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Archive for July 2011

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The Slave Dwelling Project: Several Firsts in Maryland

Several Firsts in Maryland

 

Slave Dwelling at Sotterly Plantation, Hollywood, Maryland
Slave Dwelling at Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood, Maryland

Saturday, July 9, 2011 found me at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland.  Southwest Airlines deserves credit for allowing this stay and lecture to fit perfectly into a weekend.  Prior to my arrival at Sotterly, I knew that I would be dealing with several firsts; the first stay in Maryland and the first stay at a former tobacco plantation.  Sotterley was one of the stays that came about as a result of the popularity of the Slave Dwelling Project.  I can recall getting a call from Eileen Miller, Marketing Manager for Sotterley, and scheduling the stay.

Sotterley Plantation is located on the banks of the Patuxent River and is the only remaining Tidewater Plantation in Maryland open to the public. It is designated a National Historic Landmark and the site includes the early 18th century mansion, a rare slave cabin, and a full array of outbuildings on nearly 100 acres of rolling fields, gardens, and riverfront. The authentic 18th and 19th century architecture reveals Chesapeake Bay plantation life in the form of a customs warehouse, smokehouse, corn crib, brick privy, and plantation schoolhouse. Visitors can also walk along Sotterley's shoreline, woodland trails, meadows, an antebellum orchard, and colonial revival gardens.

When I arrived at the entrance to Sotterley, I had to stop and marvel at the trees that lined both sides of the road because this was reminiscent of several plantations I had encountered in the past.  Even more impressive were all the historic buildings still on the site. 

Tree-Lined Drive Leading to Sotterly Plantation
Tree-Lined Drive Leading to Sotterley Plantation

The first face to face meeting with Executive Director Nancy Easterling was intense.  Her passion for the site was obvious and her questions came in rapid succession.  Our tour of the site verified that all of the buildings were indeed authentic.  The highlight for me of course was the tour of the slave dwelling.  It was then, I discovered another first; the first dwelling with a dirt floor.  That revelation factored into my decision to sleep in the loft of the dwelling, another first.  While in the cabin, I was interviewed by two people who represented two different local newspapers.

At dinner that evening, I was informed by Meredith Taylor, a Trustee of Sotterley and a professor at St. Mary’s College, that a student would like to come and film the experience.  I informed her that filming would be fine but also issued an invitation for the student to spend the night in the dwelling with me.  The student Ryan Gugerty accepted the invitation.  When I got back to the dwelling and inspected the loft more thoroughly with a flash light, I discovered an active wasp nest.  I knew then where not to go. 

Tree-Lined Drive Leading to Sotterly Plantation
Stairway to Loft in Slave Dwelling at Sotterley

When Ryan made it to the site around 10:00 pm he gave me a call on my cell phone and I went out to meet him in the parking lot.  The questions by both of us indicated that I was as curious about him as he was about me.  I do recall warning him that I snored like a champ, a tidbit that if revealed prior to his arrival may have yielded a different outcome.  I do not know if it was my snoring or the call of nature that caused Ryan to get up and leave the cabin at least twice during the night.  I also recall it being very hot before the temperature moderated to a level comfortable enough to sleep. 

The next morning the questions from Ryan continued only this time everything was being recorded and filmed.  We could not resist the temptation to walk to the river.  Along the way, we came up on a demonstration garden.  Planted there was tobacco.  Not only did I think about the slave labor necessary to harvest the crop but I thought about my own personal experience growing up in Kingstree, SC and working in tobacco fields during the summer. When we reached the river it was not hard to imagine the historic landscape without trees and how the plantation house sat prominently on a hill that could be seen from the river. 

After one more news paper interview in the cabin, Nancy delivered me to the home of Jan Briscoe and Sam Baldwin.  Jan is the current President of the Board of Trustees for Sotterley.  Sam had a beautiful breakfast prepared.  Jan is a descendant of the last owner of Sotterley to own slaves.  Initially, it was hard to keep my attention because I was admiring ospreys that were nesting right near their dock.  Jan and Sam had instructions to deliver me to Sotterley in time for the scheduled Slave Dwelling Project lecture that I was scheduled to give.  They carried out their assignment well but not before we bonded with great conversation about Sotterley Plantation and about the Slave Dwelling Project.

