B.B. Sams House
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Intense cannot begin to describe the finale of the 2013 Slave Dwelling Project season. On Wednesday, November, 6, 2013, I had the pleasure of being the tour guide for a group from the Military Magnet school in North Charleston, SC to Morris Island, SC. This was a trip that was sponsored by the National Park Service and had to be rescheduled from the prior month because of the federal government shutdown. Delayed or not, any opportunity to visit Morris Island, the site of the battle that was portrayed in the 1989 movie Glory is always a pleasure for me.
My day would only get better because I would spend the night at the B.B. Sams House in Beaufort, SC. This stay came about as a result of an article in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine titled: Cabin Fever: One man’s historic mission to rediscover every former slave dwelling in America by Tony Horwitz. Molly Gray, current owner of the home called me and offered me the opportunity to apply the Slave Dwelling Project to the dwelling located on her property. When I expressed my pleasure of her great timing due to me putting the finishing touches on the 2014 schedule of the Slave Dwelling Project she stressed to me that the dwelling was rental property and she was between tenants so if I wanted to do this, it had to be as-soon-as-possible. Luckily, I could combine the event with Heritage Days at Penn Center on St. Helena Island.
Joining me in the dwelling the first night would be fellow Civil War reenactor, James Brown, who would be participating in his third stay, so we rode to Beaufort together. Molly and her husband John planned a private gathering of local people for a presentation about the Slave Dwelling Project. The group consisted of about twenty people who all gathered in what would have historically been the stable area behind where the coachman stayed. This really made me think about the smells associated with living in cities when horses were the main mode of transportation. The presentation was done without the aid of power point and I yielded some time at the end to James Brown so that he could talk about his stays at McLeod Plantation on James Island and his stay in the Old Charleston Jail in Charleston, SC.
If the dwelling had beds, it would have rivaled the luxury of the dwellings at 16 ½ Glebe Street and 25 Longitude Lane both in Charleston, SC. It would be the second structure built of tabby of which I would stay, the first was on Ossabaw Island, GA. Being located within the city limits of Beaufort and with appliances, a restroom and other amenities, James and I both speculated that a substantial rental fee could be demanded and obtained for the space. Our host prepared some lasagna for us which we consumed a portion when the guests left. Molly also stocked the dwelling with other food items that we would consume throughout the two nights that we were scheduled to stay. All of the amenities made the first night stay uneventful giving James and me lots of opportunity for conversation.
On Thursday morning, we ate a hearty breakfast and I began to take my photographs. Molly offered a tour of the mansion which we accepted. We then took a walk through the streets of Beaufort all the time looking for other slave dwellings that we could identify. One place of note that we visited was a church that housed an exhibit of statesman Robert Smalls best known for, during the Civil War, commandeering the steamboat Planter which was moored in the Charleston harbor and sailing himself and other enslaved people to freedom.
The stay would be coupled with members of the Civil War reenacting group that I belong to participating in the 31th Annual Penn Center Heritage Days. Penn School was founded during the Civil War for the education of recently freed slaves and I was once employed there as Director of History and Culture. On Thursday, we helped open the celebration by posting the flag. Our only other obligation was to interact with the public. The second night in the slave dwelling, James Brown and I would be joined by Terry James. With Terry, it was easy to compare the luxury of this dwelling to some of his other twenty one stays. We all slept in the room with the huge fireplace.
On Friday, we would again participate in Penn Center Heritage Days this time more actively by giving a history and storytelling session on the main stage. Penn Center wanted us to stay for a third day but we had a commitment to participate in a Civil War battle reenactment at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC.
Boone Hall Plantation
My first overnight stay in a slave dwelling was at Boone Hall Plantation in 1999. I returned last year to end the 2012 season of the Slave Dwelling Project at Boone Hall. On Saturday, November 9, 2013, I would spend my third night in a slave cabin at Boone Hall. Like last year, this stay would be in conjunction with the Civil War battle reenactment happening at Boone Hall. What made this year special was that the battle being reenacted was the Assault on Battery Wagner. This was the battle that was portrayed in the 1989 award winning movie Glory so this year I would actually participate in the battle.
Arriving at Boone Hall around 8:00 am on Saturday, I anticipated a morning of drill with the Civil War unit that I would be fighting with that day. Before any of that could happen, I had to check in with Boone Hall staff to make sure that I would have access to the cabin(s) for the night. I requested two based on some earlier requests that I had from several people. Once assured of after hour access to the cabins, I walked to the encampment area looking for the Civil War reenactors who were scheduled to continue the training with the few African American reenactors that I managed to recruit.
Up to that point, I was quite disappointed in the number of African American men that we managed to recruit for the event, but I held out hope that maybe at the last minute reenactors from other states and some other local men would answer the call. Reality dictated that less than 10 African American males would participate in the battle. Despite that setback, I and all who participated in the battle reenactment did it with vigor and it was enjoyed by all men from both sides.
One thing I learned was that dying on the crest of the fort was not a good idea because the opposing force fired their muskets above my head and it was not very pleasing to my ears. After the battle, I went to the slave cabins and was fortunate to get in on the last slave dwelling presentation of the day. Like last year the presenter yielded some time to me at the end of her beautiful presentation.
Just before she yielded that time to me, I discovered what I always now look for in bricks that were made by slave labor. My search was successful because I found in very close proximity to the audience fingerprints in one of the bricks that were made by the enslaved person making that brick. This certainly made for a more powerful presentation.
In the cabin I would be joined by Andy Holloway, Benjamin Shaffer, James Brown and Terry James. The next morning James and Terry stated that they heard a yell during the night. They both concluded that the yell came from me. This was interesting because sometime during my sleep I acquired a mysterious scratch on my nose that drew blood.
During the Civil War battle on Sunday, I decided that I was not going to die on the crest of the hill again. I did engage in that “one gallant rush” and decided to take a hit a few feet from the fort. After the battle and before members of the of the Civil War group dispersed we decided that we would go to the slave cabins and give the visiting public one more presentation on how we became Civil War soldiers.
And there you have it, the end of the 2013 season of the Slave Dwelling Project!