OUR MISSION – The Slave Dwelling Project’s mission is to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve extant slave dwellings.
OUR PURPOSE – The purpose of our work is to become a clearinghouse for the identification of resources to document and preserve these slave dwellings.
OUR TASK – It is essential that the Slave Dwelling Project serve as a conduit for the identification of preservation resources for owners of slave dwellings that have a desire to save these dwellings. We also seek to assist in the acquisition of slave dwellings within a community in order to mitigate the possibility of demolition.
OUR GOAL – Our goal is to bring historians, students, faculty, writers, legislators, organizations, corporations, artists and the general public together to educate, collaborate and organize resources to save these important collectibles of our American history.
More recently, the Slave Dwelling Project has been engaging more youths by inviting them to spend the night in an extant slave dwelling. As a result, they are encouraged to write about the experience. I could not resist pulling the title of this blog from an essay of one of the students for it describes well the intent of the Slave Dwelling Project.
With two overnight stays at Laurelwood Plantation in Eastover, SC, this past stay was a great indication of how the Slave Dwelling Project continues to evolve. For the second consecutive year, Tim Shipley, history teacher at Lower Richland High School, would stay in the cabin along with five of his students and a University of South Carolina intern. That alone was inspirational enough for me to know that the project was being used successfully as an educational tool because last year Tim brought two students for the stay.
As if that was not enough, property owners Jeremy and Jacqueline Thomas invited: Jim Tuggle – Pastor at the Good Hope Baptist Church; Carl Dubose – Resident Historian and site manager at Kensington Mansion; and Reggie Seay – John Robert Seay, buried in the Good Hope grave yard was Reggie’s GG Grandfather and James H Seay who built Laurelwood and provided the land on which the Good Hope Baptist Church was built on and is believed to have been the first Pastor there, his GGG Grandfather is also buried there.
When I arrived at the site on Friday, March 14 around 5:00 pm homeowner Jackie was preparing dinner for the group. Prinny Anderson who has shared several stays in slave dwellings before was there and had driven from Durham, NC to join us. Also there was Reggie Seay who was assisting with the cooking and had travelled all the way from New Orleans, LA for the occasion. One of the Lower Richland High School student along with his parent was also present.
I was thoroughly impressed with the work that Jacqueline and Jeremy had done to the house because three years prior when they acquired it, the house like the slave cabin was in desperate need of restoration.
Knowing that the cabin had suffered minor fire damage the week before, I was quite anxious to inspect it. The repair work done to the chimney looked fine but we made provisions to light a fire outside the cabin as a backup.
We had prior knowledge that due to softball game, one of the students would be arriving late. With everyone accounted for including Pastor Jim Tuggle of Good Hope Baptist Church, we indulged in a meal of red beans and rice and other fixings.
We were successful in getting to the cabin well before night fall. The students were seeing it for the first time and immediately started to claim the spot where they would sleep. Our next task was to gather firewood to supplement the supply that was already there. The desire to have a fire outside made it necessary that we dig a fire pit and surround it with bricks. It was then that I got the call from Terry James that he would not be making the trip from Florence, SC to spend the night because he hit a deer with his car the night before. I know that it would have been quite impactful for the kids to have Terry explain to them why he chooses to sleep in slave shackles while in the cabin.
Although a bit chilly, the full moon shining directly over the cabin; the lanterns in the cabin emitting a light that made it come alive; and the camp fire made for a very rewarding experience. It was highlighted by everyone stating why they chose to be there at that location at that time.
We made an attempt to start a fire in the cabin but let it burn itself out when we became aware that the chimney needed some more work.
I was awakened during the night when a car alarm went off. I immediately got up and opened the door and shined the light in the direction of where the cars were. Seeing nothing, having no shoes on and the alarm now being off, I went back to my sleeping bag. The following morning, I discovered that only Prinny and I heard the alarm.