Slave Dwelling at Sotterly Plantation, Hollywood, Maryland
Joseph McGill at Entrance to Sotterley Slave Dwelling

I am always a little nervous when I start thinking about how many people might show up at these lectures.  I’ve given the lecture to as little as two and many as one hundred plus and all points in between.  I was impressed and encouraged by the number of people that showed.  A fellow Civil War reenactor, Lou Carter, from Company B, 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment out of Washington, DC attended as he promised.  I was even more impressed that my friend Beth Lingg showed.  I met Beth in 2005 on a cruise down the Mississippi River on the riverboat Delta Queen from Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana.  Beth is the only person from that cruise with whom I have kept in contact.  When I informed her that I was coming to Sotterley she immediately put it on her calendar.

The lecture was a success.   I put Ryan on notice that I would call on him to talk about his experience in sleeping in the cabin.  He verified that it was my snoring that kept him up during the night.  After the lecture, the question and answer period could have gone longer but I had to let the audience know that I had a plane to catch.  When the session concluded another first happened, Eileen Miller Marketing Manager and Artist, presented me with an oil painting of the cabin that I slept in.  This along with all of the other activities at Sotterley puts it on the short list of best places stayed to date.  More importantly, Sotterley must be commended for the work and resources that it has put forth to ensure the slave dwelling on its property was restored and is being properly interpreted.  

Related Video: Sotterley Plantation Stay

About the Slave Dwelling Project

For more information, please contact Joseph McGill:
 
Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 |
Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: joseph_mcgill@nthp.org | www.preservationnation.org

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Ideas for Documenting Georgia Deaths

 

A person's death is one of the easiest events you can document.  It is sometimes so easy that we do not look for more than one resource.  Being more thorough may lead you to discovering more about your ancestor. 

If you have accepted one record at face value, go back and identify more possibilities that may exist.  The following may be some of the rewards awaiting you:

ñ  discovering contradictions exist to information we have already gleaned

ñ  finding names of extended family members or parents of an ancestor

ñ  discovering a place of birth, location of homestead, or family cemetery 

 

The following resources may be useful when researching ancestors who died in Georgia:

 

1.      U. S. Social Security Death Index: If you find your ancestor listed in the U. S. Social Security Death Index, order the original application.  This may provide helpful clues to:

ñ  Ancestor's full name

ñ  A female ancestor's maiden name and name of husband

ñ  Age, date of birth, and birth place of an ancestor

ñ  Parents of your ancestor (full names), Ancestor's occupation

See “Using Social Security Application forms for Genealogy” to learn more. 

 

2.      Funeral Programs:  Many African Americans collect funeral programs.  Funeral programs are very common in the family because they were a substitute for newspaper obituaries during a time when these announcements were not included for African Americans.  Find out who has a funeral program collection in your family.

 

3.      Family Cemetery: Visit the family cemetery to see who may be buried alongside your ancestor. Even if you have done this once, after you have become familiar with family groups on census records, you may find out you overlooked someone the first time. After extensive census research, I was able to recognize most of the names and connections between people buried in an old church cemetery. 

 

4.      Find A Grave:  Study the cemeteries and memorials listed in the county where your ancestor lived in Georgia.  This is a great way to learn the names of cemeteries and those interred. Perhaps a memorial would provide clues.  Take the time to contribute your ancestor's biography to this database.  You never know who may find you and connect.

 

5.      Georgia Deaths: (1915-1927) and (1928-1930) These free collections at FamilySearch will link to the actual death certificate. 

 

6.      Georgia Deaths (1919-1998): This Ancestry database is an index. Order the death certificates from the Georgia Department of Public Health

 

7.      Funeral Homes:  Use the death certificate to identify the funeral home that took care of your ancestor.  Contact the funeral home to find more clues about your ancestor's family, insurance, and finances. 

