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Marriage Notices from Charleston African American Newspapers

MARRIED In this city, by Rev. T.W. Lewis, Andrew Smalls to Tena Palmer. 10th Harry White to Marg't Green. Nov. 17, John Moore to Nancy Ann Ore(?). Nov 23, Joseph Richardson to Anna Lawrence.

On Sunday, 17th Inst., by Rev. Jacob Legare, Mr. Joseph Milliken to Miss Frances, daughter of H.P. Pinckney.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, South Carolina Leader, 25 Nov 1865, Page 3., accessed 22 Dec 2012.

MARRIED In this city, by Rev. T.W. Lewis, December 2nd, William White to Rosana Vanderhorst.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, The South Carolina Leader, 9 Dec 1865, Page 3., accessed 22 Dec 2012.

MARRIED In this city, by Rev. T.W. Lewis, Dec 24th Julia Williams to John Houston. 28th, Frank Patterson to Rebecca Simmons. 31st, July Lloyd to Rhoda Gaddis. 31st, Julius Martin to Betsey Brown.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, South Carolina Leader, 6 Jan 1866, Page 5., accessed 22 Dec 2012.

Marriages -- At Darlington on the 16th Inst., by Rev. B.F. Whitemore, William Robinson and Miss Serena Sanders.

At Florence Feb. 17th by Rev. T.S. Lewis, Joseph Cannon and Sally Ruggles; also Wm. Deas and Sylvia Blacwell; also Daniel Wilson and Harriet Nettles.

On the 14th Inst., in this City, at the residence of the bride, by Rev. B.F. Randolph, Mr. Wilson Heyward, to Miss Annie Deveaux. All of Charleston.

On the 20th inst., in this City, at the house of the bride, by Rev. B.F. Randolph, Mr. Rash Perry to Miss Fannie Brown. All of this City.

At the Chapel of the Wentworth St. A.M.E. Church, Feb 21st by Rev. A. Webster, Mr. William Brown and Miss Patcy Strafon.

Also on the 21st Inst., by the same, at the Baker Institute, Mr. William Stuart and Miss Elsie Liles. All of this City.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, The Charleston Advocate, 23 Feb 1867, Page 3., accessed 22 Dec 2012.

MARRIED -- at Sumter, May 25th. by Rev. T.W. Lewis, Edmond Chambers to Melvina Moore. Also Merriman Millett to Anna Keith, also Pinckney Owens to Lovlea (?) James.

By Rev. R.H. Cain, on Wednesday morning, May 27th at Morris A.M.E. Church, Mr. Benj. W. Middleton to Miss Mary Sabina Campbell, all of Charleston.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, The Charleston Advocate, 1 Jun 1867, Page 3., accessed 22 Dec 2012.

Marriages --- At Lynchburg So. Ca. 20th Inst. by Rev. B.F. Whittemore, Abraham Durant and Sophronia Durant.

At Darlington 22d inst. by same, Abraham Brown and Miss Silly Bacot.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, The Charleston Advocate, 2 Mar 1867, Page 3., accessed 22 Dec 2012.


Novel Experience of a South Carolina Couple

Greenville. Special. -- The passengers and crew of the Southern train between Columbia and Greenville were treated to an unusual attraction, being witnesses to the marriage of Miss Riggs of Orangeburg to Mr. Holloway of Chappells, which was solemnized while the train was speeding along between Helena and Silver Street at the rate of 45 miles an hour. Miss Riggs was en route to Abbeville to visit the family of her uncle there. Mr. Holloway and a couple of friends boarded the train at Prosperity, having arranged that the minister should get on at Newberry. As soon after leaving Newberry as possible the marriage took place and the happy folks left the train at Chappells, where they will reside.

Source: Chronicling America, Database Online at Library of Congress. Marriage Notices, The Afro-American Citizen, 17 Jan 1900, Page 1., accessed 22 Dec 2012.


Slave Dwelling Project Announces 2013 Schedule

Thirty nine overnight stays in extant slave dwellings is proof that the Slave Dwelling Project is doing well. The year 2012 saw a lot of firsts for the project. For the second consecutive year, a northern state was included in the project when I stayed at the Bush Holly House in Greenwich, Connecticut. Mississippi was the tenth state added to the project when I participated in the Holly Springs Pilgrimage in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

The state of Georgia joined the project when I stayed in a slave cabin in Sautee Nacoochee. Virginia was the twelfth state added to the project when I stayed at Bacon’s Castle in Surry. Virginia also provided the opportunity for the first institution of higher learning to participate when I stayed at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia. The first repeat visit was done at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

My collaboration with the group Coming To The Table was established when I joined them in Richmond, Virginia for their national gathering. That relationship with Coming To The Table was further enhanced when members of the group joined me for overnight stays in the Bush Holly House in Greenwich, Connecticut; Bacon’s Castle in Surry, Virginia and Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia.

2013 will be just as exciting if not more. I will get the opportunity to apply to all of the 2013 stays all that I have learned from the first stay which occurred at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC in May 2010, to the last stay that occurred at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC in November of 2012. This knowledge will make for more robust programming associated with every stay and assist the public in recognizing extant former slave dwellings that may be hidden in plain view such as spaces currently used as guest houses, pool houses, garages, storage spaces, etc. More importantly, this knowledge will help the public in recognizing those extant slave dwelling that are in dire need of stabilization and restoration.

Hopsewee Plantation: Friday, March 1

Slave Dwelling at Hopsewee Plantation

The first scheduled stay, Hopsewee Plantation located on the North Santee River in Georgetown County, SC will be a repeat stay. In addition to the public programs that will be provided, local school kids will compete via essays to decide those who will spend the night in the two slave cabins located at the site. Additionally, this stay will be accompanied by a dinner and performances by storytellers Zenobia Washington and Sophia Jackson both of whom are natives of Georgetown, SC.

Laurelwood Plantation, Eastover, SC: March 8-9

Slave Dwelling at Laurelwood Plantation

Of all the stays scheduled for 2013, the one that I anticipate the most is Laurelwood Plantation in Eastover, SC because it is a true testament of why the project exists. I was originally scheduled to stay there on April 15, 2011 but its dilapidated condition dictated that I pass on that opportunity. The new owners Jackie and Jeremy Thomas vowed that the cabin would be restored along with the mansion. The contractor rushed frantically to get the cabin in a state that was inhabitable for a stay that was to occur on November 3, 2012. Unforeseen circumstances would not let that stay occur on that day. The happy ending is that the cabin has been restored and the owners have granted me unlimited access for educational purposes.

Holly Springs, MS: Friday, April 12 – Sunday, April 14

Holly Springs, MS Pilgrimage

The Holly Springs, Mississippi Pilgrimage will be a repeat. In a program titled The Behind the Big House Tour, visitors will have the opportunity for the second consecutive year to tour the mansions and the slave dwellings. This is a concept that I have been trying to get other well established historic house tours to adopt but they all seem to be content with only telling part of the story. The 2013 stay will also include a stay at Rowan Oaks, the former home of William Faulkner.

Salisbury, NC: Friday, June 14 – Saturday, June 15

The Salisbury, North Carolina stay will be my first stay there but my second stay in the state of North Carolina. It will be special because it will coincide with Juneteenth. When the emancipation proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, it meant nothing if there were no Federal troops in the area to enforce the document. Federal troops did not reach Galveston, TX until June 19, 1865. Commemorating this historic day of freedom has become a national event.

Assault on Battery Wagner Sesquicentennial Commemoration and Stay at Old City Jail, Charleston: July 18 – 21

July 18, 2013 is the sesquicentennial of the Assault on Battery Wagner on Morris Island, SC. This Civil War battle was depicted in the 1989 award winning movie Glory, starring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. Some of the African American men taken as prisoners during the battle were held in the Old City Jail in Charleston, SC. In addition to commemorating the battle on Morris Island as African Americans reenactors have been doing for the past ten year, for the 150th anniversary we will spend the nights of July 18 – 20 in the Old City Jail.

College of Charleston

For the second consecutive year an institution of higher learning will be among the places stayed. That institution will be the College of Charleston which is located well within the city limits of Charleston, SC. It is said that 40% of the African American population of the United States can trace their ancestry back to the port of Charleston, SC. The College of Charleston stay and programs associated with it will provide the opportunity to interpret how institutions factored into chattel slavery in the United States. This stay will also provide the opportunity to further interpret how slavery existed in urban areas.

Ossabaw Island, GA: Friday, May 10 – Saturday, May 11

Abolishing the international slave trade in 1808 did not end the institution of slavery in the United States. No longer did the slave ships deliver their cargo to the major ports such as Baltimore, Maryland; Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; or New Orleans, Louisiana but they still continued to deliver that cargo to more obscure places like the Sea Islands located off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. These islands make up the eastern most portion of the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Area Corridor. Ossabaw Island located off the coast of Georgia near Savannah was one of those islands. The overnight stay on Ossabaw Island will be my first in a slave cabin on a Sea Island.

