Juneteenth Stay at Slave Cabin Offers Several Firsts

Posted on: July 6th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

McLeod Plantation Slave Houses - James Island, Charleston, South Carolina (Photo: Corinne Hipp)

McLeod Plantation Slave Houses - James Island, Charleston, South Carolina (Photo: Corinne Hipp)

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.

The 54th Mass Company I, From left: James Brown, Joseph McGill, and Ernest Parks. (Photo: Corinne Hipp)

The 54th Mass Company I, From left: James Brown, Joseph McGill, and Ernest Parks. (Photo: Corinne Hipp)

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.

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3 Responses

  1. Carol Jacobsen

    July 6, 2010

    There is something about McLeod. Five miles to Charleston, yet hundreds of years away. This is the place to educate all school children about life on a Sea Island cotton plantation: this is the place we all should see. Join us at Friendsofmcleod.org for more information.

  2. Patrick McIntyre

    July 8, 2010

    Joe, this is an amazing and powerful journey of discovery that you and your friends have embarked upon, and I look forward to reading more. I visited the McLeod Plantation in 1994 during a VAF conference, and I have never forgotten what an amazing and magical place it is.

  3. Cecelia Gordon Rogers

    July 8, 2010

    July 8, 2010

    Mr. McGill,
    You are a great story teller! I could feel the varied emotions and experiences you encountered during the evening and night, as I read the drama. I stopped with amazement to imagine – how would my 7th and 8th grade students at Charleston Development Academy (CDA) Public Charter School react to experiencing your journey. Our children have limited opportunities to live in the past. Maybe we can arrange a partial evening to share periods of the simulations? Thanks for sharing.
    With sincere appreciation,
    Cecelia Gordon Rogers