 

8.      County Library Obituary Indexes:  Newspaper obituaries may reveal information about your ancestor. Obituaries from historic newspapers sometimes reveal more information than you would expect.  Contact the county library to see if your ancestor is listed in a newspaper obituary index.  For example, the Savannah Morning News Obituary Index (1913-1926 & 1987-1996) is available through Live Oak Public Library.

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Pulling the Most Out of Your Records

 

The records we have located thus far provide both direct and indirect evidence that Robert S. Tarleton’s parents were Joseph and Sarah Tarleton. They were identified as such in the 1871 Freedman’s Bank record (see this earlier post for a full discussion) and lived next door to Robert in the 1870 census (see this earlier post for a full discussion).

Our tendency may be to jump back to this earlier generation and start working on Joseph and Sarah. However, this is the surest way to build ourselves an impassible brick wall.

We would first continue to gather information concerning Robert S. Tarleton. In this column, we have used only those sources available online. If this were your project, you would continue your research into Robert by consulting microfilmed and original records.

Microfilmed records are often available to be rented from the Family History Library through your local Family History Center. Information on these services is available at http://www.familysearch.org. Click on the “Catalog” link, then search by “Place Name” for “South Carolina, Colleton” to see what county records are available, but don’t forget to also search for “South Carolina” itself, to catch all those state records. To find a Family History Center near you, click on the “FamilySearch Centers” link at the top of the FamilySearch homepage.

You can find original records in many locations, but you will want to check the records collections of the South Carolina Archives, the South Carolina Historical Society, and state universities around the state.

For the purposes of this example, though, we will not continue with the full research, but use the records we have already located.

One of the most difficult aspects of researching enslaved African American families is the use of indirect evidence. As defined in an earlier post, a record contains indirect evidence when its information implies the solution to your research problem, rather than providing the solution explicitly. Because freedmen and women appear in so few of the most common record groups in the period immediately following emancipation, it becomes necessary to glean as much information as possible from these records. This especially includes the identification and use of indirect evidence as clues to your ancestry.

To illustrate this process, we will define our research problem as the identification of Robert S. Tarleton’s former slave owner. None of the records that we have located provide this detail outright, but we can find clues in these records.

The two most useful records for this purpose are the 1870 federal census and the 1871 Freedman’s Bank deposit register entry. To see these records, with a detailed analysis, read the posts, “Evaluating A Record By Itself,” (for the Bank record), and “Corroborating Evidence” (for the census record).

So what evidence can we use from these records to help us identify Robert’s slave owner?

1. In 1870, Robert’s family was enumerated near Green Pond, in Blake Township, Colleton County, South Carolina. In 1871, his Bank record states his residence as Combahee, near Green Pond. The other records located agree nearly universally that he resided in this area (see the post “Gathering More Information – Researching from Your Research Plan” for details). This could be a clue as to the location of the plantation where Robert and his family were enslaved. The following modern map from the South Carolina Department of Transportation depicts the general area of Robert’s residence (you can click on the map to view a larger version).

Map of Colleton County, SC

2. It cannot be determined whether Robert’s father Joseph was possessed by the same owner as Robert. Under South Carolina law, enslaved children were considered the property of the mother’s owner. The father may have lived on a separate plantation, with the parents being involved in a cross-plantation, or “abroad,” marriage. Unfortunately, there is no way to know this for certain yet, so we must assume that Robert did not live with his wife and children (and perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised). The census record and Bank record do provide the names of Robert’s mother and siblings: Sarah, b. ca. 1807; Robert, b. ca. 1835; and Betsy [“Scott”], b. ca. 1842. Another brother, “Dandy,” is noted as having been “sold away.” Not only does this prompt us to look for bills of sale once we have identified the owner, but this note also implies that Robert and Betsy were not “sold away.” So we should be able to locate Sarah, Robert, and Betsy living together.

The next step would of course be to take the evidence we have, including the indirect evidence, and attempt to identify Robert’s slave owner. To do this, we may have to complete a survey of records. This will be explored in a future article.