Sotterly Plantation, St. Mary's City, MD: Sunday, September 22 – Tuesday, September 24

Historic St. Mary’s City, Maryland will be my second stay in that state. The first was Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood. Quite surprisingly, this stay will happen as a result of a presentation that I gave at a public program at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. The organizers of the Maryland stay were audience members and made the offer and I of course accepted.

Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant, SC: November 8 – 10

Slave Dwelling at Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant, SC

Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC will be a stay of opportunity. The Assault on Battery Wagner, the battle depicted in the movie Glory will be reenacted at Boone Hall Plantation in 2013. Although the battle historically took place on Morris Island which is located in the Charleston harbor, it is logistically impossible to reenact a battle there because you can only get there by boat. While the reenactors sleep in there encampments, I will again inhabit the slave cabins.

How to Participate

For those of you who shared the slave dwelling experience with me in 2012 or in any prior year, you know the routine, you are welcome to participate in any future stay(s). For those of you who have not shared the experience but would like to, please let me know as-soon-as-possible. I must seek permission from the property owners for your participation. I am especially interested in sharing the experience with descendants of the enslaved associated with the dwellings; descendants of slave owners; or descendants of a slave and a slave owner. Whatever the category, all are welcome because the ultimate goal is to bring much needed attention to extant slave dwellings in the United States.

Slave Dwelling Project 2013 Schedule

  • Friday, March 1: Hopsewee, Georgetown, SC
  • March 8 – 9: Laurelwood Plantation, Eastover, SC
  • Friday, April 12 – Sunday, April 14: Pilgrimage, Holly Springs, Mississippi
  • Friday, May 10 – Saturday, May 11: Ossabaw Island, Georgia
  • Friday, June 14 – Saturday, June 15: Juneteenth, Slave Dwelling, Salisbury, NC
  • July 18 – 21: Old City Jail, Charleston, SC
  • Wednesday, August 28: College of Charleston
  • Sunday, September 22 – Tuesday, September 24: Sotterly Plantation, Historic St. Mary’s City, Maryland
  • November 8 – 10: Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant, SC

National Day of Listening: "The Ancestors Told; The Elders Listened; We Pass It On" Blog Carnival Edition

The day we've been waiting for has arrived - today, November 23, 2012 is the fifth annual StoryCorps National Day of Listening!

Each year, Story Corps asks all Americans to set aside an hour on the day after Thanksgiving to interview a friend, loved one or community member about their lives, and to record the interview using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, smartphones, tape recorders or pen and paper, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide.

This year, our Genfriends have come together to contribute to a special blog carnival "The Ancestors Told; The Elders Listened; We Pass It On," in celebration of the National Day of Listening.

The response to the call for submissions was tremendous, and here you will find 18 inspired, thoughtful posts on the subject of family oral history and its importance to family historians.

The posts cover a full spectrum - some joyous, some sad, all relaying the same message - that WE are important links in the chain of oral history, and it is WE who must learn and preserve the Ancestors' legacy for generations to come.

We thank our contributors and invite you to settle in and read the stories - a whispered Hallelujah; a night that changed a family forever; a realization that snippets of information amount to a wealth of oral history - and more. Read on...

Sandra Taliaferro: Remembering Family Oral History Changed My Life!

In "Remembering Family Oral History Changed My Life!" Sandra Taliaferro reflects upon how snippets of oral history have come together to form an important part of her research.

Excerpt: "I am quick to tell you "I don't really have any family oral history. I am just piecing things together as I go along. No one has told me anything."

"This morning, while sitting and sipping my coffee, I pondered what to write about for this blog carnival because "I don't have any family oral history" and no one to interview. Then I thought "dah" the most important family event in my life could not have happened without the bits and pieces of family oral history that my mom had passed to me over the years. It had never occurred to me to think of it in that way."

"Sometimes you may think you have nothing, but you really have all you need..." MORE

Vicky Daviss Mitchell: Front Porch Hallelujah

Vicky Daviss Mitchell's blog post "Front Porch Hallelujah" speaks of a candid moment when her grandmother, normally reserved about offering family oral history, revealed the name of her grandmother Mariah, step-grandfather Lawrence and several cousins. Reading it, I felt as though I was on that porch on that day.

Excerpt: "On one of those last "sitting" on the porch days, I said to her something like I wonder what your daddy's mother looked like. She looked up and said, "You mean my grandma Mariah" I thought I would jump for joy.

Halleluja, Halleluja I silently thought. After all those years of asking, I finally got a name.

With a quiet voice I said to her, what about your grandfather, was he a nice man? Her reply was that her step grandfather was Lawrence. She mentioned her father Joseph's funeral and two cousins.

I was too afraid to get up and get a pencil..." MORE

Sandra Taliaferro: Family Oral History - It's Not Always a Pretty Picture

"Family Oral History - It's Not Always a Pretty Picture" speaks powerfully to the need to be prepared for whatever you may hear in an oral history interview.

Excerpt: "Senomia Middlebrooks (1898-1994) was my great aunt. Her mother was Sudie Parks and her father was Alex Middlebrooks. Her grandmother was Malinda Guise who I wrote about in Finding Malinda – Part 1 (click here if you missed that post). I grew up knowing my aunt Nomie, as we called her, and visited her many times. As a cousin said "She was the matriarch of our family."

Never once did I think to ask her about our family history and what it was like growing up in Meriwether County. It would be years after her death before the genealogy bug would bite me and I would crave for knowledge of my family history. A missed opportunity for sure, and I can only imagine the stories she had to tell. Little did I know Nomie had already added a chapter to our Middlebrooks family oral history..." MORE

George Geder: Oral History Or Bust

"Oral History Or Bust" - George Geder looks back and wishes he had asked family members about their recollections; family members who are now gone. George's is a cautionary tale.


"Mother, why didn’t you tell me about your family?

Father, why didn’t you tell me about your family?

Grandma, why didn’t you tell me anything?

It’s a little late to be asking your parents pointed questions after they have passed away. The trick to oral history is to catch them when they are alive; vibrant and coherent. Check this out… interview your grandparents if they are still around!..." MORE

True A. Lewis: When the Elders Go, the Stories Go

In "When the Elders Go, the Stories Go" True A. Lewis thinks back on the oral history she has gathered in casual moments when opportunity presents.

Excerpt: "When the Elders go, the stories go. That is all to be said. We can't get it back. We have to do what we can now to Preserve our History."

"Every time I try to explain to a family member or conversate with a near stranger. I try to convince them the importance of Oral History. I can't leave the importance of that out."

"It was the first thing I did as a unknown Family Historian without even knowing at the age of 9 what it was called. I was doing a “Oral History Interview” with my Father. Simply by just having a conversation with him over a family album. Seen in the photo below..." MORE

Kristin Cleage Williams: Questions I Wish I'd Asked

Kristin Cleage Williams' "Questions I Wish I'd Asked" speaks of questions she would like to ask of ancestors if they were with us today - mysteries she now seeks to solve through research.

Excerpt: "The generations gathered around my Graham grandparents dining room table in 1963 for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey with cornbread dressing cooked by my grandfather. There was white rice, cranberry jelly, green beans, corn pudding and sweet potatoes. There was my grandmother’s finely chopped green salad and her homemade biscuits with butter and with a relish plate holding olives, sweet pickles and carrot sticks.

One thing there wasn’t, was talk about the old days..." MORE

Andrea Kelleher: Sharing Oral History Brings the Family Together

In "Sharing Oral History Brings the Family Together," Andrea Kelleher talks of finding two mystery relatives her mother remembered visited as a teenager, and what it meant to her mother to know who they were.

Excerpt: "A couple of years ago, my mother told me a story of one time when she was a teenager she made a trip to Morehead City with her mother and while there, they took a ride in the country. Now I know my mother and we have a similar sense of humor. I know when she was riding in that car she was probably thinking to herself, "Um, How much more country are we talking about here?" My mother was visiting from New York so Morehead City was looking country enough for her. Ha.

Anyway, she recalled they were driving out in the woods for quite a ways and finally came to this place where two sisters lived. To her they looked "Indian" or something. They were fair skinned with freckles and with long reddish brown hair. She remembered they were petite. They were referred to as some of her "grandmother's people." She's carried this memory with her all these years and wasn't sure who they were..." MORE

Angela Walton Raji: My Ancestors Told, My Elders Listened, We Now Pass It On

In "My Ancestors Told, My Elders Listened, We Now Pass It On," Angela Walton Raji tells of a tragic night in her family's history when night riders changed her family forever.

Excerpt: "For the National Day of Listening, I am sharing a story about an ancestor whose story was carried into the 20th century and preserved for the 21st century. This simply reflects how a simple story can unlock doors to the past.

The Ancestors Told....