That morning, Jacqueline had prepared breakfast for us which was a great idea considering we were committed to a 10:30 am program at the Good Hope Baptist Church. Organized by Jacqueline and Jeremy, the program was designed to garner more community involvement in preservation and the history of the Laurelwood Plantation.
The outcome of the program did not disappoint. In addition to the students who spent the night in the slave cabin, Tom Shipley had invited his advanced placement class to the presentation and they all showed up. All invited guests of Jacqueline and Jeremy showed up along with members of Good Hope Baptist Church. I would venture to say that the pews of the church had not been that full for quite some time. All presenters did a superb job in stressing the need for the preservation of buildings, history and culture.
The event was an overall success but there is one thing that bothers me about the situation at Laurelwood. Jeremy expressed to me his concern of the under use of the slave cabin as he reminded me that I had unrestricted use of the structure for education purpose. Now the pressure is on for me to be creative in developing programs that will ensure that the slave cabin at Laurelwood will be used more effectively. Your input is welcome.
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Going back to Laurelwood Plantation was an experience in time travel, both backward and forward, as well as an adventure across the land. First of all, driving on the two-lane highways from Durham, NC, to west of Sumter, SC, took me through the sandy pinewoods out onto acre upon acre of flat cotton fields. My destination lay in the fertile river valleys of the Wateree and Congaree – so fertile that the county is call Richland in honor of the ancient river bottom soil. A geologist explained to us that millions of years ago, the same land was seashore. Astonishing, to cover millions of years in about 200 miles of driving.
My overnight at Laurelwood in 2013 was my first stay in a Slave Dwelling with the Project. At that time, the slave cabin had been resurrected, shored up, cleaned up, and made habitable for us. This year, I was back almost exactly a year later to the date. The passing of twelve months has brought remarkable changes, this time to the plantation big house. Plumbing, electric power, doors, windows and buffed and polished floors had all been put in. Jackie and Jeremy, with 2 dogs and 2 cats, had taken up full-time residence. Last year, we held a “warming” for the slave cabin; this year, the house had also come back to life, whole and sound, and its original beauty regained. It was inspiring and delightful to see what commitment to restoring artifacts of South Carolina’s past can do.
The passing of twelve months had also brought a burst of interest among the students of Lower Richland High School. In 2013, two students joined the Slave Dwelling Project overnight; this year, five students came for the night and many more appeared for the history talks the next morning – a Saturday!
Our conversation and our overnight stay took us back in time, back to 150 years ago when a family of up to 12 people might have occupied the space we slept in, might have walked the sandy paths we took, and might have worshipped in the church we visited. Our conversation before bedtime wondered about the realities and hardships of life in the time of slavery, about what it took to survive, about all that those past folk accomplished. Just like the long ago people of the enslaved and owner families, we smelled wood smoke, felt the chilly night breeze, listened to the nighttime woodland noises, tossed uncomfortably on the hard floor, and slept in the same rural darkness.
Next morning, at a gathering in the nearby church, from three different speakers, we learned about the local inhabitants of the Laurelwood community during its heyday as a summer retreat and small plantation. We learned that, living side by side with the plantation owners were free people of color, small farmers and craftsmen. Today, students of Lower Richland High School are descendants of those free families of color and small farmers. Some of them are probably descendants of the 47 enslaved people owned by the Seay family at Laurelwood. But few of the students were aware of their roots back in the past, of the existence of the slave dwelling and the plantation house just down the lane. For them, a short journey down a sandy lane to Laurelwood and Good Hope Church was indeed time travel, a trip back into the era when their ancestors moved or were brought to the area, worked there and raised families .
AP US History Field Study – Laurelwood Plantation
The Laurelwood Plantation may not be a favored memory of history, but now it is a welcoming home. When I arrived there, I was greeted by very friendly people. I met Reggie Seay, Jackie Thomas and her husband Jeremy Thomas, Joe McGill, and the Pastor from Good Hope Church. Jackie Thomas and Jeremy Thomas were the couple who bought Laurelwood Plantation, which had a slave cabin on their property. That night, I was going to sleep in that cabin. The only way this was possible was due to Joe McGill and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. By working together to enable students to do these sort of things, they are inspiring people to embrace the past rather than forgetting about it. Thank you for letting me experience sleeping in a slave cabin.