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Create a Snazzy Facebook Profile Photo

Most folks do not know that you do not have to be stuck with a tiny profile photo on your Facebook profile nor on your Facebook fan page. Here are a few examples that I have created for my own profile and pages and for other people too:

About Our Freedom: An African American Perspective
Over Troubled Water: For African Ancestored People
Clarendon County, South Carolina African Americans
Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood , South Carolina African Americans

You can use other programs to create a layered photo that is the proper dimensions. Here are the steps I follow to create my own profile photo using Photoshop Elements: (click on screenshots to see full view).

1. Create a canvas 200 X 600.

2. Drop a color onto the background.

3. Open a logo or profile photo file, and drag it on top of your background. Notice the bottom right corner of the screenshot. You will see both layers there. This is the beauty of working with Photoshop. You can create different effects on any layer you chose.

4. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to draw a rectangle. Pick a color from the profile photo or logo and fill the rectangle.

5.  Next, I added a photo on top of the layer that I colored.

6.  Next, I added some text.

7.  Save the file as a .jpg, and you are ready to upload it either as your personal profile, or as a fan page personal profile.

In the next article we will review the basic settings for your fan page.

Related articles
 
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Free Research Assistance for Finding Georgia Ancestors

 

We are continuing to point out free resources that will help you in your quest to learn more about your Georgia ancestors.  FamilySearch Wiki and FamilySearch Forums were first released in 2008, and are great places to find resources and assistance.

The FamilySearch Wiki article for Georgia links to African American resources for Georgia:

There are a few resources linked here. Several are already linked on Lowcountry Africana.  Be sure to watch for new resources. The following FamilySearch Wiki article on African American Research has many more useful resources linked, and is constantly updated by members of the genealogy community:

You can also search topics on the Wiki. For example, “Georgia in the Civil War” is an article about the local history during the Civil War, military units, pension records, cemetery records, and links to access records which are available:

Now let's suppose you do not find the answer to your question on the Wiki.  I suggest you review what you know about your ancestor and post your question at FamilySearch Forums where you can receive free research assistance. Be sure to register for a FamilySearch Account if do not have one.  Then, be sure to validate that account in an email that will be sent after you register.  This will ensure that you will receive a reply by email to the questions you post at FamilySearch Forums.

You will then be able to post your research questions about your Georgia ancestors in the Southern States section.  Click “New Thread” to post your question. Be sure you are logged in. Ask only one question at a time and be sure to provide any of the details that you have such as:

ñ  Name of ancestor

ñ  Name of spouse

ñ  Place of birth

ñ  Birth date

ñ  Parent's names

ñ  Place of death

ñ  Places lived

ñ  Death date

 

Since 2008, every person except one that I referred to the Forums has been able to receive an answer to the research question they posted as far as I can tell. In the next article we will discuss documenting deaths in Georgia and online resources available.

Happy Hunting!

Robin

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Introducing You to Georgia and the FamilySearch Wiki

Whenever I run out of historical resources to document ancestors, I turn to the FamilySearch Wiki for fresh ideas.  The FamilySearch Wiki is an encyclopedia of genealogical resources shared by people like you and me.  Genealogists and family historians are sharing what they know about history and resources making it a wonderful place to look first for information. I wanted to be sure to introduce you to the articles for the state of Georgia on the Wiki:

You will need to be certain about the county where your ancestor lived and time period he or she lived there.  Creating a timeline of your ancestor's life will be very helpful.

As you can see, there is a list of topics on the left which link to resources, and each each county is listed.  I suggest you check the resources for the county where your ancestor lived to determine which historical documentation exists that was generated during the lifetime of your ancestor.

Let's take a look at DeKalb County:

Notice the sections: History, Parent County, Boundary Changes, and Record Loss.  Comparing your ancestor's timeline to the information in this section will help you save a lot of wasted time. Have you ever searched for an ancestor in a particular county and never found him or her?  Well perhaps there was a boundary change and the county during a certain time period did not exist yet or perhaps it became part of another county.  Your ancestors never moved, but the county name changed. 