In the late 1880s my ancestors living in rural Tennessee faced the threat that many black families faced---night riders!! They lived in Giles County Tennessee, the birthplace of the Klan. Until the 1880s the family had lived mostly in peace, during those post Civil War years.

One of the sons of the Bass family had even secured an education, attending and graduating from Meharry Medical School in 1878. Meharry was a school established in the 1870s to train black doctors. He had become a doctor and the family's status was rising in the small community where they lived. The changes in their life became the envy of a poorer white community and the prospect of seeing a black family acquire land and secure a better life meant that they had to be "put in their place..." MORE

Linda Durr Rudd: A Natural Born Storyteller

Linda Durr Rudd's "A Natural Born Storyteller" recalls oral history passed on by Linda's aunt Rosie Lee Durr (1928-1990).

Excerpt: "My Aunt Rosie was a natural born oral historian. She loved sharing about growing up in rural Copiah County, Mississippi, during the Great Depression. She shared the good, the bad, and the ugly about the people she loved and about herself. She didn't need prodding, she just talked.

Standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, drinking a cup of coffee, dressed for church with the mink stole around her shoulder, rollers in her hair on the front porch, she would tell stories. A major family event or simple everyday activities would take her back. She remembered the events of her own life and she remembered the stories that had been told to her..." MORE

Robin Foster: Pearls of Wisdom From My Mother

In "National Day of Listening 2012: Pearls of Wisdom from My Mother (VIDEO)," Robin Foster shares portions of her National Day of Listening interview with her mother Edna Foster.

Excerpt: "As you can see from this video excerpt, I am not finished learning from her or basking in her great wisdom. I urge you if you have not done so, to spend some time this Thanksgiving honoring your ancestor by interviewing and preserving his or her story..." MORE

Robin Foster: Voices In My Head: Values Dad Put There

In "Voices In My Head: Values Dad Put There," Robin Foster shares values her father Robert Foster (1938-1988) passed on to her from childhood, values she now holds in her heart.

Excerpt: "My memory of what I consider to be our first house is very special to me. My dad was a mathematical statistician who worked for US Civil Services in the 60's and 70's. Parents did not talk much back then to young children as they do now. The first house we lived in was the first one that my parents purchased. One day as I looked out the living room window of this house, I saw my father building another house.

I had heard no mention of this, but it fascinated me as I watched from next door as he progressed from the foundation to the roofing. I can not remember how long it took, but it did not seem long. It was a ranch style brick home. He, with great pride, took our family on a tour when it was finished..." MORE

Bernice Bennett: Wow! We Are Just Passing Through

In "Wow! We Are Just Passing Through," Bernice Bennett shares memories of Mardis Gras celebrations past, and recalls a poignant trip to the cemetery to honor those in her family who had passed away.

Excerpt: "My mother was always sharing a childhood memory! So, one day we were driving to the grocery store and she saw some ladies standing on the street. She immediately began to talk about her Cousins Josephine, Minerva, Pinky, Myrtle and Augustine. Mom did not have any sisters and those cousins meant a lot to her!

She told me that they were always there for each other! Helping out when necessary, visiting and celebrating a birthday, church event, you name it!

Mardi Gras was always a special time for the family to get together and we could always count on a bunch of relatives showing up at Aunt Hester’s house on Thalia Street in New Orleans because the truck floats would stop in front of her house..." MORE

Yvette Porter Moore: Family Stories Handed Down Through the Oral Tradition

Yvette Porter Moore's "Family Stories Handed Down Through the Oral Tradition" tells of oral history interviews Yvette shared with her mother.

Excerpt: "If the Story-Teller leaves no oral or written family history, it dies with them. I think my mother knew this. 44 years ago in 1973, I was 5 years old. My mother was an elementary school teacher and I distinctly remember during Summer vacation, my mother sitting in her home office and firmly letting me know that she was writing a family story. She would tell me that I needed to find something to do as she spoke into an old-fashioned tape recorder with a hand-held microphone, clearly pronouncing every syllable of every word..." MORE

Shelley Dewese: Military Monday- Army Nurse

In "Military Monday- Army Nurse," Shelley Dewese pays tribute to the daughter of her 3nd Great Uncle, Harold Bough, an Army nurse who cared for Tuskegee Airmen during WWII.

Excerpt: "Kathryn Yiensena Bough was born on March 18, 1909 to Harold Bough of St. Croix, a retired Wardroom Steward of the US Navy, and Maggie Keeling of Virginia, a retired Teacher, in the Public School System. Kathryn was the 4th of seven sisters (known as the Bough girls in Portsmouth Virginia).

Kathryn, a Registered Nurse, graduated from Lincoln School of Nursing in 1934. She also did some studies at Columbia University. Before joining the Army Nurse Corp. where she attained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, she served as Head Nurse at Harlem Hospital, New York City..." MORE

Tami Koenig: Your Story Coach: Honoring Sgt. Frank D. Age

In "Honoring Sgt. Frank D. Age" Tami Koenig honors her uncle who was killed in action in WWII.

Excerpt: "Frank Age Jr. was my mom's brother. Just a few year's older, he was my mother's best friend and her protector. They both valued education and found a way to leave their poverty stricken home and take room and board near a good high school where they both studied. My mother graduated in 1942, but by then Frank had already joined the army. He enlisted in February 1941 and became part of the 34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division..." MORE

Cheri Hudson Passey: To Honor Those Who Served: My Family's Veterans

"To Honor Those Who Served: My Family's Veterans" honors those in Cheri Hudson Passey's family who served in the Revolution, WWI, WWII and Viet Nam.

Excerpt: "As I continue to research the lives of my ancestors I am sure I will find others who served or were willing to serve if called to do so.

I am grateful to each of them for a family legacy of service..." MORE

Dr. Bill Smith: National Day of Listening - Friday, 23 Nov 2012 Upcoming

Dr. Bill Smith's "National Day of Listening - Friday, 23 Nov 2012 Upcoming" urges us to interview aunts and uncles, who may have a wealth of family history information.

"Talk to aunts and uncles this holiday season about their family stories.

I frequently write of learning and sharing the stories of my and your family history and genealogy. This year, as we approach the holiday season of family gathering, I want to encourage each of us to reach out to some additional key persons to better gather, record, understand and share these family stories: aunts and uncles (including great aunts and uncles, of course)..." MORE

Toni Carrier: Lessons from My Grandmother ... Taught by My Uncle

Finally, in my own entry "Lessons from My Grandmother ... Taught by My Uncle," I discuss a recent experience that opened my eyes to the need to quiz every family member who will sit still for it, to ask about family history.

Excerpt: "My uncle, who is only a few years my elder, came to visit me and in a back-porch conversation, the topic turned to my grandmother. We were talking about different jobs my grandmother held and my uncle said, "It is amazing to me how much she accomplished with a 5th grade education."

WHAT? I shook my head like I was shaking out cobwebs..." MORE

Many Thanks from Your Blog Carnival Hosts!

Your blog carnival hosts Angela Walton Raji, George Geder and Lowcountry Africana thank YOU for making this blog carnival "The Ancestors Told; The Elders Listened; We Pass It On" in celebration of StoryCorps' National Day of Listening a tremendous success.

To our contributors and our readers we say THANK YOU, Happy Holidays and don't let those stories slip away. You are a vital link in the chain of oral history!

Grab your smartphone, a recorder or your laptop and follow the links below to see how YOU can celebrate the National Day of Listening!

5 Ways to Celebrate the National Day of Listening: Simple Ways to Honor Those Who Have Touched Our Lives

Overcoming Three Obstacles to Recording Your Oral History Interview

From Lowcountry National Day of Listening sponsor Your Story Coach: 5 Ways to Preserve Memories and Share Stories on the National Day of Listening


Lessons from My Grandmother ... Taught by My Uncle

Or, Who Is an Elder?

We often think of family elders as the keepers of family history, but do we think to ask aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins what they recall about our families?

I recently had an experience that opened my eyes to the need to quiz every family member who will sit still for it, to ask about family history.

My uncle, who is only a few years my elder, came to visit me and in a back-porch conversation, the topic turned to my grandmother. We were talking about different jobs my grandmother held and my uncle said, "It is amazing to me how much she accomplished with a 5th grade education."

WHAT? I shook my head like I was shaking out cobwebs.


"Did you say?"

"It is amazing to me how much she accomplished with a 5th grade education" came the answer.

At that moment my memory flashed to my grandmother telling me that when she started 6th grade, she was put back to 5th grade because she did not speak English. What I didn't know is that she never went back.

My family is Cajun French. My grandmother's birth record states that she was born "in the bayou near..."

She was the keeper of the family history and of our Cajun culture. From the time I could talk she was teaching me to count to 10 in French (the only French I now know). When she was cooking, she would pull a chair up to the stove, lift me onto it and start: "First you brown your onions..." I must have been 5 or so.

My grandmother died in 1976. Now, as an adult, I wish I had paid more attention to the things she was intent on passing on to me.

