Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.
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 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.