Some reasons for not being able to find documentation could be:

ñ  Record loss

ñ  Boundary changes

ñ  Records are held in parent county

Some Wiki articles are still being developed.  Let's work together to add the information you find to the Wiki.  I invite you to become a contributor, or share your findings with me in the comments section of any Georgia article.  Be sure to check the link for the Family History Library Catalog at the bottom of each Georgia County article.  You may find resources on microfilm which are not available online yet.  Then you can contact your local FamilySearch Center to order and view the film.

 In the next article, we will discuss the topic, African Americans, in the topics section.

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Lowcountry Africana Welcomes Robin Foster as Coordinator of Georgia Records

 

Lowcountry Africana is pleased and excited to welcome Robin Foster as Coordinator of Georgia records. In her new role at LCA, Robin will share resources and advice for tracing African American ancestors in Georgia. 

Robin is well-known for her tireless work in documenting, and helping others to find, South Carolina ancestors. She coordinates the SC Genealogy Research Community group on Facebook, is the Columbia Ethnic Community Examiner, is a Co-host of the Nurturing Our Roots broadcast on Blog Talk Radio, is the author behind the South Carolina African Americans page on the FamilySearch Wiki, and is the author of the blogs About Our Freedom and Over Troubled Water.

Robin is an expert on the free resources available on the new FamilySearch website and has contributed two webinars to the FamilySearch Learning Center. They are:

The Most Overlooked Record Types in South Carolina
 
Going Social With Genealogy
 
We are delighted that Robin will be applying her expertise to sharing resources for finding Georgia ancestors. She will coordinate the Georgia Ancestors page on LCA.
 
Are you searching for Georgia ancestors? If so please be sure to bookmark Robin's Georgia Ancestors page and check back often! Happy Ancestor Hunting from the crew at Lowcountry Africana!
 
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Slavery in the North: Cliveden Historic Site, Philadelphia, PA

 

Slavery in the North

 
Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the City of Brotherly Love, these are all things we associate with the city of Philadelphia.  I find it ironic that the purpose of my last stay in Philadelphia was to highlight that peculiar institution that was the opposite of all of those things. I commend Cliveden’s staff for taking the high road in this matter by engaging the public and seeking their input in how they should move forward in telling the stories of all the people who were involved. The Cliveden experience has given me a better understanding of how slavery existed in northern states.
 
Cliveden Plantation, Philadelphia, PA
Cliveden, Home of the Chew Family, Philadelphia, PA
Thursday, June 23, 2011 found me at Cliveden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This stay came about as a direct result of a lecture that I gave about the Slave Dwelling Project at the National Preservation Conference that was held in Austin, Texas in October 2010. Immediately after the lecture, I was approached by Rick Fink, the Education Director at Cliveden, he extended the invitation to me at that time. The very next day, I unknowingly sat beside David Young, Executive Director of Cliveden, on the bus ride he confirmed the invitation.
 
Cliveden is an historic site owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and located in the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia. Built as a country house by attorney Benjamin Chew, Cliveden was completed in 1767 and was home to seven generations of Chew family members. Long famous as the site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777, as well as for its elegant architecture and furnishings, new research is revealing a troubled past marked by slavery and another kind of struggle for freedom.
 
In addition for an opportunity for me to expand the Slave Dwelling Project to the north, staff at Cliveden saw this as an opportunity to expand a program called “Cliveden Conversations”. "Cliveden Conversations" sprouted from a recent discovery of documents detailing slave ownership by the affluent family of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew.  The Chew Family Papers have opened the door to new discussions about how slavery has affected modern race relations and community in Germantown.
 
As followers of the Slave Dwelling Project became aware that Cliveden was one of the places that I would stay, some would always be surprised for various reasons.  Cliveden did not fit the mold of any of the previous stays. It did not have a cabin; it was not a plantation; most of all, it was not in a southern state.
 
