Descendents of Brattonsville's Enslaved Meet with the Slave Cabin Project

Posted on: December 3rd, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Posing at the Brattonsville cabin with "This Place Matters" signs.

Posing at the Brattonsville cabin with "This Place Matters" signs.

My last slave dwelling stay of 2010 was at Brattonsville in McConnels, SC on Saturday, November 6. I highly anticipated this stay because after I obtained permission from Brattonsville’s staff, it was recommended that I also seek permission from the descendents of some of the slaves that occupied the site. My first visit to Brattonsville was in September to seek that permission.  Since the start of the project, I had heard that descendents from some of the properties that I stayed in still interacted with the site in a favorable and actionable fashion. The descendents, staff and I all came away from that meeting with high expectations of the upcoming stay.

Terry James, my fellow Civil War re-enactor, again spent the night with me in the slave cabin - his third stay. It was predicted that the temperature would drop below freezing during our stay. It was also made clear that due to the authenticity of the cabin we would not be able to use the fireplace, however wood was provided for an outside fire.

Because Brattonsville has a regimented public program, I was scheduled to arrive early enough to interact with the visiting public. The program began with Brattonsville’s history given by staff, followed by testimonials from slave descendants, and ended with an overview of the slave dwelling project by me.

Terry James displays the slave shackles he brought.

Terry James displays the slave shackles he brought.

Terry and I built a fire as darkness began to descend upon the site, and he revealed that he brought with him two authentic pairs of slave shackles. This was not a surprise because we had discussed this possibility on one of his prior stays. What was a surprise was that he planned to sleep with a pair of the shackles on. He offered me the same opportunity but I declined. His reasoning was that he wanted to get an idea of how slaves felt when they were crammed into the holds of ships during the middle passage. It was quite haunting to wake up in the night and hear Terry moving around with the shackles attached.

The next day Terry and I worshiped at the Allison Creek Presbyterian Church in York, SC - a church that had been built with the assistance of slave labor. Some of the pews were also built by slave labor. We chose to sit in the balcony where the slaves would have worshipped. We were allowed ten minutes to address the congregation about the slave dwelling project. They were moved by my general comments but they were even more moved by Terry’s account of sleeping in shackles the prior night. After the service, we went on a tour of the slave cemetery that the church is now reclaiming from nature.

Meeting the descendents of slaves of Brattonsville, hearing the slave shackles through the night, worshiping in the balcony of Allison Creek Presbyterian Church, and visiting the slave cemetery were all reminders of why this project must continue.

Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He started his Slave Cabin Project in May.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

General

4 Responses

  1. Alana Thevenet

    December 5, 2010

    Joe, you know how I feel about your work. You are in my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis. May God richly bless you for the unselfish work you are doing to enlighten and inform people about issues in our country’s history that need to be dealt with and resolved.
    Alana

  2. Sleeping with ghosts | Past in the Present

    December 5, 2010

    […] site in York County, SC.  Over at the National Trust for Historic Preservation blog, there’s an interesting item concerning Brattonsville written by living historian Joseph McGill, Jr.  He’s found a way […]

  3. J. Herman Blake

    December 8, 2010

    Joseph McGill and Terry James have given us all an incredibly enriching understanding. I cannot thank them enough. The photographs from the Bratttonsville stay are very moving. What a wonderful opportunity for the descendants of the slaves as well as the slave owners and others. By giving them more of their history, McGill also gives them a better future. KEEP ON KEEPING ON.

  4. Joseph McGill,, Jr

    December 8, 2010

    Thank you to all who have supported the project thus far. Your continued support can help save those slave dwellings that are on the verge of collaspe. I am currently on a winter break and will resume the over night stays in March 2011. In the mean time, I do have lectures on the subject scheduled at venues throughout the United States. In addition to upcoming overnight stays scheduled for South Carolina, Texas and Louiaiana will be included in 2011. I am confident that the resources necessary for including other states will be acquired. The project has no expiration date, therefore I request your assistance in identifying those slave dwellings that should be included in this project.