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Index of USCT Bounties Paid, South Carolina, 1866-1868

 

Source: Records of the Field Offices for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1872 (NARA Micropublication M1910), Reel 23
 
Sample Page, Index of USCT Bounties Paid 1866-1868

Sample Page, Index of USCT Bounties Paid 1866-1868

Names of 166 USCT veterans who were paid bounties from 1866-1868 ~ Please click on link below to view document images:

 
Index of USCT Bounties Paid, SC 1866-1868 (pdf)
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Honoring William Parsons, First USCT Soldier to Fall in Battle in SC

Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 11

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 13, Detail

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 13

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 2

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 3

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 5

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 7

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Wm. Parsons Service Record, Page 9

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#FFCC00fadetrue

The first military action of the United States Colored Troops in South Carolina was an expedition organized by Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the 1st SC Infantry (later redesignated 33rd USCT). From January 23 to February 1, 1863, the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry was on expedition from Beaufort up the St. Mary's River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.

The goal of the expedition was to surprise a Confederate encampment and capture much-needed lumber stores. Acting as guide on this expedition was Corporal Robert Sutton, who had made his escape to Union lines down that very river.

A skirmish developed as the 1st South Carolina was intercepted by a Confederate patrol from Captain Clark's cavalry before reaching the encampment. Private William Parsons of Company G, standing near Higginson, was killed instantly in the opening volley.

In his diary, Colonel Higginson recalls the expedition thus:

It was after midnight when we set off upon our excursion. I had about a hundred men, marching by the flank, with a small advanced guard, and also a few flankers, where the ground permitted. I put my Florida company at the head of the column and had by my side Captain Metcalf, an excellent officer, and Sergeant McIntyre, his first sergeant ... We plunged presently into the pine woods, whose resinous smell I can still remember.

All had gone smoothly as the troops made their way to the camp of the opposing troops; so smoothly, in fact, that Higginson was already imagining the troops springing from the woods, surprising the Confederate camp and forcing a surrender. Then suddenly:

There was a trampling of the feet of the advanced guard as they came confusedly to a halt, and almost at the same instant a more ominous sound, as of galloping horses in the path before us. The moonlight outside of the woods gave that dimness of atmosphere which is more bewildering than darkness, because the eyes cannot adapt themselves to it so well. Yet I fancied, and others aver, that they saw the leader of an approaching party mounted on a white horse and reigning up in the pathway; others, again, declare that he drew a pistol from the holster and took aim; others heard the words, "Charge in upon them! Surround them..." Perhaps at the first shot a man fell at my elbow [1].

The man who fell at Colonel Higginson's side was private William Parsons of Company G. Just 26 years old at the time of his death in battle, Parsons had enlisted at Port Royal, SC in January of 1863.

Born in Lowndes County, AL, Parsons listed his occupation as farmer at the time of his enlistment.

The 1st SC USCT were newly-formed when they made their first excursion up the St. Mary's, during which William Parsons was killed. The unit had received their charter and regimental colors just 24 days before.

So new was the regiment that at the time of his death in battle, William Parsons had not yet received his first pay [2].

Above: Detail from the Service Record of William Parsons, 33rd USCT. You may view the entire document on Fold3.

On this Memorial Day, we remember William Parsons of the 1st SC Infantry (later 33rd USCT), and honor the sacrifice he made in service to our country.

References Cited

[1] Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. 1962 Army Life in a Black Regiment. Reprint: Dungan Books. Digitized by Google Books, accessed 28 May 2012.

[2] "Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops: Infantry Organizations, 31st through 35th," database online, Fold3 (www.fold3.com), accessed 28 May 2012, entry for William Parsons, 33rd USCT.

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Laurelwood Plantation ~ The One That (Almost) Got Away

By Joseph McGill, Slave Dwelling Project

Contractor Grant McDonald with Joseph McGill

Exterior of Laurelwood Slave Dwelling

Grant McDonald, Contractor for Slave Dwelling Renovation

Interior of Restored Slave Dwelling

Justin Castor Joseph McGill and Harold Taylor

L to R - Jeremy Thomas, Justin Castor, Joe McGill, Terry James, Tim Shipley, Harold Taylor and Prinny Anderson

Lenny Nisbet and Son Jeremy Thomas

Lenny Nisbet

Mike Bedenbaugh, Director Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation and Prinny Anderson

Nancy Floyd (Last Resident of the Former Slave Dwelling) with Joseph McGill

Newly-Renovated Slave Cabin, Laurelwood Plantation

Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation Director Mike Bedenbaugh with Joseph McGill

Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation Director Mike Bedenbaugh

Plantation House at Laurelwood

Restored Slave Dwelling at Laurelwood Plantation

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#FFCC00fadetrue

I know for sure that I have spent nights in slave dwellings in twelve states. In the states of South Carolina and Mississippi, I have had some repeat stays. When placing a number on slave dwellings that I have spent the night, I state thirty nine however that might be a misnomer. I will let you be the judge.

There was one stay that eluded me. On April 15, 2011, I was faced with a decision that tested my resolve to remain true to the Slave Dwelling Project. It was on that day that I had my first opportunity to spend the night in the slave dwelling at Laurelwood Plantation in Eastover, SC. Its dilapidated condition and a desire for self preservation factored into my decision not to sleep in the cabin however, I did sleep on the porch of the “big house” which was also in need of restoration. Saturday, April 20, 2013, I would return to Laurelwood Plantation to spend the night in the restored slave cabin that I refused to sleep in two years prior.

The new property owners Jeremy and Jackie Thomas kept good a promise of restoring the cabin. This was not an easy feat because the two of them currently reside in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Their ultimate intent was to be living in the restored “big house” by now but the necessity to hire a new contractor and an unexpected medical issue delayed its restoration however the work continues with the ambitious plan of having it completed by August.

When I arrived at 3:00 pm the site was bustling with activity. The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation was conducting an open house for the property. They played a major role in ensuring the property would be restored by purchasing and placing easements on it and holding on to it until they found a preservation minded buyer.

I bypassed all of the activities going on at the “big house” and proceeded directly to the restored slave cabin which is located a considerable distance away. This proved to be a wise choice because I got to spend some quality time alone with the place. I took many pictures and spent some time inside inspecting the work that was done to the building. Still missing a few windows, I was thrilled that the contractor used all of the material that was salvageable. My fear that the cabin would be constructed of all new material was put at ease because I knew the challenge that the contractor was faced with based on my knowledge of the dilapidated condition of the cabin when I saw and refused to sleep in it two years prior.

Satisfied with what I saw at the newly restored slave cabin, I then took a walk to the big house to participate in the happenings there. I met Grant McDonald, the gentleman responsible for the cabin’s restoration work. I could tell that my verbal approval of his work was a relief to him. The owner of the property, Jeremy, made the trip from England for the event, he introduced me to his mom, who made the trip with him and was seeing the property for the first time. Jeremy had plans to spend the night in the cabin.

Prinny Anderson from the group Coming to the Table and a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson came from Durham, NC as promised to spend her second night in a slave dwelling, her first overnight was Bacon’s Castle in Surry, VA.