My arrival into Philadelphia was uneventful and I was picked up from the airport and transported to Cliveden by David Young. I often use the term “house on the hill” to describe the architecture that we as Americans are most interested in preserving. Cliveden is the epitome of that phrase. It is not hard to visualize that when Cliveden was completed in 1767 it stood prominently on a hill in isolation. Any one approaching would have been awed by its significance. The two story slave dwelling, the two story carriage house and any other out building would have accented the wealth of the Chew family.  I got a tour of the slave dwelling and the Cliveden Mansion from Rick Fink. It is amazing how the architecture of the big house allowed slaves to labor within it walls and gave the home owner the ability to isolate that labor from visitors when necessary. I only needed to see the first floor of the slave dwelling to know that was where I would sleep. This room had less amenities than others in the house although an electrical light, electrical outlets and a radiator made it immediately evident that the building evolved and was a resident far beyond the abolition of slavery in the state of Pennsylvania.
 
The rest of the evening included two media interviews, a Germantown Coalition reception and dinner at McMenamin’s Tavern.
 
Cliveden Plantation, Philadelphia, PA
Interior, Cliveden Historic Site, Philadelphia, PA
The sleep in the dwelling was peaceful. I expected to hear sirens and other noises that a city would have to offer, but I heard none of those things. The next morning, through the window that I left open, I heard the sound of soothing rain falling on the trees. When I attempted to go to the bath room, I set off the house alarm, I immediately called David Young for instructions which did not work. David assured me that he would call the alarm company and that he was on his way to the site. As thoughts of Rodney King ran through my mind, I parked myself in one spot and waited for staff or the police to arrive.  Luckily, staff showed up and the police did not.
 
After all of that drama, I then mustered the courage to explore the upstairs of the dwelling. The upstairs rooms contained further evidence that the dwelling had evolved over time. A bathroom with indoor plumbing and closets were all indications that the dwelling was lived in far beyond the ending of slavery in Philadelphia. Not having a flashlight, I was incapable of exploring the attic.
 
That day, I got several bonuses. I got to visit Walter Gallus, Director of the Philadelphia Field Office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and have lunch with him. His office is located directly across the street from Cliveden. A few days prior to coming to Philadelphia, I made contact with a first cousin who I had not seen in decades. Once we worked out the details of the matter, he and two of my aunts who I had also not seen in decades showed up at Cliveden. Hanging out with them in the slave dwelling was a great time for us to reminisce about family members who are no longer with us on this earth.
 
Cliveden Plantation, Philadelphia, PA
Cliveden Slave Quarters, Philadelphia, PA
My participation in “Cliveden Conversations” was interesting. I altered my presentation to include those former slave dwellings I stayed whose owners still interact with the descendants of the people who were enslaved at the site. The presentation proved appropriate for Cliveden’s goal of telling more of the story of the people who were once enslaved there. I was told by Cliveden staff that the crowd was the largest ever for “Clivden Conversations.” The question and answer period would have gone longer had we let it. After the group dispersed, a few of the participants joined me in the slave dwelling for a bonus question and answer period.
 
Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the City of Brotherly Love, these are all things we associate with the city of Philadelphia.  I find it ironic that the purpose of my last stay in Philadelphia was to highlight that peculiar institution that was the opposite of all of those things. I commend Cliveden’s staff for taking the high road in this matter by engaging the public and seeking their input in how they should move forward in telling the stories of all the people who were involved. The Cliveden experience has given me a better understanding of how slavery existed in northern states.
 

Further Reading:

 
Check out Slave Dwelling Project Visits Cliveden on the National Trust Historic Sites blog.
 

About the Slave Dwelling Project

 
For more information, please contact Joseph McGill:
 
Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 |
Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: joseph_mcgill@nthp.org | www.preservationnation.org
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Slave Dwelling Project: Sleeping in a Relocated Slave Dwelling

Sleeping in a Relocated Slave Dwelling

 
 
Slave Dwelling Project Roper Mountain Plantation
Visitors at Roper Mountain Science Center, Greenville, SC
Saturday, June 11, 2011 found me in Greenville, SC to stay at Roper Mountain Science Center in a former slave dwelling that was disassembled from its original location and reassembled there. 
 