It never occurred to me to ask her son, my uncle, who is barely 12 years older than me, about what she taught to him.

Above: Me, My Uncle, My Grandmother and My Sister, about 1964

That back-porch epiphany woke me up, gave me a much deeper respect for my grandmother for the challenges she faced, and gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of learning and preserving our family history before it slips away.

Guess who I am interviewing for StoryCorps' National Day of Listening?


Call for Submissions: There’s a Blog Carnival Coming to Town!

The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On

~ Greetings Genfriends! ~

It's been a while since we had a Gen community blog carnival. In honor of StoryCorps' upcoming National Day of Listening, the Preservinators (Angela Walton-Raji, George Geder and Lowcountry Africana) have reunited to bring you “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On,” a blog carnival that's all about oral history.

We invite YOU to submit blog posts for the carnival, which will roll out on the National Day of Listening, the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2012!

What Is the National Day of Listening?

Friday, November 23, is the fifth annual National Day of Listening. On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks all Americans to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one, using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, iPhones, and tape recorders, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide at

What Is a Blog Carnival?

A blog carnival is a special event where bloggers come together to write about a particular topic (in this case oral history and its importance to family historians). Bloggers submit links to their blog posts on that topic to the carnival host, and the host gathers them all into one great magazine-like edition with comments on each post.

It’s a great way bloggers from all walks of life can share their ideas about a particular subject.

How Can I Participate in the Blog Carnival?

Participating is easy!

  • ~ First, have a look at some of the suggested topics below and simply write a post on your blog about the topic you choose.
  • ~ Second, send us the link to your article via the submit form here ( no later than Wednesday, November 21.
  • ~ Third, grab your beautiful blog badge here for your blog to wear proudly!
  • That’s it! We’ll gather up all the links and publish them in a special edition on Nov. 23, the National Day of Listening!

    I Don’t Have a Blog. Can I Still Participate?

    You betcha! You can write a post, send it to Lowcountry Africana here, and we’ll post it on Lowcountry Africana’s blog! Just note in your message that you would like to borrow our blog to post your article.

    What Can I Write About?

    Here are a few ideas for what you may wish to write about for the carnival but they are suggestions only – you can write about any aspect of oral history you like. Choose one idea, choose several, or dream up your own - it’s totally up to you!

  • ~ Planning to participate in StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening? Blog about who you will be interviewing and why recording their memories is important to you.
  • ~ Don’t know anyone to interview but want to spread the word about National Day of Listening? Blog about why you think this national holiday devoted to oral history is important.
  • ~ StoryCorps’ chosen theme this year is Thank a Veteran. Is there a veteran in your family (living or deceased) you would like to thank? (Hint: If you already wrote such a blog post for Veterans’ Day, send us the link and we’ll include it in the “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On” blog carnival!)
  • ~ Who are the family members who have shared recollections of ancestors with you and furthered your research? How did what they shared help you learn more about ancestors?
  • ~ Who are the elders who have passed along life wisdom to you? What lessons did you learn from them that you now keep in your heart?
  • ~ Which ancestor do you wish you could interview now? What questions would you ask them and why?
  • ~ Transcribe and share an oral history you conducted in the past, or write about your experience of revisiting and transcribing the interview. Are you glad you transcribed the interview? Has it opened new research avenues for you?
  • ~ Take an hour to record your OWN story – what do you want future generations to know about you? Share your own story in a blog post.
  • ~ Blog about any aspect of why learning and preserving oral history is important.
  • I’ve Written and Published My Blog Post. Now What?

    Just use the submit form here to send us the link! We’ll gather up your links and post them in a special edition article on Nov. 23, the National Day of Listening.

    Don’t forget to grab your National Day of Listening badge here for your blog to wear proudly! THANK YOU for making the “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On” blog carnival a special event in honor of a special day!

    ~ Your hosts Angela Y. Walton Raji, George Geder and Lowcountry Africana


    Print-Snap-Share: Help Story Corps Raise Awareness of the National Day of Listening and Qualify to Win One of Three Digital Recorders!

    This Wednesday evening, Nov 14, we'll be giving away three Olympus VN-7200 digital voice recorders (perfect for recording oral history interviews!). We'll draw from among our friends who Print-Snap-Share to spread the word about StoryCorps' National Day of Listening!

    Story Corps has chosen "Building a Nation of Listeners" as this year's theme. And we've made a fab sign for you to share to help spread the word about the National Day of Listening!

    How to Print-Snap-Share!

    Easy as pie!

  • 1. Print the sign
  • 2. Snap your picture holding the sign
  • 3. Share the picture on our Lowcountry Wall of Listening on Facebook with the text:

    "The National Day of Listening is a new national holiday started by StoryCorps in 2008. On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks all Americans to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one, using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, iPhones, and tape recorders, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide at"

  • That's it!

    Camera shy? It's OK, you can just share the sign itself with the text, without snapping your picture. We're not picky. Here are images you can grab that are the perfect size for sharing on Facebook:

    Then don't forget to share it on your own Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn pages!

    Voila! You have helped Story Corps raise awareness of the National Day of Listening!


    Slave Dwelling Project Wraps Up 2012 Schedule with Stay at Boone Hall Plantation

    Back to the Beginning

    Joseph McGill at Boone Hall Plantation

    It was 12 years ago when I had my very first stay in a slave cabin at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC. The event was filmed for a History Channel documentary titled The Unfinished Civil War. The documentary aired a few times but flopped because confederate reenactors came out in numbers and complained about the way they were portrayed.

    It was during that stay 12 years ago that I woke up about 3:00 am to the sound of dogs barking in the background. I immediately thought of slaves trying to escape and being chased by dogs. Today, just as I am curious about my ancestry, I look at blood hounds and wonder if their blood line includes dogs that were once used to hunt down escaping slaves.

    Fast forward 12 years and I again got the opportunity to spend the night in a cabin at Boone Hall Plantation. This time would be different. This stay would occur during the reenactment of the Civil War battle known as Secessionville, an historic battle that occurred on James Island, SC 150 years earlier. For years this battle has been reenacted at Boone Hall making it the largest Civil War battle reenactment in the state of South Carolina.

    Although I had participated in the reenactment in various ways in the past, I saw this as a great opportunity for the reenactment and the Slave Dwelling Project to merge. I was urged by the property owners to coordinate my stay with the organizers of the reenactment which turned out to be a good strategy because this event was theirs and not mine. The organizers gave me an offer that I could not refuse.

    We agreed that I would come in on Friday, November 9th to address the school kids that would be coming to the event. My subject would be the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. I addressed hundreds of kids from 2nd grade through middle school and homeschoolers. I really enjoyed testing their knowledge of the Civil War and inserting the story of how African Americans became soldiers for the Union army. Their reactions were varied to my intent to stay in one of the slave cabins the following two nights.

    They are Not Always What They Seem

    I had obtained from the property owner the permission for others to join me in the stay in the cabin and by this time in the project I have come accustomed to it. Several people made promises to do just that but for various reasons the first night in the cabin would be mine alone. Before the cabin experience, I had the opportunity to walk through the Union Civil War encampment and was quickly reminded of why I became a Civil War reenactor. Behind the big house where the camp was located was a sea of tents of various sizes with camp fires at random intervals burning throughout.

    Battle of Secessionville Reenactment Encampment

    It was my goal to get to as many of those camp fires as I possibly could to interact with the people sitting around them. In the reenactment community we galvanize meaning we may put on the uniform of the opposing force so that we can give the public a more realistic representation of a Civil War battle. It is far easier for some to galvanize than others however galvanizing does not change ones personal opinions or beliefs about the Civil War. As I walked through the camp, the groups would tell me which Union group that they would represent during the battle reenactment. They would also tell me which Confederate group they represent most often. As I continued to walk through the camp with the cover of darkness increasingly concealing my identity, I came across a conversation that was very racially insensitive so I decided that was not the best encampment of which to interact.

    All of my other encounters were quite rewarding the most of which was a free concert. Drawn by the music, I came upon a camp fire scene where two musicians were playing banjos and one was playing a guitar and several people were singing. I joined in and for me they played and sang Amazing Grace. After the song my immediate instinct was to query the participants about the history of the song but not wanting to be out of order, I continued to enjoy the free concert.

    Boone Hall Slave Cabin

    Since my first stay in the cabin, Boone Hall had done a wonderful job with their restoration. I chose the cabin with the Sweet Grass basket display in it. I came prepared as usual anticipating that I would need the use of lanterns but the electricity needed to operate the displays made the lanterns unnecessary. All of the cabins were equipped with displays that, with the push of a button, all visitors could learn about some aspect of the cabins and the people who inhabited them. Sleeping alone in the cabin was not a challenge because I was well aware of all of the activities related to the reenactment that was happening on the property. The solitude was welcome. It gave me the opportunity to reminiscence about the Slave Dwelling Project and how it can be enhanced.