Before we slept in the cabin, my classmates, instructors, and I had to walk to the slave cabin. We walked a good way down a dirt road, and saw the cabin to our right. It was completely wood, and only had one hand rail down the stairs. After placing our stuff inside, my classmates and I gathered wood. We gathered starter wood as well as logs to keep the fire going. We pulled out long pieces of wood with two short wooden squares under it from one side of the cabin. After balancing them upon smaller squared pieces of wood, they were used as benches to sit on around the future campfire. Everyone (including the people I met earlier, my teacher Mr. Shipley, and his intern Mr. Covington) then began building the fire pit. We used bricks and attempted to create a circle in the dirt where the fire was going to be (the circle ended up looking like an oval). My classmate grabbed a shovel and began digging slightly in the center of the bricks. Mr. Seay then placed bricks in the hole, and we began putting twigs in the designated fire pit. Soon the campfire was lit, and by then the wind got stronger. I was cold due to the wind, and I could tell some of my classmates were cold too. The instructors around the campfire for some reason seemed unaffected.
By nightfall, I was internally begging to have a campfire inside. It was dark outside, except for the light of a full moon and the campfire. If it wasn’t for the campfire and the moon, it would have been pitch black. I traveled inside the cabin in order to put on another pair of socks, and when I was done I saw Jackie and Jeremy Thomas attempting to make a fire in the fireplace inside the cabin. The fire was strong, but smoke was visibly coming from the top of the fireplace. The fire in the fireplace had to be put out, and people then began getting ready to go to sleep.
I could barely sleep that night. As I laid there, I felt every movement in that floor. I felt as one of my classmates shuffled their feet across the floor. I started thinking about, “What if someone was walking in the cabin while their family is trying to sleep?” If anyone was walking, everyone would feel every movement because the vibrations would pass through the floor. The floor was wooden and hard, and I had trouble falling asleep. I laid in my sleeping bag and stared at the wall. It was bare. It was made of wood, and it looked very dark. On top of that, I could look through a window and see the top of trees. As wind blew, the trees danced, and the cabin welcomed it. There were cracks in the door of the cabin and the walls. The floor boards shrunk some so there were spaces in between each wooden plank. While lying there, I felt every breeze. I was very cold, and woke up constantly throughout the night.
While waking up repetitively throughout the night, I ended up laying and looking up at the ceiling. There was no official top of the cabin, and when I looked up I could see wooden beams supporting the roof of the cabin. I began to think about how slaves created this cabin in order to sleep in. On top of that, they built it with good construction skills and I could see how the beams were placed together. Looking up and seeing the visible beams were unlike any roof I have seen.
While on this field study in the Laurelwood Plantation, I learned new things about the Laurelwood Plantation. The Laurelwood Plantation was known as Laurelwood due to the Campbell family. They knew of this plantation as Laurelwood. This plantation has passed many hands throughout the years. John Seay had the plantation, and it was inherited by James H. Seay and Sarah Carter Seay in 1828. James H. Seay owned 77 slaves, and had 47 slave houses in 1860. I learned that many people owned slaves in the past, but not many owned more than 20. Robert Branham owned 46 slaves, and in 1850 Joel Adams owned 191 slaves. It is usually uncommon for slave owners to have over 20 slaves because majority of people only had a small amount (like a hand full), but others had more due to the plantation requiring more slaves. In 1907, Jasper and Minnie Campbell acquired the land, and that is when the plantation began to be known as Laurelwood Plantation.