This would be my second venture into the upstate of South Carolina to stay in a former slave dwelling. The first was Morris Street in Anderson early in the project. I first learned about the building at Roper Mountain years ago when an application for funding the move came across my desk.   At that time the Slave Dwelling Project was only an idea but I did make a request to spend a night in the dwelling at some point in the future. 
 
On this trip, I travelled with my daughter Jocelyn and my wife Vilarin. Although Jocelyn shared the experience of spending a night in a slave dwelling with me in the past, she and Vilarin had conveniently booked a room in a Greenville Hampton Inn. After my stay in the slave dwelling on Saturday night, our intent was to deliver Jocelyn to Tuskegee University in Alabama on Sunday to spend a week in their VET STEP program.
 
Slave Dwelling Project Roper Mountain Plantation
Thomas and Ben Riddle Outside of Slave Cabin
 I arrived at Roper Mountain around 10:00 am as planned. I was surprised and impressed that there was a young African American female in period dress interpreting the dwelling. I only regret that time did not allow me to interact with her. I only know that she is a volunteer and a high school senior. Knowing that we have so much in common, I wanted to compare notes and know what inspired her to take on such a controversial task. 
 
The 23-by 16-foot structure was built before the Civil War by people enslaved by Dr. Thomas Blackburn Williams, a prominent Greenville physician.    After slavery the dwelling became a home for families who worked on a nearby farm.  The last occupants moved out in the early 1930’s. Unfortunately, only 50% of the original materials were able to be used in the reassembled building.
 
I was scheduled to interact with the Roper Mountain visiting public from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. It turned out that the initial group occupied the entire time span. The question and answer period proved to be most interesting. We covered everything from slave dwellings to current day race relations.
 
I discovered that I was not going to spend the night alone in the dwelling. Thomas Riddle a local history teacher and his son Ben would spend the night with me. 
 
When the park closed, Vilarin, Jocelyn and I left with the intent to come back at 7:00 pm. On the return trip, we experienced a severe thunder storm complete with rain and hail. My first thought was that a tornado was approaching, fortunately I was wrong. The storm was a testament that the dwelling was properly sealed because no water entered the structure. When the storm passed, Jocelyn and Vilarin left for their hotel room leaving me with Thomas.
 
Slave Dwelling Project Visits Roper Mountain Plantation
Thomas Riddle and Joe McGill Inside Slave Dwelling
The company of Thomas was much welcomed. He gave me a thorough history of the dwelling with accompanying video on his laptop computer. The disassembling and reassembling were all well documented. We left Roper Mountain and visited the original site of the cabin. The dwelling was moved because of a proposed housing development. Unfortunately the current economic conditions have forced the developer to alter his plans.  Along with saving the cabin, preservationists were able to save one barn. One barn was lost. The big house was moved to another location on the site and is now being restored.
 
After the tour of the original site, we proceeded to the city of Greenville. I had no idea Greenville was so vibrant with night life. Hundreds, I would even venture to say thousands of people of all hues, were taking in all the city had to offer. Pedestrian traffic galore, live music, sidewalk dining, it was all happening there. In the city is where we met Ben, Thomas’s son. His mission was to pick up a few items that Tom forgot before meeting back at the cabin.
 
Slave Dwelling Project Visits Laurelwood Plantation
Joe McGill at Roper Mountain Science Center, Greenville, SC
At the cabin, we all decided to occupy one of the two rooms. Ben chose the bed, Thomas chose the spot by the door and I chose the spot by the back window. Before going to sleep, we first recorded a video that will be used for some type of promotion in the future. We all slept well.
 
The next morning we all discovered that we shared the cabin with a nesting Carolina Wren. The nest was located in a basket about one foot above my head as I slept.
 
This experience taught me that relocating a slave dwelling can work if there is a plan and resources in place to sustain the structure. The leadership at Roper Mountain should be commended for overcoming all of the challenges of dissembling, moving, reassembling, interpreting and maintaining a former slave dwelling on their property.
 

About the Slave Dwelling Project

 
For more information, please contact Joseph McGill:
 
Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 |
Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: joseph_mcgill@nthp.org | www.preservationnation.org