    The Rest of the Story

    Saturday would be the first day for reenacting the battle. Waking up alone in the cabin early that morning, gave me a great opportunity to do some writing. The 39 degree temperature made it somewhat of a challenge to keep warm but a campfire that was burning not so far from the cabin was welcoming. One of the event organizers came by to invite me back to the 2013 event.

    The Civil War camps began to come alive; the suttlers (Civil War merchants) opened their doors; the sweet grass basket makers manned their station; and Boone Hall employees opened all of the cabins for public viewing. The interpreter for the slave street story came by to write the times on a chalk board for which she would be telling the stories of the cabins and the people who lived in them. I listened intently to the first presentation and was thoroughly impressed. Because I was not officially on the docket, I asked if I could have some time with her future audiences to talk about the Slave Dwelling Project. Lucky for me, she heard my interpretation to the school kids the day before and agreed that I could be value added to her message. That tag team approach went over well and has some potential for future development. I got various reactions from the audiences. One gentleman regrettably confessed to me that his ancestors were slave owners. One other couple made me aware of a lone cabin in Tennessee of which they can help me gain access.

    Terry James in Slave Cabin at Boone Hall Plantation

    Anyone who has been keeping up with the project through this blog know that Terry James (Old Reliable) has stayed in a slave dwelling with me more times than any other person. He would join me the second night. When he got there early in the evening, all of the food vendors were closed so getting him fed would be a challenge. That challenge was easily overcome when on our first stop at the Union camp, we were offered dinner which we unhesitatingly accepted. We dined on a green bean and a potato mixture, navy beans and ham which were deliciously all cooked over an open fire. We thanked the cooks but passed on the very tempting dessert that they offered us.

    The Battle of Secessionville Civil War reenactment included a ball which was held at the Cotton Dock on the plantation. Terry and I made our appearance there before we turned in for the night. While there, the invitations for our Civil War group to participate in an upcoming battle reenactment continued. This invitation was one of several which will unfortunately not be honored because our membership has been stagnant for the past few years.

    Slave Shackles Interpretive Display Boone Hall Plantation

    Before entering the cabin for the night, we spent a little time around the fire talking about some of the notable past slave dwellings stays. Inside the cabin, Terry attached the shackles to his wrists and we both feel asleep.

    The next morning as the camps started to come alive, we cleaned up the cabin, took lots of pictures and went our separate ways.

    The Future of the Project

    So there you have it, the Slave Dwelling Project 2012. The year 2013 will hold some surprises and firsts for the project. There will be some repeat stays but because of my stay at Bacon’s Castle in Surry, Virginia those stays will be more robust. Like the stay at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, there will be another institution of higher learning added to the roster. Private owners will be well represented.

    In its existence, the Slave Dwelling Project has covered Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. There are states that are blatantly missing from the list. Ambassadors, your mission, should you choose to accept, be it a plantation or urban slavery, help find those places in those states that can help further the cause of the Slave Dwelling Project.


    Listening to Elders Gives Voice to Ancestors

    “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings

    Does it strike you that family elders among us today may be the last generation who can connect with oral history of ancestors who were freed from slavery?

    It certainly seems that way to us, and that is what drives us to get records out on the Internet - get them out there while there are elders alive who can make sense of them, recognize the names of enslaved ancestors, and share the stories behind the names on the page.

    It is in the stories of elders that we begin to hear our ancestors' voices. Learning about how they lived, we learn what their values were. Learning about customs and traditions, we learn about their culture. Learning about their struggles and the challenges they faced, we gain perspective on our own lives.

    When we begin hearing our ancestors' voices, we learn who we are and how we inherited our world.

    The generation of elders among us today can connect us, via oral history, to the stories of our ancestors. But our elders are leaving us every day. There's no better time than now to begin to learn the stories our elders can tell, and preserve those stories for future generations.

    StoryCorps' National Day of Listening resources can help you get started on learning the stories of your ancestors. Their free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide will lead you through what you need to know to interview elders and learn more about their lives and their memories of those who came before you.

    Friday, November 23, 2012 is the fifth annual National Day of Listening, a new national holiday devoted to oral history.

    Each year, Story Corps asks all Americans to set aside an hour on the day after Thanksgiving to interview a friend, loved one or community member about their lives, and to record the interview using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, smartphones, tape recorders or pen and paper, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide.

    We hope you will celebrate and enjoy the National Day of Listening this year. Why not start a new family tradition and create some great holiday memories at the same time?

    For more information on how you can celebrate the National Day of Listening, please view our article 5 Ways to Celebrate the National Day of Listening, and visit StoryCorps' National Day of Listening website.


    The National Day of Listening: Learn and Preserve Family Stories

    Take Part in StoryCorps' 2012 National Day of Listening!


    Lowcountry Africana is pleased to be an official national partner of the acclaimed oral history project StoryCorps in celebrating the fifth annual National Day of Listening on Friday, November 23, 2012.

    On the day after Thanksgiving every year, Lowcountry Africana and StoryCorps are asking all Americans to start a new holiday tradition: set aside an hour to interview a friend, a loved one, or someone in their community about his or her life.

    Lowcountry Africana will be taking part in the 2012 National Day of Listening by recording interviews with Lowcountry residents.

    While the family is gathered for the holidays, why not interview a family elder to learn more about your family's history? Or, interview a friend or community member who inspires you.

    Your heritage or preservation organization can take part in the National Day of Listening as well, by interviewing community elders and preserving their stories. Who will YOU interview?

    The National Day of Listening: How You Can Participate!

    To record your own National Day of Listening Interview:

    • Find someone you would like to interview
    • Create your question list
    • Sit down to record your conversation

    StoryCorps has created a free Do-It-Yourself (DIY) interview guide with step-by-step interview instructions, equipment recommendations, and sample questions that is available online at

    You can record your interview using equipment that is readily available in most homes—from cell phones to tape recorders to computers or even pen and paper.

    Create a New Holiday Tradition

    By participating in this year’s National Day of Listening, we hope you’ll find that taking the time out to interview someone about his or her life is the least expensive but most meaningful gift that you can give. And you will create wonderful memories to make the holiday season all the more special.

    Ready to learn more? Check out the video overview of the National Day of Listening. You can share the video with the person you will interview, to help them prepare.

    Ways to Share and Preserve Your Interview

    There are many ways to share and preserve your National Day of Listening interview:

    • Be sure to share a copy with the person you interviewed, so they can preserve their story for future generations of family members.
    • You can enter your name and the name of the person you interviewed on the Wall of Listening on the National Day of Listening website. When you fill in the Wall of Listening form, you can request a Certificate of Participation. If you would like to encourage others to participate in the National Day of Listening, you can select to share your Wall of Listening entry on Facebook and Twitter.
    • You can share and preserve your interview on our Family Stories page, where you can share text, sound and video recordings.
    • Will you be blogging about your National Day of Listening interview? Send us the link to your blog entry and we'll share it on Facebook and Twitter!

    Video: Robin Foster Discusses the Importance of Family Oral History

    Robin Foster took some time out to discuss StoryCorps' National Day of Listening, and the importance of family oral history. Please click on the video below to view:

    Ready to Take Part? Get Your Do-It-Yourself Kit from StoryCorps!

    You'll find everything you need to get started in the step-by-step guide here. There you will find instructions, advice on recording your interview, and suggested questions.

    You can listen to interviews on the National Day of Listening website to find inspiration and ideas for your interview.

    We hope interviewing a loved one for the National Day of Listening makes your holiday season even more special!


    Slave Dwelling Project Visits Bacon's Castle, Surry County, VA

    After a 3 month hiatus, the Slave Dwelling Project came back strong with two stays in Virginia. The first of the stays was Bacon’s Castle which occurred on Friday, October 5, 2012. Constructed in 1665 in Surry County on the south side of the James River, Bacon's Castle is the oldest brick structure in North America. Best known for its connection to the Bacon’s Rebellion, it was home to Arthur Allen, his heirs, and other planters and their families from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

    When the Slave Dwelling project was in its infancy, I got a visit in my Charleston office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from staff members of Preservation Virginia. They thought that the project would go over well at Bacon’s Castle. I remember being impressed that even at that early stage, the project had gained enough relevancy to garner the attention of this statewide organization. I vaguely remember telling Jennifer Hurst, Associate Director for Museum Operations and Education, that my time spent with them should be maximized. That part of the conversation came across to her loud and clear because maximizing my time is exactly what she did. As a result of Jennifer’s planning, the project directly interacted with more people than any other stay to date. Let me explain.

    With the date chosen, it would still be about a year before the stay would occur. That time was utilized quite effectively with Jennifer planning and promoting the project on her end and me on mine. Social media played a big role in the buildup to the stay most notably yielding at least one guest that would share the stay at Bacon’s Castle. About two weeks prior to the trip, I had an interview from a Surry County, Virginia newspaper reporter which resulted in a newspaper article. An additional notice of the stay was printed in the local paper on the day the stay occurred. My ongoing involvement with the group Coming to the Table (CTTT) would also play a big role in this stay.