Two Lower Richland High School seniors Harold Taylor a future Clemson University student with aspirations of being a veterinarian and Justin Castor a future United States Marine along with their history teacher Mr. Timothy Shipley showed up for the stay. Mr. Shipley met me at a teacher’s workshop earlier this year at the College of Charleston. The subject of the workshop was teaching the Civil War 150 years later. Terry “Old Reliable” James would show up after the visitors left.

I was summoned over to a group that was talking about the fate of a slave dwelling at nearby Kennsington Plantation. I was told of how the owner, International Paper, was doing everything necessary to move and restore the dwelling when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory because an individual at a state agency did not move quickly enough to perform a necessary act that would have moved the process along. Now with a new plant manager in place and an expired grant, the momentum has been lost. Not surprisingly, I am now on an unofficial team to regain that momentum and move the project forward. This exchange was a reminder to me of how bureaucracy is often the worst enemy of restoring and interpreting extant slave dwellings.

It was a great pleasure to see how the visiting public was splitting their time between the mansion and the slave cabin. I interacted with as many of them as time would allow. Some were there at the gathering two years ago when I made the decision not to sleep in the cabin so they appreciated more the progress made thus far to the cabin and the mansion.

What I have found out since I started the Slave Dwelling Project in May 2010 is that a lot of the former slave dwellings are still on the American landscape because they were lived in well beyond emancipation. This cabin was lived in until the 1940s. On this day, I met Mrs. Nancy Floyd, the last person to live in the cabin and to my surprise, she was not African American. Unfortunately, we did not have time to hang out because I wanted to know more about her experience living in the cabin.

So far, all of the slave dwellings I’ve stayed in this year have come with amenities, more specifically, electricity and a nearby restroom. This would not be the case at the cabin at Laurelwood. Knowing of these challenges, I told all of the people staying to plan accordingly. Nevertheless, these challenges would still have to be overcome.

One other challenge to overcome was the unseasonably cold weather which was predicted to drop to 47 degrees. Prinny and I took to the surrounding woods to gather as much firewood as we could. With the help of Grant the contractor we would supplement our wood supply with some unusable wood from the debris pile that came from the interior of the mansion. For Jeremy, this would be the first opportunity to test the fireplace in the slave cabin and his skills at building a fire. He finally got the fire going but we had to let it burn out because we would all have to leave the site to find a place to eat dinner. We ate dinner at Mr. Bunky’s Restaurant and Market on Highway 378. While there, to exclude taking a shower, all of us took advantage of all of the opportunities that a modern bathroom would present.

When we got back to the cabin, Jeremy got the fire going again this time with much more ease although he expressed his reluctance to burn the historic wood that came from inside the mansion. That reluctance only made me think about the labor force that was necessary to prepare that wood to be used for construction.

In true Coming to the Table fashion, Prinny Anderson led us in a session to bless the space. We all took the opportunity to give thanks and express our reason for being there. Prinny talked about her slave owning ancestors; Terry talked about sleeping in shackles; Jeremy talked about his opportunity to restore the cabin; Tim talked about the teaching opportunities of the space; and the two students Justin and Harold talked about the learning opportunities of the space.

We continued the conversation with Jeremy stressing that the cabin should continue to be used for educational purposes in the future and for that I have unlimited access. Tim and I vowed to work together to coordinate the next date for students to join us in a sleepover in the cabin. Jeremy engaged me in a conversation about how the cabin should be furnished. I told him that since the cabin was in use far beyond emancipation, furnishings that fit that period would be appropriate. I added that it would be unlikely that there would be furniture in the cabin during the time of slavery. I further added that some stewards of like properties tend to over adorn them by placing items such as furniture and other fixtures that no average slave owner would have issued or allow their slaves to have. Furthermore, that space was used mostly for sleeping.

It was then time for all of us to claim our spot to spread our sleeping bags on the floor where we all drifted off to sleep. The last of us to get up the next morning was Justin, the future Marine. We all took the time to remind him that his sleeping habits will have to change when he enters boot camp. After a session of intense picture taking, we all went our separate ways.

"I am still unsure if I should label this as an initial or repeat stay. What I am sure of is that this cabin at Laurelwood Plantation is the best example of why the Slave Dwelling Project should continue to exist. The mansion and the cabin were almost victims of demolition by neglect. The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation stepped in and saved both. The new owners Jeremy and Jackie Thomas also deserve praise because of their willingness to breathe life back into these properties and go above and beyond to ensure that the cabin will be used for educational purposes."

Joseph McGillSlave Dwelling Project

I am looking forward to working with all entities necessary to ensure that this cabin will reach its fullest potential in inspiring others to come up to the standards that The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation and owners Jeremy and Jackie have set. The ancestors would be proud!

Overnight at the Laurelwood Slave Dwelling

By Prinny Anderson

"This overnight stay highlighted for me in a personal and physical way what the lives of enslaved people might have been like. It made me much more thoughtful about the harsh contrast between the lives of free, privileged, European American slave owners, like my own ancestors, and the lives of the enslaved and intentionally deprived African American people. It gave the shame of benefitting from slavery a physical form, a cold night on the floor. It also gave me a way of contributing to the re-warming and restoration of “right relationship” among the descendants of the enslaved and the slaveowners, a way of taking tiny steps towards making amends and seeking reconciliation."

Prinny AndersonComing to the Table

My overnight stay at Laurelwood was my second sleepover in a slave dwelling, and as expected, it was different from the first one. Two themes from the stay continue to echo in my mind. Bringing seven people together to sit around a fire in the hearth, talk and tell stories, and sleep in the cabin was like a housewarming event. And much of what stood out to me about the visit were the ordinary aspects of life – how it probably was 150 years ago compared to how it is now, how it was for enslaved people compared to how it is for a privileged, comfortably off, middle class professional.

The notion of “house warming” resonates in several ways. For one thing, that April evening was unseasonably chilly, and fortunately, a couple of people in our group knew how to build a fire and then looked after it diligently. That fire warmed the house enough to make our evening delightful and our overnight stay tolerable. Since our overnight stay was the first time in several decades since anyone had slept in the building, and since the cabin had been restored, with parts of the foundation, the floor, the walls and the roof having all been reconstructed, we were “re-warming” the space. We were bringing life back into the building. What’s even more important to the seven who spent the night is that we were the first people since Emancipation, as best we know, who came to sleep in the cabin with a focus on the enslaved people who had lived there. We were there to “re-warm” the memory, honor and respect those people should have.

Finally, for me, there were echoes of my experience at the community gathering held at Monticello. In 2007, descendants of all the people, enslaved and free, workers and owners, African and European, gathered at Monticello to become acquainted with one another, to talk about our shared heritage, and to look for ways to reconnect. As we came up to the mansion, the President of the foundation that cares for the building called out, “Welcome home, welcome back home.” At Laurelwood, we were welcomed home by the current owner of the property. We the living and the memory of those gone on were all welcomed home.

