Slave Cabin Project

Original, Historic Fabric Makes Hobcaw Barony Slave Cabin Stay Special

Posted on: August 17th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joe McGill at Hobcaw Barony.

Joe McGill at Hobcaw Barony.

My first slave cabin stay in Georgetown County, South Carolina was Hobcaw Barony. I had great anticipation for this stay because of the county’s historical ties to the growing of rice.  Many slaves were imported into the state of South Carolina because of their knowledge of growing rice.

Two media representatives made arrangements to spend the night with me on this visit. In the end only one - Eric Frasier from the Charlotte Observer - stayed. His role on this occasion was as a freelance writer exploring my desire to sleep in slave cabins.

I met George Chastain, executive director of Hobcaw Barony, at the Visitor’s Center at 6:00 p.m. as scheduled. Representatives from the media were there also. After learning about the history of the plantation from George we all proceeded to the cabins. Once at the cabins the media proceeded to follow my every move as I toured each and every building.

The mosquitoes were fierce so I knew that I would be in for a long night. After dousing myself with insect repellent, I became more tolerant of the mosquitoes. When I inspected the cabin, I discovered something unique that the other four cabins that I had stayed in to date did not have - this cabin had most of its original historic fabric left. Hobcaw Barony’s policy has been to maintain, not restore. It suddenly reminded me of my many visits to Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC. The cabin was one of several buildings in the village, which also contained a church, doctor’s office and several other houses. These buildings - which had been lived in up until the 1950s - were an indication of how the plantation evolved from slavery to freedom.

Tanya Ackerman, Jackie R. Broach, and Eric Frazier from  the Coastal Observer pose outside the cabin with George Chastain, director of Hobcaw Barony.

Tanya Ackerman, Jackie R. Broach, and Eric Frazier from the Coastal Observer pose outside the cabin with George Chastain, director of Hobcaw Barony.

Eric Frasier mentioned that getting to sleep would be a challenge for him, but once we got settled into the cabin we discovered a calm that would allow us to sleep. The mosquitoes did not bother us, maybe because of the insect repellent or the burning of the candles or both. Our biggest challenge was the humidity. That was the first time that I slept in a cabin with both doors left open. The next morning I proceeded to do my usual documenting through an audio visual recording. Eric did the same before we both packed up and went our separate ways.

In my conversation with George Chastain the previous evening, I mentioned to him that I was trying to make contact with the owner of Mansfield Plantation, which is also located in Georgetown County. He mentioned that Mansfield had an absentee owner but he would do all within his powers to help make that connection. He also mentioned that Mansfield is located on the Black River a fact that I had not previously known. The Black River runs through my hometown of Kingstree, SC. Because of that revelation, this project has now gotten personal.

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.

Slave Cabin Project Moves to the Privately-Owned Goodwill Plantation

Posted on: July 26th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 6 Comments

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

One of the restored slave cabins at Goodwill Plantation.

One of the restored slave cabins at Goodwill Plantation.

My stay at Goodwill Plantation marked the first time in my slave cabin project that I would stay in a cabin restored by a private donor. It was also the first of which I did not make the initial contact. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the front gate by Tom Milliken, the gentleman who coordinated my opportunity to stay on the property. Our first order of business was to meet the owner of the property, Mr. Larry Faulkenberry.

We spent the next three hours talking about the history of Goodwill Plantation and his efforts to restore the slave cabins and maintain the historical integrity of the property. He mentioned - and I saw - archival evidence of some of his personal research done about the slaves that once inhabited the plantation. He also mentioned the yearly pilgrimage to the property that has been established by a local African American church. We could have talked even more but we were reminded we had not yet toured the property.

One of the slave-made dikes at the plantation.

One of the slave-made dikes at the plantation.

Mr. Faulkenberry took me on a personal tour, where he mentioned that the bought the property with the intent of selling it for profit however he fell in love and decided on keeping it instead. We toured the man-made dikes that were built by slave labor and made it possible to control the flow of water necessary for growing rice inland. The highlight of the tour was the Mill House. Inside this structure were authentic operational machines that ran by a water wheel. Mr. Faulkenberry was thrilled to give me the history of each piece of machinery and I was just as thrilled to learn about them.

When we finally made it to the slave cabin it was a little darker than I had wished. Up until this point, I had been accustomed to getting to the cabin with enough light to do a thorough inspection. This inspection had to be done with a flashlight. Mr. Faulkenberry and I checked all the cracks and crevices that the flashlight allowed. As I prepared my place to sleep, I was harassed by a cockroach that I managed to kill. When I was about to drift off to sleep, I felt something crawling on my leg and discovered that it was a spider. I killed the spider and placed it right by the cockroach that I killed earlier. When I woke up about 3:00 am I discovered that both dead bugs were gone. Getting back to sleep from that point was a challenge but I managed to do so. When I woke up around 5:00 am I had the time to reflect and do some exploring of the immediate area. As day light approached I managed to take some great photographs of both of the existing slave cabins.