    My first direct action with the Bacon’s Castle stay would occur in Richmond, VA. Jennifer arranged for me to spend my first night at historic Linden Row Inn. I was the honored dinner guest of members of the board of directors of Preservation Virginia. I had the pleasure of giving them a synopsis of the Slave Dwelling Project. I praised them for making Virginia state number twelve for the Slave Dwelling Project.

    Joseph McGill in 54th Mass Uniform

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    In planning the events associated with the sleepover at Bacon’s Castle, Jennifer insisted that I bring my Civil War uniform. After explaining to Jennifer that when I fly to the sleepovers I lighten my carry-on luggage by not bringing my Civil War uniform, she continued to insist with her reason being that I was going to address children in the Surry County school system. Address the children I did, senior high, middle school and 3rd and 4th graders! It was an overall great experience as I adjusted the message to accommodate the age of the children that I addressed at the time. The students, some of whom had visited Bacon’s Castle the day before, responded accordingly with highly intelligent and engaging questions in the end.

    While presenting to the first school group, Toni Battle of San Francisco and Devin Berry of Oakland, California showed up. I was expecting them. I met both of them in March of this year at the national gathering of the group Coming to the Table. Devin was my roommate while in Richmond and vowed that he would join me in a future stay. He's a man of his word, Bacon’s Castle would be that stay. Toni made it clear in Richmond that the ancestors are with me on this project even if I am in denial. Both Toni and Devin and one other Coming to the Table member, Prinny Anderson would spend the night in the slave cabin at Bacon’s Castle.

    Joseph McGill and Devin Berry, Bacon's Castle Slave Dwelling. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle.
    Toni Battle and Joseph McGill Overlooking Slave Dwelling. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle
    Joe Gazes Out of Slave Dwelling Window. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle
    Toni Battle and Devin Berry, First Look at Bacon's Castle Slave Dwelling. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle
    Toni Battle Contemplating the Dwelling. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle
    Toni Battle in the Bacon's Castle Slave Dwelling. Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle
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    Arriving at Bacon’s Castle on the day of the stay was not the first time for me but it was for Toni and Devin. The three of us arriving together proved invaluable because the photographic documentation began instantly, an important element that had been missing in this project to date. Although I had been in the slave cabin before, having the pleasure of witnessing Toni and Devin experience the space for the first time was quite moving. Containing four rooms on two levels, the structure is the only one of eighteen slave cabins left on the property and is situated among several other out buildings. Jennifer’s planning ensured that in a matter of hours seventeen people would occupy the two lower levels. Jennifer had already apprised me of the guest list and the one of which I was most skeptical was that of the media representative for I have been burned by that promise many times before.

    Community Elders Outside Bacon's Castle Slave Dwelling

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    In an attempt to strengthen the relationship between Bacon’s Castle and the African American community, early in the planning of this event, Jennifer and I decided others should be given the opportunity to share the slave dwelling experience with me. In addition to the local people scheduled to stay that night, people from North Carolina, Texas and California were also scheduled to stay. Early in the evening, as we gathered in the big house, the people started to show: Barbara and Judy Anderson, two sister whose great-great grandmother was once enslaved at Bacon’s Castle; Michael Ray Vines, Jr. a student at Virginia State University, Reverend Daniel Baltimore, the Pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church in Surry; Allison T. Williams a reporter for the Daily Press and a host of others. Ghost stories seemed to permeate the conversation but it became obvious that the local African American community rarely interacted with Bacon’s Castle.

    Hearing the testimonials of why they all chose to spend the night in the slave cabin at Bacon’s Castle was verification to me of why the Slave Dwelling Project was necessary. Of all those testimonies, none meant more to me than the fact that I was sharing the experience with the Anderson sister whose great-great grandmother was enslaved at Bacon’s Castle.

    After moving the group to the cabin, we all claimed our spot on the floor where we would place our sleeping bags to bed down for the night. On the porch of the cabin, a live video streaming and live chat were attempted. The chat was successful the video streaming failed. Time was then allowed for Toni Battle to conduct smudging which is blessing the space inside the cabin before we all moved outside again to form a circle for the pouring of libation as we were all reminded that this occasion was about honoring the ancestors.

    Cotton Fields at Bacon's Castle

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    The following day was full of activities as demonstrations and presentations were planned throughout. Early that morning, before the audience began to arrive, one totally unplanned event happened. Devon Berry, Toni Battle, Prinny Anderson and me, all members of the group Coming to the Table all found ourselves at the cotton field bordering Bacon’s Castle. Although cotton was not the crop of which the enslaved at Bacon’s Castle labored, it was comforting that me and Devon, the descendants of slaves; Toni Battle, the descendant of slaves and whose ancestors were the subjects of lynching; and Prinny Anderson a descendant of Thomas Jefferson could all gather in a cotton field on a plantation to talk about the subject of slavery and the healing process. It was even more comforting that on our way back from that visit to the cotton field, we encountered one of the Anderson sisters whose ancestor was once enslaved at Bacon’s Castle. We learned from Mrs. Anderson that because of her opportunity to spend a night in the cabin, more opportunities for interacting with Bacon’s Castle now exist, more specifically, her becoming a volunteer tour guide and discussing with the rest of the family the possibility of having a family reunion on the property. Personally that alone would be mission accomplished for the Slave Dwelling Project but there was more to come.

    Chef Harold Caldwell Prepares Black Eyed Pea Cakes

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    The most noted presenter of the day was Harold Caldwell an employee of Colonial Williamsburg who demonstrated period cooking. It was a pleasure to observe him as he interacted with his audience. His method of engaging them at every opportunity was inspiring to me. Sampling his creations was an added bonus. When I told him about my one experience of cooking beef stew in a slave cabin and the critique I got about slaves not having access to beef, he made me aware that it really depended on the plantation owner and that there are accounts of some masters issuing their slave beef or other meat products. The overall experience with Mr. Caldwell has certainly opened my mind to similar programs at other slave dwellings in the future.

    It was a pleasure for me to interact with the people who came out to partake in the activities planned for the day. I had three occasions to address the visitors about the Slave Dwelling Project. I used the occasion to yield some time to some of the other people who shared the experience the prior night and to Jennifer to speak specifically about the history of the cabin and slavery at Bacon’s Castle. During the question and answer period after the second presentation. I got the question, “Can you tell my mom about the hat?” Initially the question was confusing to me because I was not wearing a hat at the time but then Jennifer immediately came to the rescue. Earlier that morning, I asked Jennifer if it was necessary that I wear the Civil War uniform, she replied that it was totally up to me, I chose not to. After hearing the question, Jennifer reminded me that the young student asking the question was a part of the school presentation the previous day and he remembered the hat that I wore with the Civil War uniform. His question was great on many fronts: methods of living history work, i.e. wearing period uniforms; the young man was successful in convincing his mother to bring him to the event; and Jennifer Hurst was right in insisting that I bring the Civil War uniform.

    The Bacon’s Castle experience alone would put Virginia in the category of most exciting and engaging state for the Slave Dwelling Project thus far but before I left Virginia there was one more stay to be done. Next blog: Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, Virginia.,0,6496097.story
    Reflections from the Slave Dwelling: Joseph W. Jenkins

    I am not a superstitious person but I come from a long line of people (farmers) who look for signs in nature to forecast events: The weather, how well or poorly their crops may turn out and when a child might enter the world.

    A couple of days before my stay in the slave dwelling at Bacon’s Castle, as I drove down Rocky Bottom Road, I noticed, at the side of the road ahead of me, an unusual sight. As my car drew closer to the object, it took flight. It turned out to be a good sized hawk which was unable to gain altitude because of what it was holding in its talons. As I drew closer, I saw that the hawk was holding on to a large black bird – a raven. The predator hawk was flapping its wings but the raven’s weight was keeping it from ascending. I was concerned my car would hit the birds. As my car drove even closer to them, the hawk released its prey. The freed raven flapped its wings and quickly joined its flock that had been watching the drama unfold. The unsuccessful predator, having freed its burden, soared above the trees and into the sky.

    The image of the drama stayed in my mind throughout that day and night as well. It even entered my thoughts the Friday afternoon while on my way to Bacon’s Castle. I kept trying to determine if what I witnessed was just something normal in nature, or was it some sort of sign?

    I didn’t know what to expect from my stay in the slave dwelling. As the current president of the Surry County African American Heritage Society, I felt a sense of obligation to take part in the project to represent our organization and in some way, help make certain the truth about how the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion set the stage for the type of bigotry and discrimination we still have today. What is more, I felt that my stay in the slave cabin would provide a forum for me to express openly my strongly held belief that race is a lie and racism is a divisive, debilitating disease. My emotions and feeling of wonder heightened as I got closer to the main house on the castle estate.