The other aspect of my experience was paying attention to the very ordinary details of life. The cabin has no furniture now; it probably had very little furniture when it was a slave dwelling. We pulled planks together to create seating, and we had all brought bedding for the night, so we were reasonably comfortable. But we reflected on what the enslaved people would have had – probably no chairs or tables; probably a thin, straw-filled pallet to lie on at night; and, if the overseer was doing his duty, a blanket, but maybe only one blanket. That chilly April night would not have been very comfortable. January would have been much worse. And back in the day, the owners and overseers mostly likely didn’t give a second thought to allowing people to live in such conditions.

There was no running water at the cabin; we brought our own water, in jugs and bottles. Perhaps there was a well or a pump somewhere on the property in earlier times, but fetching it and storing it would have been a constant chore performed by enslaved people, first for the convenience of their owners and then for their own use. Carrying water is time-consuming and exhausting, to the extent that still there are places in the world where people do not wash and do not stay sufficiently hydrated simply because of the effort involved. Was that the case for the Laurelwood enslaved community?

Of course, with no running water, there were no toilets. There might have been a latrine. Or the enslaved inhabitants of the cabin may have had the same experience we did, of finding a sheltered spot in the woods. That’s manageable for camping. Imagine it as a daily way of life. Imagine it as daily life for people whose duties included emptying the chamberpots of European Americans who did not have to run out to the latrine or find a quiet spot in the woods.

This overnight stay highlighted for me in a personal and physical way what the lives of enslaved people might have been like. It made me much more thoughtful about the harsh contrast between the lives of free, privileged, European American slave owners, like my own ancestors, and the lives of the enslaved and intentionally deprived African American people. It gave the shame of benefitting from slavery a physical form, a cold night on the floor. It also gave me a way of contributing to the re-warming and restoration of “right relationship” among the descendants of the enslaved and the slaveowners, a way of taking tiny steps towards making amends and seeking reconciliation.

Laurelwood

by Tim Shipley

"As I teach students history, I often encourage them to look into their own past and heritage. One cannot understand where they are going until they understand where they have been. I look to future experiences at Laurelwood with my students. This will be a great way to open their eyes to the past in knowing their heritage."

Teacher Tim ShipleyLower Richland High School

The idea of staying overnight in a slave cabin would never have crossed my mind until I met Joe and Jeremy. Over the past year, Jeremy has worked to connect our school with the slave cabin and offer the use of it to teach students. Well, after an overnight stay in the slave cabin it has been interesting since, as I talk to others about the experience and they say “you really stayed”. Normally, as a history teacher, I would look at this as another experience to use in the classroom however, having looked into my own family history the past few years made this experience different.

Sleeping overnight in the conditions I was not used to opening my eyes to what even life must have been like for my own ancestors much less African-Americans. It made me wonder how my ancestors might have been towards people of other races. I do know that there were sharecroppers in my past, but for them the conditions still were not to the level of ridicule and segregation of African –Americans during that time.

As I teach students history, I often encourage them to look into their own past and heritage. One cannot understand where they are going until they understand where they have been. I look to future experiences at Laurelwood with my students. This will be a great way to open their eyes to the past in knowing their heritage.

Slave Cabin Stay

by Harold Taylor, Student

"To compare the lifestyles of the white man and the black man on the plantation is to compare day and night. The master lived in a big, lavished, warm, cozy house, while the slave toiled all day only to return to a shanty shack with barely a fireplace to warm the hearth. The black man worked to carry the economy the white man thrived on. The white man took what the black man broke his back to give, maybe not freely, but in the same sense, the black man had to give."

Student Harold TaylorLower Richland High School

Slave cabins were the lodgings of individuals who were forced to work for nothing in the United States in the beginnings of the creation of the United States. The slaves were forced to do labor just about every day in the field for fear of abuse or attack. These men and women went day in and day out working, more often than not, for people who cared nothing of their well being as long as they were alive. At the end of the day these poor souls would be forced to return to cabins that were little more than large sheds.

While in the Laurelwood plantation’s slave cabin it was hard not to notice the size of the cabin itself. The cabin was no bigger than around twelve by ten feet. This cabin was devoid of anything more than a few shanty doors and drafty windows, with only a single fire place to heat the whole home. The slaves returning after a hard day’s labor in the field would do little more than come inside and go to sleep. In fact, according to several individuals who stayed at the cabin overnight, that is all the cabin was probably used for. This shows what kind of torment the slaves lived in. The cabin itself was quite cold without a fire, very drafty if any open area was not blocked, and covered with small cracks in the floor that made sleeping in a sleeping bag almost unbearable.

Many slave cabins had little to no furniture on the inside so slaves were forced to sleep on the cold hard floor. According to a one mister Joe, the cabin might have had a small table with just enough space to set a few items on to eat or what not. In this way the slaves obviously had to become very resourceful to stay warm during the colder winter months. As those who experienced the overnight stay will recall, the cabin was quite cold. The individuals who stayed will also recall that they stayed in the spring, as the weather was warming up. Slaves who lived in the cabin had to live there year round. During the summer, the slaves had to fear snakes crawling through the floor boards, and during the winter the slaves had to fight the cold just to stay warm. Both of these tasks were hard as cracks in between the floor boards made plenty of room for snakes to enter and the sole fireplace required constant attention to warm the room.

The slaves must have relied on each other immensely. During the summer, the slaves could open the windows for a cross breeze, but the draft could put out the cooking fire. The slaves who stayed in that cabin, must have found a way to keep the place cool, but cook at the same time. Surely it was difficult, but the winters must have been worse. The slaves relied upon whatever they were given or could find. Slaves would probably make blankets and huddle together to keep warm, but even the mornings were cold and they would be forced to go to work.

To compare the lifestyles of the white man and the black man on the plantation is to compare day and night. The master lived in a big, lavished, warm, cozy house, while the slave toiled all day only to return to a shanty shack with barely a fireplace to warm the hearth. The black man worked to carry the economy the white man thrived on. The white man took what the black man broke his back to give, maybe not freely, but in the same sense, the black man had to give.

Overall, from one night of staying in a slave cabin, it is easier to see the misdeed of early white Americans. While history favors the white man early on, it is deeper to feel the pain and suffering of the early black man. However, it is important to recall that without each of their contributions, the white man’s cruelty and black man’s sacrifice are part of the reason why Americans today can live together in harmony. Without the pain of slavery there wouldn’t have been the joy of today, when the white man and the black man can look upon each other as equals, as friends, as brothers.

My Experience at The Laurelwood Plantation

by Justin Castor, Student

"I can say that the experience has made me a better person. It’s taught me humility for those who lived daily in the conditions I experienced for only 12 hours. It’s shown me an importance in knowing and attempting to learn about your history. Most of all, it has proven that history is real."

Student Justin CastorLower Richland High School

I have never quite taken the time to contemplate the idea of slavery or the fact that, at one point or another, my ancestors went through it. As I visited the slave cabin at Laurelwood, I was faced with 2 conflicting views, and that is exactly how I wish to present my experience. On one hand, being a student in IB history lent to my interest and the analytical approach I took upon first arrival. On the other, being an African- American didn’t sink in until the night. I had to come to terms with the magnitude of the event. The stay caused me to question the system of slavery, the current state of the African Americans in America, and me. Hopefully by explaining these views, you can gain an insight not only on the physical conditions, but also my personal feelings involved with staying at Laurelwood.