At 7:20 a.m. Mr. Faulkenberry showed up just as he had promised to lead me off of the property. I thanked him for his generosity. On my ride home, I continually thought about Mr. Faulkenberry. Not only did he have the means but also the willingness to restore the slave cabins on his private property, which was an unpopular decision, but the right thing to do. It is because of Mr. Faulkenberry and people like him that this element of American history will not be forgotten.

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.

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.

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.

Slave Cabin Overnights Continue to Enlighten

Posted on: June 25th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

The slave quarter accommodations at the Heyward House.

The slave quarter accommodations at the Heyward House.

The second installment of my slave cabin project was conducted on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. On this night I stayed in the slave quarters at the Heyward House in Bluffton, SC. This recently-restored slave cabin is believed to have housed the slaves that built the original Heyward House in the 1840s.

My day started with leading a group of 7th graders on a tour to Morris Island, SC to interpret the assault on Battery Wagner. This was the battle portrayed in the award winning movie Glory. Impending bad weather dictated that we spend less time on the island and more time on the boat. After pushing the attention span of 7th graders to the limit, I decided to use them as a test audience for the story of my slave cabin experience. They were quite interested in hearing about my experience at Magnolia Plantation. I was getting a barrage of questions about the experience until dolphins broke the surface of the water. My experience has taught me that no matter how compelling the story no one can compete with dolphins.

Joe McGill poses outside the slave cabin at Heyward House.

Joe McGill poses outside the slave cabin at Heyward House.

Unlike Magnolia Plantation, I did not have any prior knowledge of the Heyward House site, so I intended to get there well before dark. My ride there included a telephone interview with the local newspaper. The reporter informed me that a photographer would meet me at the site.

Occasionally I get hints that maybe this slave cabin project is not a good idea. Once such hint came when I took the exit off of I-95 South and was following a pickup truck with no bed, a sizable confederate flag pasted to the back window on the passenger side and the term "red neck" on the back window of the driver’s side.

Once at the site, I met the photographer and the staff of the Heyward House. Some of the Heyward House board members came by to welcome me to the site. Unlike Magnolia Plantation, the Heyward House - currently used as a museum and welcome center - is in an urban setting. Before leaving, the Heyward House staff informed me of bad storm that occurred on the night before and that I might get a visit from an owl.

Students join Joe McGill  at the Heyward House in Bluffton, SC.

Students join Joe McGill at the Heyward House in Bluffton, SC.

Shortly after the staff left, I got a visit from James L. Gilliard, an African American resident of Bluffton. He stated that he heard about the project and wanted to meet me. We talked as if we had known each other for life.

Falling asleep was much less of a challenge than it was at Magnolia Plantation. The only noises were those of vehicles on the highway but those eventually subsided. When I woke up the next morning and lit my candle, however, I noticed some of the creepy crawlies that shared the experience with me (spiders, ants, and other multi-legged creatures).

That morning I got to share the experience with a visiting class of 3rd graders. The rest of the day included visiting sites in and around Bluffton pertinent to African American history.

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.

Slave Cabin Project Unites Living History with Preservation

Posted on: May 18th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joe McGill prepares to spend the night in a slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation.

Joe McGill prepares to spend the night in a slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation.

As a Civil War re-enactor, I am accustomed to immersing myself in the history I interpret, as a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation I am already committed to preserving the built environment, and I have always been interested in African American history. I realized I could combine all three elements, and – more importantly – assist in bringing attention to an aspect of American history that is often overlooked by spending a night in slave cabins throughout the state of South Carolina.

For various reasons, my idea of spending a night in a slave cabin was not very appealing to most people with whom I came in contact. I was often confronted with reasons why I should not take on such a project. Despite the nay-sayers, I was determined, and the project was initiated at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC on Saturday, May 8. Four original slave cabins and one turn-of-the-century cabin were recently restored at Magnolia.

Upon arrival, I discovered that Magnolia staff had a roaring fire going in the fireplace – very welcoming. The day prior, the local newspaper ran an article about my slave cabin project, which set the stage for two local television stations to come out for interviews at the site.

Once the Magnolia staff and the media were gone, darkness quickly descended upon the plantation. This moment was now the real test of my resolve to spend the night alone in a slave cabin. After bedding down, I got up at least five times to check out unexplained noises. I had to convince myself that the sounds I heard were those of nature: wind, tree limbs brushing against the roof of the cabin, acorns hitting the roof, etc.

Joe McGill outside the slave cabin as darkness begins to fall.

Joe McGill outside the slave cabin as darkness begins to fall.

When I woke up the next morning it was Mother’s Day. I could only think about all the mothers who once occupied those cabins, mothers with children who had the potential to be sold as property. I decided to go on a nature walk, something I did not dare go on the evening prior because Magnolia staff reminded me of the alligators that inhabited the plantation. During my walk, I came upon the plantation cemetery, which provided a great time to reflect and reminded me of why I’ve taken on this project.

The interest in this project has increased dramatically. Prior to my stay at Magnolia, I had already identified and received verbal permission to stay in four additional slave cabins throughout the state. Because of the media attention, additional cabins have been identified in South Carolina. I have also received inquiries from the states of Georgia and Alabama.

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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.