Slave Cabin Project

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.

The Slave Cabin Project Visits Alabama

Posted on: November 18th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

When I started staying in slave dwellings in May of this year, it was not my intent to move the project out of South Carolina. But, my duties as a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation took me to Montgomery, Alabama for the statewide presentation conference. While there, I could not pass up the opportunity to stay in as many slave dwellings as possible.

The cabin at Old Alabama Town.

The cabin at Old Alabama Town.

My contacts in Alabama were well aware of the slave dwelling project and arranged for me to stay in two while attending the conference. One was at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery, and the other at Riverview Plantation on the Alabama River, near Montgomery. This would be the first time that I would stay in slave dwellings on two consecutive nights.

I first arrived at Old Alabama Town and anticipated no problem with the stay. My usual inspection revealed that I would be spending the night in the most luxurious slave dwelling I had experienced to date. The structure was two stories high and made of brick, with the kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs.

Prior to my night in the dwelling, arrangements had been made for me to lecture on the slave dwelling project in the historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. That arrangement also included the reading of excerpts from the “Slave Narratives” by Alabama State University drama students. The emotionally-charged performance was outstanding, tear-jerking, and a befitting honor to former slaves.

The overnight stay at Old Alabama Town was, as expected, uneventful - though, through the night, I contended with the sounds of trains and vehicle traffic.

The cabin at Riverview Plantation.

The cabin at Riverview Plantation.

The following evening I arrived at Riverview Plantation, the private property of the McWirther family. Teresa Paglione, an archeologist for the state of Alabama, joined me for this part of my stay. After a brief respite to grill some ribs, we toured the slave cabins in search for one that would be the most conducive to my overnight stay. The first cabin contained some materials that, if disturbed, could possibly reveal living creatures (despite the fact that I had been assured the cabin had been recently bug-bombed). I chose the second cabin. It was less cluttered, but still made me question my resolve to carry on with my project.

We proceeded to the main house to eat and enjoy more conversation. I tried my best to prolong the latter, because I was not looking forward to my impending stay in the cabin. Around 10:00 p.m., I finally arrived in my quarters. Though it was the first time I slept with my shoes on—in the event that I might need to hastily leave the cabin—I made it through the night without incident.

The best part of my stay came the next morning, when Mr. McWirther took me on a tour of the property. Our tour revealed that Mr. McWirther is also sensitive to the substantial Native American history contained in the property. The visiting archeologist, Ms. Paglione, was assisting him in his cultural preservation efforts.

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.

The Slave Cabin Project Visits Mansfield Plantation

Posted on: October 8th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joe McGill at the Mansfield Plantation chapel.

Joe McGill at the Mansfield Plantation chapel.

A chapel located at Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown, SC would be the seventh slave dwelling that I would stay in since May of this year. Unlike many of the dilapidated structures left in the slave village, the chapel had been restored; though, one of the slave cabins in the village is currently undergoing restoration work.

Of all my stays thus far, Mansfield Plantation was the most anticipated. The plantation is located on the Black River in Georgetown County, which also runs through my hometown of Kingstree, SC in Williamsburg County. Mansfield holds for me the strongest possibility of ancestral ties than any of the other locations I’ve stayed.

Like Goodwill Plantation near Columbia, SC, Mansfield Plantation is privately owned. The main house and its adjacent structures currently operate as a bed and breakfast. Owner John R. Parker personally funded the chapel’s restoration, and a non-profit has been formed to raise the funding necessary to restore the remaining buildings.

I arrived at 6:00 p.m. to do my usual inspection of the slave dwelling. After settling in, Parker and board chair Wyndham Manning met me at the plantation’s chapel. We discussed the history of the plantation and the current effort to restore the slave village; they extended to me an invitation to come back in November to address the board and convince them that restoration of buildings in the slave village would be a worthwhile effort. I learned that an African American member of the board has done the necessary research to trace his ancestry back to Goodwill plantation. He also has family members in Kingstree, my hometown. I immediately accepted the invitation.