From the historical perspective, slavery had and has always been an institution since biblical times. I had grown accustomed to looking at “the bigger picture”, and the bigger picture tells me that slavery in North America was much more civilized than in Latin America. That being said, it was hard for me to empathize with slavery, much like Americans who fail to understand soldiers. The cabin was about half the size of the average high school class room, and was split into 2 main rooms (the porch of the cabin was enclosed in at a later period, creating a 3rd room which we did not use). History tells us that the space allocated would have held a family of 10+, with minimal consideration for basic living conditions. This space actually would have worked fine, considering that the house would only be used to sleep in, as the slaves would have been working on the 2500 acres that the Laurelwood plantation would have covered.

Growing up, I neglected doing research into my ancestors and my own family line. I thought that it was simply “the cool thing to do” for African Americans and held no real substance. I had grown to refuse a connection to my slave ancestors, as I felt too many people would use these ancestors as a crutch to continue various negative social practices in the African American society. When I arrived at the cabin, it took a while for me to fully digest what I was feeling. I eventually understood that heritage was a very important thing. I understood that learning your history can be one of the most enlightening experiences you can ever hope to undergo. Being so close, you can literally imagine what may have happened in the past. Suddenly, what I read in textbooks became something I was able to see in my mind’s eye.

In some ways, the event is indescribable. Joe told us that “every stay is different” and I am sure that each stay will mean something different to each person. I can say that the experience has made me a better person. It’s taught me humility for those who lived daily in the conditions I experienced for only 12 hours. It’s shown me an importance in knowing and attempting to learn about your history. Most of all, it has proven that history is real. I think that students in history classes can sometimes forget that that what they read in books was once as real their own lives and experiences. Slaves slept on the very floor I slept on, braved the same cold, and did so with less than half of the accommodations I enjoyed. Knowing that, I can personally say that the stay in the slave cabin is something I will never forget.

Related Story and Video

Historic Slave Cabin Renovations Complete from WIST 10, Columbia, SC
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Slave Dwelling Project Revisits the Behind the Big House Tour, Holly Springs, MS

Behind the Big House Tour Opening, Smiling Pheonix, Holly Springs, MS
Students Tour Burton Place With Joe McGill
Dwelling at Rowan Oak
Horse-Drawn Carriage at Magnolias, Holly Springs, MS
Magnolias, Holly Springs, MS
Hugh Craft House
Interior of Dwelling at Rowan Oak
Joseph McGill Presents at Hugh Craft House
Joseph McGill Presents to Students, Burton Place, Holly Springs, MS
Magnolias
McCarroll Place Slave Dwelling
One of Two Dwellings at Rowan Oak
The Royal Court of the Behind the Big House Tour, 2013
Young Member of the Royal Court in Period Dress
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#FFCC00fadetrue

One way of testing the effectiveness of the Slave Dwelling Project is when I get invited back to a place where I have stayed already. An invitation to return is an indication to me that the project is working and I am not the only one who has come to the conclusion that preserving and interpreting former slave dwellings is the right thing to do. Accepting the invitation to go back to Holly Springs, Mississippi to participate in the Behind the Big House Tour was a no-brainer. The tour is in its second year of existence and gives people participating in the Holy Springs Pilgrimage the opportunity to hear the rest of the story by touring the slave dwellings behind the “big house".

Dwelling at Rowan Oak
Interior of Slave Dwelling, Rowan Oak, Holly Springs, MS
One of Two Dwellings at Rowan Oak
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#FFCC00fadetrue

Last year when I participated in the Behind the Big House Tour, I took a side trip to Oxford, Mississippi. While there I visited Rowan Oak which was owned by author William Faulkner until his death. The Greek revival house was built in 1840 by Colonel Robert Sheegog a planter from Tennessee. I left there with a verbal agreement that when I returned this year, I would spend a night in one of the out buildings. In fact, when my host booked my plane ticket for the trip they added two extra days on the front end to compensate for the stay at Rowan Oak. Unfortunately, the stay did not occur because of a bureaucratic nightmare. I did visit the site and had a productive conversation with the curator who gave me and my host access to the outbuildings. With patience, I am hopeful that the stay will occur in the near future however while there I did see a large snake which curbed my enthusiasm for that stay to occur immediately.

Along the way, the project has gained supporters who have helped it in many ways, those who publish my blogs; those who spend nights in slave dwellings with me; those who help find those obscure slave dwellings; those stewards of dwellings who grant me permission to spend a night; to those who just offer an encouraging word along the way. In the year 2010 when the project was in its infancy, my first slave dwelling lecture was given on the campus of the University of South Carolina. It was arranged by Jody Skipper, PhD, who was a doctoral student at that time. After a series of emails Dr. Skipper met me in Anderson, SC the site of one of the early stays for the project. After receiving her doctoral degree, she accepted a teaching position at the University of Mississippi. Fate would have it that we would meet again, as a result of this Mississippi trip, she made arrangements for me to address two of her classes. I was not surprised to learn that she along with her graduate students, would serve as volunteers for the Behind the Big House Tour.

Hugh Craft House, Holly Springs, MS
Joseph McGill Presents at Hugh Craft House
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Year two would see many positive changes for the Behind the Big House Tour. One such change was adding school children, so on Thursday morning, April 11 local school groups were scheduled to visit the Hugh Craft House and slave dwelling. This was also an improvement because last year only the slave dwelling at this house was available for public viewing. Unfortunate for me, recalling my knowledge of being a park ranger at Fort Sumter, I had a preconceived notion that the high school students would misbehave, but proper preparation by their teachers; an orientation in the “big house” by Alex Mercedes and the home owner; the power of the place; and my Civil War uniform were all factors in the kids giving me their undivided attention. I only regret that I had to cut short the time given to the last group because of another scheduled obligation. Regrettable because one young lady in the last group engaged in a line of questioning about the institution of slavery that made her get so emotional to the point of shedding tears; honorable because the rest of the group respected her outward moment of mourning. This was a true testament of the power of place.

Behind the Big House Tour Opening at Smiling Phoenix

Behind the Big House Tour Opening at Smiling Phoenix, Holly Springs, MS

The official opening ceremony for the project occurred at the Smiling Phoenix a newly restored historic building on the town square of Holly Springs. The spacious building is now Holly Springs’ only coffee shop and is the talk of the town. I was thoroughly impressed by the demographics of the crowd that showed up for the event. My observation would be 60 % African American and 40 % Caucasian. This impressed me because I recalled last year for the two days that the two slave dwellings were open to the public only a sprinkling of African Americans came for the tour. I also recalled that as I queried those few African Americans the overwhelming message was that before the Behind the Big House Tour, the Holly Spring Pilgrimage had nothing to offer them. My only hope was that the strong presence of African Americans at this opening event would translate in to more African Americans touring the slave dwellings.

Students Tour Burton Place With Joseph McGill
Joseph McGill Presents to Students at Burton Place
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Friday morning would find me interpreting the slave dwelling at Burton Place. It was not necessary for me to spend the night in the space because I had done so the year before. One African American female volunteer showed up well before the scheduled school group of third graders. As all third graders are, they were full of pertinent questions. When we went inside the space, their line of questions continued, I continued to answer in a manner which third graders could understand. For the second time in two days the power of the place brought tears to one of the participant’s eyes, but it was the volunteer who experienced this emotion not any of the third graders.

