovered that it was James who was sitting by the window because he could not sleep. We talked awhile before I drifted back to sleep. When we all woke up the next morning it was Father’s Day and James explained that he went for a short walk during the night. We all reflected on our current roles as fathers and the historical roles of fathers who were enslaved. Breakfast was delivered by my boss John Hildreth, director of the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.