    When I entered the main house at Bacon’s Castle, the people who were to participate in the dwelling stay were already assembled and sitting in a circle. Introductions were made and we were given an opportunity to talk about our expectations relative to our participation. I was very impressed with the individuals who had come to participate. It was one thing to have Joseph McGill from South Carolina who was the project’s catalyst but it was quite another thing to be with individuals (descendants of Africans and Europeans) who had traveled from Texas, California, and North Carolina to be part of the project – together with Virginians whose family members were slaves on the very land we were occupying. So why did they come? To connect with their family history? To atone for someone’s past ills? To find release from guilt or just to acknowledge and better understand our country’s history? I guess we all had our known and perhaps suppressed reasons. Whatever the case, I noticed that as we talked the veil of unfamiliarity began to lower. Something unique was starting to unfold.

    Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things occurred that Friday evening during and following the libation ceremony conducted by Ms. Toni Battle, who had come from San Francisco to take part in the project. Each of us was given an opportunity to remember and acknowledge our family members and ancestors. According to family lore, my paternal great grandmother (Cordelia), who was born of a free black woman, had at some point in her life worked at Bacon’s Castle. So, for me, there was a vague connection with the site. However, my maternal great grandfather, Peter Clarke, Sr., had been enslaved. Reportedly, he had been sold twice and was somewhat proud of a scar that was on his light complexioned face. We can only speculate as to how his facial wound came about and why it was a source of pride for him.

    Given that bit of family history, I decided to dedicate my stay in the slave dwelling to the memory of my great grandfather, Peter Clarke, Sr., and all the people who endured the pain, suffering and humiliation of slavery in this country.

    After the ceremony, we all remained standing in front of the slave dwelling and began to talk about all manner of things related to the dwelling, the plantation, the institution of slavery – and its impact on society; the pain and humiliation people endured; the stupidity of discrimination based on skin color; race as a social construct; the system of economic divide and conquer, and so on. As the content of our discussion became deeper, our inhibitions lowered even more. I felt that “we the people” were at long last being open and honest with each other about our anger, our fears, our pain and even our hopes. Truth was being spoken and something more honest was about to happen. And then it was time to lay down our heads on the slave cabin floor.

    The cabin is rather small and it’s hard to believe that, at one time, it housed four families: Two on the first floor and two on the second. Fortunately, the cabin had a wooden floor. (Some slave cabins had dirt floors.) I anticipated gross discomfort being on the floor in my sleeping bag but to my surprise, I didn’t have any aches or pains.

    As I lay there on the room with six other people in our section of the building, I guess I was waiting for something unusual to happen – -I had no idea what. Two of the people chatted about their families and ancestors. Two eighteen year old college students kidded with each other and my thoughts drifted everywhere and nowhere.

    I tried to picture myself as a person enslaved. What would I do? How would I handle it? Could I survive the ordeal? Macho man notions entered my mind. Of course, I would invoke warrior powers and fight and prevail against all odds and reclaim my freedom and ride off into the sunset – to go where in a place I didn’t know? What would I do? And then I recalled hearing Billie Holiday’s song about southern trees bearing strange fruit. That was disconcerting.

    As I lay there on the wooden floor, nothing mystical happened. I don’t think I expected anything to happen but it occurred to me that we folks of African ancestry are, in many ways, a unique and blessed people. We have survived trials in this land by the strength of our faith, the power of our hope and our capacity to find light in the darkness of despair. While I did not consciously expect anything in particular to happen while in the cabin, I was glad to be there at that time for whatever it mattered and for whatever difference it might make.

    Out of the window that faced southeast, I saw a distant star that held my attention. I searched for meaning in it. It said nothing in particular. It just stared back from a distance. In the meantime, the students to my left were still restless and perhaps somewhat disengaged from the experience. So, at about 4:00AM, it occurred to me that perhaps this old man might be able to say or do something that they may recall favorably when, years from now, they think about their experience at Bacon’s Castle. So, I told them that our African ancestors who were brought here were not a homogeneous people. They came from different cultures, spoke different languages and had different religious beliefs. Some were animists. Some were Christians and some practiced Islam. I told them that it must have been extremely challenging for those diverse groups of people to be thrown together and to become one people in the harshest of circumstances. I told them about Bilal ibn Rabah, a black African who was born into slavery in Arabia. Bilal was treated inhumanly by his master and he was persecuted severely when he became one of the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad. However, despite the abuse Bilal ibn Rabah had to endure, he attained an honored status among the followers of his faith. He was the first person to call the Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) at the Kabah in Mecca. His call to prayer is made five times a day and is heard around the world. And for the students, I called the Adhan.

    I wanted the two students to know that despite their hardships; despite their setbacks; and despite their disappointments, they can make a difference in the world like Bilal ibn Rabah and so many other people throughout history.

    Although it was unintentional, the call to prayer woke up Joe McGill (who slept next to me) and Toni Battle and Prinny Anderson, who slept on the other side of the cabin. Toni and Prinny came and sat with me and Joe McGill, and we all talked at length about all manner of things related to our country’s history and the general plight of our people. We agreed that the need for broad discussion among people of goodwill within our nation is a catalyst for healing, reconciliation and progress. We talked about the depth of the challenge we face in bringing people together and helping to end animus and the stupidity of discrimination based on skin color. We agreed there is a need for initiatives like “Coming To the Table” and the Slave Dwelling Project to raise awareness of the festering sore on the face of our nation. I pledged anew to myself to join the struggle.

    During our early morning exchange, the image of the hawk and the raven I encountered a couple of days earlier came to my mind. I asked my colleagues what they might infer from my encounter: Had I just witnessed a natural phenomenon or could it have been a sign related to our experience at Bacon’s Castle. I’m not sure that we reached a consensus about the matter but I felt better knowing the raven went free to live out the day.

    Sleeping Overnight at the Bacon’s Castle Slave Quarters: Prinny Anderson

    The one remaining slave quarter at Bacon’s Castle, Surry, VA, is a white clapboard, four-room cabin, two rooms upstairs, two rooms down, each room home to a family, used since it was built in the late 1820’s until the last sharecropper moved out in the 1950’s. It saw 130 years of lives in bondage and servitude.

    The cabin is among the outbuildings on the grounds of Bacon’s Castle, built around 1665 by Arthur Allen, and one of the only three remaining Jacobean style mansions in the Western Hemisphere. It took its name from Bacon’s Rebellion, which took place in 1676, when the house was occupied and the Allen family was temporarily driven away.

    Bacon’s Rebellion was an uprising of the frontiersmen, indentured people, and enslaved people, African and European. The alliance alarmed the ruling elite, and historians believe that the harsh response by the Virginia government and the racialization of slavery were among the results.

    On October 5, 2012, about 20 people gathered in a front room of the Big House at Bacon’s Castle for introductions and conversation. In the group were two sisters, Barbara and Judy, descendants of a woman who was enslaved at Bacon’s Castle, accompanied by the pastor of a large Surry County, VA, church. Jennifer came all the way from Texas on a trip researching her Virginia ancestors, and Allison came to report the experience for the Daily Press. There were three college students, and Jennifer, Lou, Joe, and Ed from Preservation Virginia (PV) ( ), the Surry County African American Heritage Society (SCAAHS) ( ), and the Surry County Historical Society (SCHS) ( ). Our convener for the evening was Joe McGill, whose Slave-Dwelling Project (SDP) was critical to the event ( ) and three of his fellow members of the Coming to the Table community, Toni Battle and Devin Berry, who had flown in from California, and Prinny Anderson, who drove in from Durham, NC. ( ). We owe many thanks to the PV staff and friends who had the vision to create this historic event, who worked to shore up the cabin’s chimneys and floors, who made all the arrangements to make the stay safe and comfortable, and who stayed late and woke early to bring us food.

    Group members had many reasons for showing up that evening to do something most of us, other than Joe McGill, had never done before. Repeated themes in our introductions were the desire to honor and acknowledge the lives and work of the enslaved people as important in American history and essential to its economic survival for 3 centuries. We were there because of family connections to enslaved families, as a result of our research into genealogy and family history, and in response to an invitation to be at a very special event. Our thanks to Joe McGill and his Slave-Dwelling project for the ongoing work he does and for creating this special occasion for us.

    After a tasty picnic meal of ham biscuits, peanut soup, vegetables, and apple fritters under the bright lights over the work yard behind the mansion, we moved to the slave cabin and set up our sleeping spaces. Joe McGill and Jennifer Hurst (Preservation Virginia) wrestled with the technology in an effort to provide streaming video via YouTube and an online chat through Facebook – both challenging with 4G connection only and no wifi.

    As the evening darkened into night, we rededicated our sleeping quarters to the sacred memory of the enslaved ancestors who had lived there, and in an outdoor circle and we called to mind family members and ancestors who represented our connections to the place and to one another.