The day continued with a program at Christ Church. Alex Mercedes (whom I had met the day before and had the pleasure of co-presenting with to the school students) played three songs on the piano which included Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar, one of my favorite songs. I along with doctoral candidate Justin Rogers presented on religion and slavery. I fore-warned my host that my knowledge on this subject was perfunctory at most and most of the time should be yielded to the young scholar Justin Rogers. This proved to be a good decision because Justin was quite thorough in is research and the explanation of same. I could only present my knowledge of using religion to justify slavery; extant Praise Houses; antebellum church balconies and galleries; slave burial grounds and practices; and the history of the song “Amazing Grace”.

McCarroll Place

I was then scheduled to present at the McCarroll Place Quarters, one of the new stops on the Behind the Big House Tour. Last year I had a brief stop at the site and was glad to know that the current owners agreed to make it a part of the tour. The main house on the property is uninhabited and has been for years. Volunteers managed to get the quarters in a condition that could be toured by the public. I must admit that I am getting a little soft because while the opportunity to spend the night there was presented, I passed. Misinformation managed to minimize the number of people that came to the site. Although interpretive information was provided, I had not familiarized myself with it enough to feel comfortable disseminating it to a visiting public. Fortunately, the few people who were there were given the history of the site by my host Chelius Carter.

I vividly remember that one of the slaves that lived in the dwelling was a brick maker who was promised his freedom after he trained another brick maker. While still on the site, I met Rkhty Jones. Our conversation revealed that African Americans made the bricks that were used to build the antebellum buildings in Holly Springs. I revealed to her that this past February, I gave a lecture in Charleston titled Who Built Charleston: Factoring Slave Labor into Antebellum Architecture. We both agreed that the concept of slaves making bricks can be applied to all historic cities where slavery occurred.

The night ended with dinner and a movie on the green. I joined my hosts for a bar-b-que dinner and the outside viewing of the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes.” As an avid channel surfer, that was the first time that I had seen the movie in its entirety. The KKK scenes were a lot more poignant in this setting and bar-b-que may not have been the best choice to serve as the main course for dinner.

Horse-Drawn Carriage, Magnolias
Magnolias, Holly Springs, MS
Members of the Royal Court, Behind the Big House Tour
The Royal Court of the Behind the Big House Tour, 2013
Young Member of the Royal Court in Period Dress
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Magnolias would be my thirty ninth former slave dwelling in which I would spend the night. The main house best known for the movie Cookie’s Fortune which was filmed there, was recently acquired by the young couple Frank and Genevieve Busby. Last year I toured the house and saw the potential for the stay. The owners worked frantically to prepare the entire house for the Pilgrimage in the weeks prior to the stay. Extensive renovations by a series of owners had attached the once separated kitchen and slave dwelling to the main house therefore, the average person would not readily identify the space as one that once housed slaves. This attachment also meant that the space would be complete with a bed, electricity and an indoor full bathroom. This attachment also made interpreting the space that much more interesting for it gave me the opportunity to explain to the visitors how some spaces that once housed slaves are sometimes hidden in plain view in attempts by home owners to add square footage to their houses or adaptively reuse the space.

That evening, I was assigned to the Hugh Craft House. As I was familiar with the narrative, that information flowed much more easily. It was there that, in making a point that the labor was not free for slave owners, one visitor stated that “the slave owner was economically liable for the feeding, clothing, housing and health care of his slaves even the non productive ones like the young and elderly.” I stated that you can justify slavery economically but can you justify it morally? One other visitor added a statement supporting my point of view and did not let the initial statement carry the day.

Behind the Big House II was much bigger and better. It has the potential to be bigger still. Like the Slave Dwelling Project, the Behind the Big House Tour is still going through growing pains and still has to convince some people and entities we mean no harm to anyone and that this is the right thing to do. There are several well established historic house tours carried out in places where slavery once existed in this nation. I hereby challenge all of them to step out of their comfort zones and interpret those extant slave dwellings behind those architecturally significant buildings therefore telling the complete story of this nation’s history.

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Preservation Society of Charleston to Honor African American Craftsmen and Preservationists

Contact: Aurora Harris, Community Outreach Manager|aharris@preservationsociety.org |843.722.4630

Thomas M. Pinckney Alliance Reception

March 13, 2013
Preservation Society of Charleston Logo

Charleston, SC– The Preservation Society of Charleston will honor African American craftsmen and preservationist with a reception to follow on Friday April 12th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at 91 Spring Street Charleston, SC. The reception is hosted by the Thomas M. Pinckney Alliance of the Preservation Society of Charleston. This event is held in honor of Thomas Mayhem Pinckney, the artisan who helped the Society founder Susan Pringle Frost in much of her early preservation work.

The purpose of the Thomas Mayhem Pinckney Alliance is to support the Preservation Society of Charleston in identifying and preserving historic African American “built environments” in the Lowcountry. This includes those sites built by, occupied by and utilized for activities significant to the African American experience. The Thomas Mayhem Pinckney Committee also advocates for the expanded participation of African Americans in the Preservation Society’s activities and efforts.

This event is made possible by the Alliance and generous sponsors Julia-Ellen Craft Davis and Vicki Davis Williams, the granddaughters of Herbert A. DeCosta, Sr. and Julia Ellen Craft DeCosta, founders of H. A. DeCosta Company, and Gullah Tours. Catering is done by Joe’s Catering by Buckshot's Restaurant. Music performed by Oscar Rivers, Jazz Pianist.

Please RSVP by Thursday April 4th with Aurora Harris, Community Outreach Manager, at (843) 722-4630 or email aharris@preservationsociety.org.The purchase of a one year membership into the Preservation Society is suggested.

For more information please contact Aurora Harris, Community Outreach Manager, at (843) 722-4630 aharris@preservationsociety.org or visit their website at www.preservationsociety.org.

About the Preservation Society of Charleston

Founded in 1920, the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community-based membership historic preservation organization in the United States of America. Their mission is to inspire the involvement of all who dwell in the Lowcountry to honor and respect our material and cultural heritage. Membership in the Preservation Society is open to everyone.

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Teaching Moments: Slave Dwelling Project Includes Local Youths in Stay at Hopsewee Plantation

Gloria Bar Ford, Sophia Jackson, Zenobia Washington
Hearth in Slave Cabin, Hopsewee Plantation
Hearth Lit
Hopsewee Plantation House
Hopsewee Plantation Slave Cabin
Reajean Beatty Welcomes Guests at Hopsewee Plantation
Sophia Jackson Performs Stories from the Big Book of Gullah
Sophia Jackson
Storyteller Gloria Bar Ford
Storytellers Gloria Bar Ford, Sophia Jackson, Zenobia Washington
Young Men from AME Church Group Sons of Allen
Young Men from Sons of Allen, Morning After Hopsewee Stay
The Next Day ~ Ramona La Roche Greets the Morning
The Next Day ~ Ramona La Roche, Morning After Hopsewee Stay
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The first stay for the Slave Dwelling Project in 2013 was a repeat stay at Hopsewee Plantation on Friday, March 1.