Shortly after they left, my colleague, Terry James, arrived. This would be Terry’s second stay in a slave dwelling (the first being Anderson, SC). Terry brought with him a machete for added protection from ill-intentioned critters—I could only hope that he would not wake up from a nightmare swinging that thing in a disoriented state. That machete was the least of my worries, because the mosquitoes would not allow us to sleep. After dousing ourselves with insect repellent, we could lie atop our sleeping bags and let the mosquitoes have their way, or seal ourselves in our sleeping bags and sweat profusely.

The following morning we proceeded to the main house to eat breakfast with the rest of the guests. They were all impressed by the slave cabin project, and were even more impressed that Terry and I accepted the invitation to come back in November to address the board about preserving the rest of the buildings in the slave village.

After breakfast, Terry and I took the scenic route back to the chapel along the Black River, making plans for our return visit as we walked. We both vowed to visit the cemetery so that we can remind ourselves of why we’ve taken on this worthwhile project.

Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

The Slave Cabin Project Visits a Site in Need of Restoration

Posted on: September 13th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joe McGill (center, holding sign) and friends outside the cabin in Anderson, SC>

Joe McGill (center, holding sign) and friends outside the cabin in Anderson, SC>

The sixth overnight in my slave cabin project was in Anderson, South Carolina, a city upstate that was founded because of a rail road and cotton. This was a change for me, because all of the slave cabins I stayed in prior were oriented to rivers with rice being the main crop of the plantation.

When I arrived I was greeted by Mike Bedenbaugh, director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation. It is because of the Palmetto Trust, the statewide partner of the National Trust, that the four cabins still exist. Threatened with demolition, the Palmetto Trust acquired the cabins and is currently looking for the right buyer to purchase them for restoration. Also there to greet me were two media outlets, a regional TV station and a local outfit doing a documentary. What was unusual was the number of people who were there because they heard about the project prior to my arrival. One of the visitors even brought me a kerosene lamp and gave me permission to keep it as long as I continue to sleep in slave cabins. How thoughtful.

The cabins in Anderson, SC.

The cabins in Anderson, SC.

The cabins were totally different than any of the others I have stayed in. They were a lot larger and had the remnants of electricity that once powered the structures. Like the Heyward House in Bluffton, these cabins were in an urban setting. Upon further investigation and a history lesson from Mike, I learned that the cabins had evolved into their current state. As time progressed, rooms were continually added to each of the four structures, which were initially only one room.

During the tour it was evident that the cabins had not been lived in for quite some time and had been protected from the elements and vagrants by plywood placed on the windows and doors. The inability of the buildings to breathe made the smell of mold and mildew quite prominent.

A close-up of the cabin, showing the need for restoration.

A close-up of the cabin, showing the need for restoration.

The media and the people who were gathered there were allowed to tour the buildings with us. After the tour my colleague Terry James showed up. Terry is a fellow Civil War re-enactor who was spending the night in the cabin with me. I certainly appreciated Terry’s company that night, as these cabins needed the most attention of any I have slept in thus far, as these cabins did not have some type of public interpretive use. This was an exception – other than McLeod Plantation, all the cabins I’ve slept in were available to the public.

After engaging in extensive conversation with Terry, it was not a problem for both of us to drift off to sleep. When we both woke up the next morning, I proceeded with my usual routine of documenting my stay through photographs and audio visual recordings. Mike then came by to secure the cabin before we all left.

Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

The Slave Cabin Project Featured on NPR

Posted on: August 19th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Joe McGill poses outside the slave cabin at Heyward House.

Joe McGill poses outside the slave cabin at Heyward House.

We've been following our colleague Joe McGill's slave cabin project fairly closely here on the PreservationNation blog, and it turns out we're not the only ones fascinated - yesterday he was interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered" program. Joe talked to Michele Norris about the project, what inspired him to take it on, and what he's learning along the way. It's an interesting interview, and well worth a listen.

Read more about the project:

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.