    Something about dedicating the space and our actions along with the darkness, the mild breezes, and the dim lanterns seemed to encourage forth the questions and truths that were resting on our hearts and minds. What kind of strength and courage allowed the former inhabitants of this cabin to endure? How could we, today, even begin to imagine their daily lives? What kind of belief system allowed the European landowners to own, trade and oppress the imported African people? Why did “black” become “bad”? What’s up with white people, such that individual and institutional racism persist? What prevents white people from seeing the harm and from dismantling the systems that perpetuate it? What will it take to get white people to change?

    We told about the family stories and the traditions of our faiths and our foremothers and forefathers that brought us to this place and these questions, the stories and traditions that sustain us through the sorrow and pain. We talked about managing the anger, finding ways to speak truth without alienating those who need to hear – learning to “catch more flies with honey,” as Joe put it. We talked about living with the shame and sadness of recognizing today how many years of oppression, harm and destruction we and our kin had perpetrated. And all through the conversations, wove personal stories, family stories, memories, and questions. By the time we fell asleep, Barbara and Judy had convinced us that the loving presence of Grandmother Camilla was smiling on us, and in the morning, we were awakened by the dawn call to prayer.

    On the 6th, Preservation Virginia held “History Day” at Bacon’s Castle. Speaking to the visitors, Jennifer described the history of the slave quarters and Joe told stories of the Slave-Dwelling Project. Toni, Devin and Prinny spoke about why they had spent the night and what it was like. The visitors shared their stories. One woman pointed out where her family’s cabin had been and recounted the hard realities of the sharecroppers’ lives. A student who had heard Joe McGill speak the day before at his middle school told how he had insisted that his mother bring him to Bacon’s Castle for another dose of history.

    CTTT’s Art Carter drove over from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to meet people from the African American Heritage Society. CTTT’s involvement in this particular SDP sleepover began several months ago when PV and Joe McGill invited us to partner with them, not just for this occasion, but potentially on an ongoing basis. In parallel with The Slave-Dwelling Project’s mission of bringing recognition to the lives and contributions of the enslaved Africans, PV wants to encourage SCAAHS and SCHS to take their interest in local history to another level of telling the meaning of the histories of the people, the land, the lives, and the events, and weaving local history into American history, making the stories of African Americans, Native Americans and European Americans of Tidewater Virginia into the stories of all Americans.

    Three weeks before the SDP overnight, PV staff members Jennifer and Todd went with Prinny Anderson from CTTT to meet with the SCAAHS. After Prinny’s talk about the work of CTTT, the chairman of SCAAHS asked if the time was right for their organization to begin talking openly about race, about the story of the races in Surry County, and its meaning for the country. By the end of the meeting, the SCAAHS members were discussing Bacon’s Rebellion and the racialization of slavery in the U.S., events that happened in their back yards, a story directly linked to their stories, and a story worth bringing forward into the national consciousness.

    CTTT hopes that through its participation in these events and whatever further activities are planned, it can support PV, the Heritage Society and the Historical Society in continuing the conversation about the issues raised during the night at Bacon’s Castle and in reaching the goals sketched out at the SCAAHS meeting three weeks before.

    Links to the Daily Press stories about the October 5/6 overnight and a video made by Allison Williams, the reporter, about the Slave-Dwelling Project’s work:

    Announcement of overnight:,0,1860127.story

    First story:,0,6496097.story

    Reflections from reporter:,0,549403.story

    Video – Slave Dwelling Project:

    From Whence We Come: Toni Renee Battle

    I met Joseph McGill, Jr. in March of 2012 and he told me about his work through The Slave Dwelling Project. I found within my spirit an immediate response to his work. My steps were being ordered to partake in this ancestral journey. We met at the Coming To the Table (CTTT) national gathering, which brought together descendants of the enslaved, slave owners and slave traders for the purposes of healing from the legacy of slavery, but also doing action work, creating safe spaces for difficult conversations and family history research in today’s times.

    Devin Berry, who is also a member of CTTT, and I committed to attending a slave dwelling overnight with Joseph during the same weekend. Through community donations, he and I were able to embark on an incredible experience that will last a lifetime.

    We arrived in VA and spent our first day in Surry, VA at school assemblies watching Joseph, dressed as a Black union soldier, provide a historical narrative to the youth, 1st through 12th grades, and also give some background to the previous slave dwellings he had visited in the past. We also had an opportunity to explore Bacon’s Castle plantation together with Joseph, prior to the other guests arriving for that evening’s overnight.

    As we drove onto the plantation grounds, Devin and I turned to each other asking the same question, “Did you feel your breathing change and your chest tighten up?” It was as if, our ancestral spirits were responding to the history of the land we had just drove onto. We quickly got out of the car and began taking photos of the “BIG house” and of the incredibly long driveway leading onto the plantation grounds. After parking, Joseph excitedly asked us if we were ready to visit the slave cabin we would be staying in for the evening. Devin and I immediately said at the same time, “YES!” The three of us walked behind the big house and saw a cabin sitting just beyond a tree. It was white-washed and rustic. The closer we got, the more emotion I felt. Here we were, three Black folks in 2012, descended from the enslaved, two of us Black men, one of us descended from the enslaved, slave master and slave trader, about to walk into our ancestral past; what a moment!

    Devin Berry Pays Homage to the Ancestors

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    As Joseph opened the cabin doors, Devin and I looked at each other and entered sacred space. If the walls could talk there would be stories of pain, horror, joy and sadness. The wood seemed to scream at me as I ran my hands along its roughness. Immediately I begin singing, “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, there’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place!” You could feel the ancestors’ spirits within this dwelling. I immediately felt a sacredness in the space as the three of us took photos. To see Devin dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt and Joseph in a union uniform was as if the past and present were talking at the same time. As Black men standing there, with one foot in the past and one foot in the present, in a slave cabin was very powerful. The three of us experiencing it together was as if the ancestors were whispering over our shoulders as we looked out the window onto the slave quarters, “From whence we come!”

    Toni Battle's First Experience of Bacon's Castle Slave Dwelling

    Later that evening we met the rest of the group that would be staying with us and proceeded over to the slave cabin. During the evening we blessed the cabin, conducted libation, celebrating the ancestors and those who were enslaved on the land and then we gathered together in the two rooms of the cabin. We shared sacred stories of our family histories and we were blessed to hear the Anderson sisters (two women from the Surry, VA area) share with us that their great-great grandmother had been enslaved at Bacon’s Castle Plantation and they were overnighting as a way of paying respects to her memory. I asked one of the sisters what it felt like for her to be in the cabin, on the land her ancestors had been enslaved on; she responded, “I thought I would feel anger, but I feel nothing but my grandmother’s love as if she’s right here with us. I can’t begin to tell you what an amazing experience this is for us! It’s very healing. I’ve drove past this plantation the last 30 years and wanted no parts of it. But The Slave Dwelling Project seemed different. It told OUR story.” We all listened in great appreciation and reflected on our own feelings.

    I laid down with Prinny Anderson (another CTTT member) and Devin on purpose, because I wanted to have the experience of us sharing this sacred space together. During the night, Prinny and I heard a woman singing in the distance. We both later smiled, feeling our ancestors were letting us know they were in the space with us. Before dawn, we were awakened by Mr. Joe Jenkins, of Surry, VA. Before dawn he sung the Muslim morning call to prayer. He sung it in honor of the enslaved who were Muslim and forced to convert to Christianity as a means of stripping them of their identities. One of the first things that were done to the enslaved were before boarding the slave ships, they were baptized into Christianity and given “good, Christian” names. They were forbidden to practice anything representative of their previous culture, traditions, religions or language. As Mr. Jenkins’ deep voice traveled the slave cabin, my very soul answered. My body sat straight up and I rose and walked to the other side where he sat singing in the new day. I sat with others, as tears ran down my face in awe of the very reverence of the moment.

    Entire Bacon's Castle Sleepover Family

    Photo Courtesy of Toni Battle

    The day was filled with the community coming out to learn about the history of Bacon’s Castle, which for the first time included the enslaved narrative in a very authentic way. Many from the Black community in Surry, stated it was the first time many of them had been on the land in decades. They believed The Slave Dwelling Project had provided an opportunity to begin a new chapter of healing from the legacy of slavery. Family members descended from the enslaved of Bacon’s Castle shared oral stories of their ancestors, elders shared experiences of their families sharecropping post slavery and some shared their hopes that the day had birthed a starting point of a new relationship with the plantation’s past. There were tears, sacred storytelling, laughter, cooking of traditional Black and Native food dishes, and lots of hugging and listening to shared pains and joys. I found myself at a tree facing the slave cabin and being brought to tears as I looked around. Wasn’t this what the ancestors had just whispered over Devin, Joseph and my shoulders the previous day? “From whence WE come!”

    The Slave Dwelling Project was an opportunity for me to not only pay homage to the ancestors and educate others about the need to preserve these dwellings as part of the historical narrative, but it was also a way for me to begin healing some of the generational grief and wounded history within my ancestral line. This was one of the most sacred experiences of my entire life!