One constant in both stays would be an event planned around dinner. Raejean and staff again showcased their zeal, ability and love of cooking for on the menu was shrimp and grits; chicken gumbo; field peas; okra and tomatoes; macaroni and cheese; pineapple casserole; pimento cheese biscuits and bread pudding.

The room was full to capacity and included guests from as far away as Chicago, Illinois and Mystic Sea Port, Connecticut who came specifically because of the program that owners Frank and Raejean planned. During dinner, I had the opportunity to address the guests on the subject of the Slave Dwelling Project.

Given only ten minutes to present, I let the audience decide which of the twelve states of which I had spent a night in a former slave dwelling that I would talk about. Their choices were Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Having the audience respond to where they were from as I went alphabetically through the list, only Louisiana, Missouri and North Carolina were excluded from the presentation, proving the geographic diversity of the audience.

Gloria Bar Ford, Sophia Jackson, Zenobia Washington

The highlight of the evening was a presentation titled “Stories from the Big Book of Gullah”. Story tellers Zenobia Washington and Sophia Jackson presented original stories based on Gullah traditions. Artist Zenobia Washington was raised in the port city of Georgetown, SC and influenced by the Gullah culture.

Many know Zenobia through her art of doll making, Zenobia is the director of Frameworks, a non-profit organization working with the youth of Georgetown in story telling and theater arts. Sophia Jackson is a native of Georgetown, SC and a longtime lover and pursuer of the arts. Having graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in film making and African American studies, she has recently joined efforts with Frameworks as a vehicle for sharing her expertise and artistic views. Also joining the cast was Gloria Bar Ford. Interspersed with poetry, storytelling and singing, the presentation was excellent and shows great potential for future collaboration.

Young Men from AME Church Group Sons of Allen

One other very important element of the stay was that owners Frank and Raejean agreed that Zenobia could arrange for some youth and their chaperones to spend the night in the slave cabin with me. Seven young men ages 14 – 16 associated with the group Sons of Allen were chosen. Throughout the thirty eight stays, I have had many people share the experience of sleeping in the slave dwellings with me. This one, I would anticipate the most because of the potential to influence youth, more specifically, young African American males. The opportunity to educate was fully embraced. Dropped off by their parents, all of the young men had arrived at or before the appointed time of 6:00 pm. I, arriving at 5:30 pm, had the opportunity to meet some of the parents of the young men. All of the young men seemed ready for what they had volunteered to do. Their actions through dinner and the presentations were more than respectable.

Hopsewee Slave Cabin

Upon entering the cabin to prepare my spot for sleeping, I was not surprised that all seven young men chose the same side of the cabin. I could not let them just drift off to sleep without first taking advantage of this teachable moment.

Although they attended the dinner presentation, I wanted to give them more details about what our ancestors endured for us to have the liberties that we enjoy today. I asked fellow Civil War reenactors Terry James who would be sleeping in a slave cabin for the 12th time and Ramona La Roche who would be staying for the first time to join me in communicating with the young men. Ramona queried the young men about their plans for the future.

I could not help but recall a situation that Terry James and I experienced when we slept in the other slave cabin on the property. Terry told them that when he closed the door on the cabin he looked up and noticed that a snake had shed its skin right above the door. He went on to say that we both had to convince ourselves that because the shed skin was dry, the event took placed weeks maybe months before we got there and the snake was long gone. My role in this teachable moment was minimized when Terry James led the discussion drawing on his experience of currently raising two teen age boys and his experience of sleeping in 11 cabins to date. When prompted by Ramona, I only had to chime in to keep the conversation in an historical context. This involved telling the group about the movement westward of this young nation and how slavery factored into that movement.

As if planned, our teachable moment was pleasantly interrupted by owners Frank and Raejean, Frank went to the side of the chaperones and Raejean came to the side where Ramona, Terry and I were with the seven young men. Hoping that the young men were taking notes for an upcoming essay that they had to write about the stay in a slave cabin, I queried Raejean as if the information that she was about to give me, I would be hearing for the first time. She stated that she tries to avoid giving guided tours of the house because it usually becomes a tour about them and not the property and its past inhabitants. She leaves the job of the house tours to the hired staff. As she explained the history of Hopsewee, I could not help but to latch on to what she said about its connection to the invention of the water and steamed powered rice mill. John Hume Lucas who owned the plantation from 1844 – 1853 was a successful rice grower and engineer and a relative of Jonathan Lucas, Jr. and Jonathan Lucas Sr. Both Lucas’ Jr. and Sr. were responsible for inventing, building and perfecting rice mills. I could not help but to interrupt her presentation to make connection to Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin. Both inventions increased the need for more slaves.

Hearth Lit

When Raejean and Frank left we became more grateful that the fireplaces in the cabin worked. In anticipation of a cold night, Raejean and Frank lit a fire in both fireplaces and provided enough wood to last throughout the night. The fire was cozy but we learned quickly that the windows on the cabin had to be slightly open to let out some of the smoke that would accumulate inside. After our session with the young men, all of the adults gathered on the other side of the cabin and quickly started to talk about subjects that mattered to adults. I became more acquainted with the group Sons of Allen. These men were responsible for assembling the group of young men who were staying the night. Information taken directly from their website describes the group as follows: “In 1984, the African Methodist Episcopal Church created the Sons of Allen Men’s Fellowship to foster closer relationships between men of the church, to equip men of the church for meaningful service, to reach unchurched men, and to present positive role models for our youth. The Sons of Allen has grown into an important connectional movement over the past twenty-plus years and the Fellowship is becoming a true connectional ministry. The challenges and disturbing realities facing African American men call for a response from the church.”

As we all claimed our spots on the floor we realized the twelve of us sleeping in the cabin that night would be using up all of the available floor space. I am certain that if the artifacts that were in the cabin were removed, we could have squeezed in even more people and that was likely the way that it would have been during the time of slavery. Once again, in preparation for his night sleep, Terry James attached the slave shackles to his wrist. As I drifted off to sleep, the young men were still talking among themselves. As we slept through the night, one of the chaperones would occasionally get up and put another log on the fire. On one occasion I awoke to a blazing fire in the fireplace and the sound of an owl in the background.

Ramona La Roche Greets the Morning

Unlike the first stay, sleeping in the cabin farthest away from Highway 17 made a big difference because the noise of the vehicles going across the bridge that spans the North Santee River was less prominent. Waking up the next morning, we all took advantage of the opportunity to take group photographs before we all went our separate ways. One by one the mothers of the young men came to pick them up. All of the mothers expressed great appreciation for the experience that we gave their kids. Raejean came and offered those of us remaining breakfast, some accepted but I had an appointment to keep with my young daughter.

Somewhere along this journey, I was told that what I was doing was art, it was Holly Springs, Mississippi to be exact. Until this stay at Hopsewee, I did not buy into that thought process. Did the dinner audience come for the food, did they come for the great performance of Stories from the Big Book of Gullah, or did they come to hear about the Slave Dwelling Project?

I cannot answer that question but I do know that all three elements worked well together. I also know that those three things combined did not excite me as much as spending the night in a slave cabin with seven young African American males.

Young Men from Sons of Allen, Morning After Hopsewee Stay

I just hope that the experience gave them an indication of what their ancestors endured so that they can enjoy the liberties that they have today. Owners Frank and Raejean and all others involved in organizing this stay should be proud and also know that you have now raised the bar for future stays in extant slave dwellings.

Although a repeat stay, many new and interesting twists were added that would add new standards to the project.

We Shall Over Come

By: Mr. Jordan Manigault
Property! The definition of property is someone’s possession. Do you know what it means for a person to be called someone’s property? When you are considered property you have no freedom, nor rights. If you don’t have either you have no say or control of your life. Slaves were considered possessions of their slave owners. During that time in history they were used as collateral. They could be sold and bought just like you buy items out of the store today. Therefore, as a result, their lives were affected by daily ridicule and unimaginable hardships. Slaves had no control over when they were going to be sold or traded. Families were torn apart in many ways. The husbands and sons watched their mothers, wives, and sister suffer abuse physically, sexually, and mentally and could do nothing about it. They were property of their slave owner. The lives of our ancestors as slaves was hard, but slavery still exist today.

In today’s society we enslave with modern day technology. Technology has taken over to the point where we are too dependent on it. We no longer know and understand what it is like to think for ourselves or to work with our hands because computer and technology does everything for us. Children no longer enjoy the outdoors. They don’t go outside to play because the majority of them have computers, video games or cell phones in which they spend all their time on these devices. We no longer share conversations with our family and friends or love ones. Again, we have been bought by the use of technology, every time a new device comes out we worry our parents to go out and purchase the newest device of today. We need to get back to some of our old habits.

In order to overcome being enslaved to technology we have to put those devices down and spend more time together as families; laughing and talking to one another, spending more time outdoors enjoying the gift GOD gave us to see, hear and smell his creation.

In order for this change to have a positive impact on today’s youth, everyone must get involved. Adults must realize that they should not only be concerned on the well being of their children, but ALL children as a whole. I believe that more outreach ministries could be established that will teach the youth self-respect and dignity. By instilling these values in the youth now the ending results will be remarkable.

Hopsewee

By Mr. Timothy Guiles

Hopsewee use to be a plantation with slaves. It was very cold and dark. There weren’t any beds to sleep on. If we were slaves, we would have to sleep on the floor but we had sleeping bags. It was fun because I had my friends there with me but if we were in slave times, it wouldn’t have been fun at all. The men that stayed with us told us the real story about slaves. Not the fake stuff we learn or learned about in history class. I was surprised at what they told me. I didn’t know that slave work up at 4:00 am to start their day of working. One of the men told us that when we are in class, think about what our ancestors went through in slavery and use that knowledge to improve our school and work manners.

We had a fireplace but that only kept us warm for so long. When I woke up in the middle of the night, it was super cold. Before we went to sleep in the slave house, we ate some food that they use to eat back in slave times. There was grits, mac and cheese, lemonade, tea, beans and more.

It’s not fair that we have more things than slaves had we still don’t appreciate what they did for us. We sit there; stand there with freedom because our ancestors did that for us. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X helped Blacks earn freedom. If it weren’t for Abraham Lincoln, we would still be in those fields picking cotton and getting whipped for no reason.

I learned that if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. I also learned that you are going to have to do things that you don’t want to do in order to get where you want to go in life. It’s life as most say today. This world still isn’t equal enough. We still have murderers, racism, and rapist. We are going to have to learn how to get along with each other or this world is going to break apart.

Hopsewee was a very good experience for me to see how a slave would sleep at night. Well I enjoyed staying there. That will be a never forgetting moment.

Related Reading

Ramona La Roche, founder of Family TYES SC, has written about her experience of the overnight stay at Hopsewee. You can read her reflections here, on her blog Gullah Galz Ink.
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Interested In Preserving SC African American History and Culture? SC African American Heritage Commission Meets Thursday, March 14

The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission will hold it quarterly meeting on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the South Carolina Archives and History Center, 8301 Parklane Road, Columbia.

Anyone interested in the preservation of African American history and culture is encouraged to attend.

Also, the Commission will hold its annual conference and awards presentation on Friday, March 15 beginning at 9:30 a.m.

For more information or to register for the conference call 843-917-3350 or visit www.scaaheritagefound.org.

For More Information, Please Contact:

Jannie Harriot

PO Box 2675

Hartsville, SC 29551

843-332-3589

Fax: 1-877-396-8314

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Freedmen's Bureau Record Breaks Through the 1870 Brick Wall for SC African American Genealogy

Record Connects Freedmen with Former Slaveholders

So rarely does a record from Reconstruction actually connect freed people to a former slaveholder. When we find records like this we are so excited.

We are very excited today, because we found another! This record is a part of the "Pre-Bureau" records for South Carolina.

Having taken Port Royal in 1861, Union forces were in lower South Carolina long before the Freedmen's Bureau was established. This record does not have a date but is interleaved with records made in 1865. It is reproduced on NARA Micropublication M869, Reel 38.

This record appears in rations requests and lists the names of elders with plantations and the names of former slaveholders. What a find!

Please click on the image below to view the record full-size. We hope you find an ancestor here. Happy Ancestor Hunting from the crew at Lowcountry Africana!

Record Connects Freedmen with Former Slaveholders

References Cited

United States, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 (NARA Micropublication M869), Reel 38.

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Joseph McGill and Company A, 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment March in Inaugural Parade

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Inaugural Parade

Immersing myself in matters of history is second nature. More specifically, matters of African American history are on my short list of things I enjoy engaging in the most. To that end, I often have to be reminded that some of those matters of history of which I indulge are much bigger than me therefore they should be shared with an audience that wishes to know more about African American history. Through this blog you have been reading about The Slave Dwelling Project one of my deep indulgence into the extant places where enslaved African American lived, so deep that I have spent a night in thirty eight of these dwellings in twelve states since 2010. My publisher alerted me that I was about to engage in something rare that current and future followers of the blog might also be interested.

My other delve into African American history is that for over 20 years, I have been a Civil War reenactor. My Civil War reenacting group is Company I, 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the first African American Civil War units raised in the north and was portrayed in the academy award winning movie Glory in 1989. Being one of few African American Civil War reenactors in the United States, we represent approximately 200,000 African Americans that served the Union Army and Navy during the American Civil War. It was this affiliation that got me an invitation to march in the presidential inaugural parade that occurred on the Martin Luther King holiday on January 21, 2013. I would march with Company A, my fellow Civil War reenactors from Boston, Massachusetts.

The opportunity to march in the parade was not unique for I had done the very same thing four years prior with the same group. That experience taught me to prepare better for the occasion. My new brogans that I ordered for the occasion had gotten within a few miles from my home before UPS shipped them back to the sender because they could not figure out my address. The time that I received them only gave me a week to start the breaking in process which required me to wear them to work at Magnolia Plantation one day. I shined my brass and had the buttons sewn on my Civil War uniform and the pants hemmed accordingly. From the sporting goods store, I purchased hand and toe warmers. While packing for the trip, I discovered that my thermal underwear was insufficient for what I was about to experience therefore I had to purchase more. I recalled in 2009 standing in the below freezing cold for two hours waiting for the parade to begin so this time I would arm myself with snacks aplenty.

When I arrived in Washington, DC at the designated place to stay late in the evening of Saturday, January 19, the gentlemen from Boston were already there. Our host, Frank Smith, President of the African American Civil War Museum found a row house in a nice neighborhood that we could rent for the occasion. To my surprise, it would not be necessary for me to spread my sleeping bag on the floor because an army unit provided cots for all the men and women staying in the house. The only challenge would be everyone sharing the one rest room that was in the house. To that end, ten minute time limits had to be established and I chose the first slot at 4:00 am. Upon seeing Company A, we picked up where we left off because more than half of the guys participated in the inaugural parade four years earlier. That night some of us attempted to go to the world famous Ben’s Chili Bowl but were in for a rude awakening when we saw the line of people who got there before us.

Sunday, January 20 was packed with activities. An early morning muster gave us an indication of how we would function as a group. Our formation brought from the neighborhood various onlookers, picture takers and inquirers. Breakfast was prepared by an Elk’s lodge located two doors from the house where we stayed. We then proceeded in a loose formation to the African American Civil War Monument, 1925 Vermont Avenue NW, where we drilled and interacted with spectators.

The entrance to the African American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

After the drill session, we went across the street to the Civil War Museum where we listened to a rousing and informative lecture about African Americans in the Civil War given by the museum curator Hari Jones. We were then shuttled over to 18th Street and Columbia Road to participate in the Slavery to Freedom in Adams Morgan Walking Tour. One stop on the tour was the site of John Little Manor House. Mr. Little was a cattle farmer who owned slaves. The tour concluded at the African American and Quaker cemeteries at Walker Pierce Park. Several African American Civil War soldiers and sailors are buried there.

Enjoying chicken wings and french fries at the Elks lodge while watching the New England Patriots versus Baltimore Ravens football game

That night we all gathered at the Elk’s Lodge to watch the New England Patriots versus the Baltimore Ravens. It was a precarious situation for me because being so close to Baltimore, Maryland, I was hanging with guys from Boston so I governed my actions accordingly. French fries, chicken wings and beer made the gathering more memorable. Needless to say, the result of the game was not favorable for my colleagues from Boston.

Monday, January 21, Dr. Martin Luther King’s holiday, the day of the inauguration, we all mustered outside at 5:00 am for inspection. While outside we discovered that a special guest would join us. Accompanying Company A in the parade would be the honorable Michael Crutcher who would portray Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who was instrumental in convincing Abraham Lincoln to recruit Black soldiers for the Union cause, had two sons , Charles and Lewis, who were members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The bus that would take us to the Pentagon for processing would not arrive for another hour or so which gave us some time to relax. On the bus ride that seemed to have taken almost an hour, we finally arrived at the Pentagon where again we had to wait. Having been preprocessed by providing our social security numbers and a photograph at least two weeks prior, the physical processing went a lot more smoothly than 4 years prior.

Muster outside of the row house on the morning of the inaugural parade

Knowing that our functional Civil War muskets had to be disabled, most of the men had already done this by removing the nipple from their weapon. For those whose nipple could not be removed, a tooth pick was inserted into it and broken off. The rest of the process mirrored that of what one would encounter at an airport before boarding a plane. After processing and before we got back on the bus, I along with a member of Company A was chosen to do live interviews for ABC News and NPR. Unfortunately, when we finally got to the interview area, other parade participants were being interviewed and were not finished before we were ordered to be escorted back to our group to board our bus that would take us to the staging area.

Up Pennsylvania Avenue

I recalled that four years prior that bus ride gave us a great view of the magnitude of the crowd that was in Washington, DC for the inauguration. That was not the case this year but we did go past the new Martin Luther King Monument which gave everyone on the bus an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the day. At the staging area, one Civil War reenactor from Philadelphia who did not get processed at the Pentagon tried to join the ranks. He was not with us one minute before security pounced and removed him from our ranks so he could not join us in the staging area tent. Activities inside the tent were more organized than four years prior, there was a big TV screen that allowed everyone to see the inauguration process. We were seated next to Company B, other African American Civil War reenactors from Washington, DC. It became obvious to many of us in the ranks that we all should be marching together but we were not the decision makers. There were groups galore inside the tent but we were advised to stay together and not roam alone.

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54th Mass Company A Marches in Inaugural Parade. Photos Courtesy of Bernice Bennett

After what seemed like hours, we finally went outside to take our position for the parade. Interestingly, the gentleman who could not join us in the tent found his way back to our ranks and was placed right beside me which made me a little nervous. When the procession began to move, I was impressed because four years prior it took hours before we moved. And then we stopped, the memory of standing for hours in the cold four years earlier came rushing back. After a series of starts and stops, we began to move along at a constant pace. The spectators along the parade route were much more abundant than four years prior. Every one hundred yards or so, an announcer would make known to the crowd what unit was approaching. About half way into the parade, the older gentlemen in the group began to waiver. The series of command for repositioning our weapons were getting pointless as every position became painful.

And there it was, the presidential reviewing stand. Being on the extreme left of the formation, the side closest to the president, I was forewarned that when the command eyes left was given I had to continue to look forward to maintain the decorum of the formation. Knowing this I had to get a good look at the Commander in Chief as we approached and before the command was given. As we passed the presidential enclosure, everyone in the formation, despite their age and physical condition seemed to disregard the pain that they were enduring. Once the formation passed the presidential enclosure, it was apparent that we all lost our swagger and stamina but there were still people along the route and we had to perform accordingly for an additional two hundred yards or so.

Finally, we got to the busses where we could break the formation. After receiving the order to proceed in a loose formation to the bus, our headcount revealed that two members did not make it to the end. Provisions for such an occurrence had already been made and the two men had been transported to the bus and were there before the rest of us got there. Later that night, I would decline the opportunity to hang out with some of the younger guys as they would again attempt to go to Ben’s Chili Bowl. I stayed in the house with the older group and we all ordered a pizza. When the younger group returned, they let me know that this time they were successful in getting into Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Tuesday, January 22, the day after the march, I awoke and checked the weather and discovered it was 20 degrees and only going to reach 23 degrees that day. I gave thanks that the inaugural parade occurred the day before when it was 25 degrees warmer. I was also thankful that I was going to put 516 miles of south between me and Washington, DC while the guys from Company A were going in the opposite direction into colder weather. Before I left, I had to again thank Company A for letting me join them for the second inaugural parade for first African American president of the United States. I vowed to them that I will prepare a place for them in Charleston, SC when they come during the week of July, 14 – 21, 2013 to participate in the 150th Anniversary of the Assault on Batter Wagner, the battle that was depicted in the movie Glory.

The institution of slavery suppressed our ancestors by denying them the opportunity to be educated. Any evidence of the enslaved being educated could meet with harsh punishment. One cumulative result is that African Americans have been playing catch up in recording our own history. To that end, a lot of African American history that should have been recorded has gone to the grave with some of our ancestors. I hereby thank my blog publisher for reminding me that I do have an audience and that some of the things that I do that I take for granted are worthy of being shared with that audience.

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