While on the field study, I also learned new things about the Good Hope Baptist Church. The Church was built before the Civil War in 1857. The land for the Church was donated by John H. Seay, who, at the time, was currently living in the Laurelwood Plantation. The Church divided in 1866, but Rev. Charles Augustus Stowes remained the Pastor of both churches at the time. In the past, slave owners did not want religion to reach their slaves. Slaves commonly attended the church with their owner, but they were out of sight and out of mind. There were slave benches on a higher level of the church where slaves would sit in order to attend church without being seen. Slaves could look down on the people in the Church and see the Pastor, but sometimes if the slaves sat all the way back in their chairs, they were unable to see anything happening below them. This was so the slaves were not seen by the people attending church on the lower levels, even though the Pastor would see the slaves.
I never thought I would experience sleeping in a slave cabin. I did though, and the experience was worth it. I could not sleep, but while laying there a person begins to think. I began thinking about what Jackie Thomas asked my classmates and me earlier, “What would you do for entertainment if you lived in the cabin?” Some people responded that they would sing. Well, after days of constant singing, wouldn’t that get boring? I thought that I would adventure. But, after adventuring for a few days, a person would know their surroundings very well and there would be no more adventuring. If you were living in the 19th century, how would you entertain yourself if you were a slave?
The Cabin in the Night: My Experience
By: Isaiah Scott
When I came out here, I did not expect to learn so much history through storytelling. Picture this, a family of ten living in a house that can only hold three or less. In a small house like that, it must have been pretty rough for them to just be in the presence of such a tragically historical place.
Finding the plantation was no easy task at first-I am a horrible navigator-but eventually we found the location of the mansion. The mansion was a beautiful eyesore-not too hard to find due to that fact-, I practically could feel the history emanating from the home. In the back of the mansion, there was this rundown building that at first, in my mind, thought that it was the actual cabin we were sleeping in-turns out that it was not and it was a barn. Before I stepped out of the car, I was immediately greeted by Ms. Jackie Thomas, one of the owners of the plantation. She invited me into the home, which I must say was a creative combination of modernism and Old South. From there, I met two more people, Mr. Reggie and Ms. Prinny-two of the speakers that would speak to us the next day-and from there, we began an interesting conversation about cooking and this “writing assignment”. After Taylor came, we delved more deeply in this writing assignment and food talk-in which she had no idea, neither did I.
When more people began to arrive, we began eating dinner with the owners and host of the sleep over. We all ate and talked about the “notorious” slave cabin-which was exaggerated further with pictures of how it looked before and after- and how good the food was. It felt more like a family gathering than another field trip to some zoo or famous landmark. After we ate, we decided to get moving to the cabin before it became too dark for us to see. When we got there, I was half impressed and half relieved that the house was not as bad as I thought-due to those enlightening pictures. After wards, we gathered firewood and kindling for the fire that would be the place of many stories. Personally, we could have done a little better with the pit-even though it did keep the fire contained.
On that night, we all sat around the campfire, its flames trying to reach the night time sky-during that time, I was very poetic, so poetic that it surprised me. Around the fire, many things were said about the long, forgotten past of my people as well as personal experiences by the people that were there. I even told about the time that my grandma-who is alive and well-actually watched a game featuring Jackie Robinson along with other fun facts. I wanted to tell them also about the fact that the Pentagon was made by African Americans and the silent section of the Pentagon-which I did get to mention a little. We also learned that the slave cabin that we were sleeping in belonged to a family of ten and the cabin was only one of many cabins in the area. Soon, we decided to put out the fire and get to sleeping in that cabin-in which I slept soundly. I think that night will stick in my mind forever no matter how many years may pass.
The next day, we all woke up with a little crick in our backs but nonetheless, we survived the night with no paranormal activity-except for Yashael, who experienced extreme cold. Once we packed up our stuff, we made a pathway toward the most important thing in the world at that moment-which was breakfast. There was a full southern cuisine of biscuits, muffins, eggs, and chocolate milk-for me anyway- and from there, continued talking about the experience of sleeping in the cabin. Some had their eyes opened, some still had their eyes still closed, and some were in the middle somewhere, but all of us were able to say that it changed us in some way. After breakfast we all had to go to the church for a discussion about the history behind that mansion and the church that was next door. At the Church, we were able to see the places where the slaves had to watch the sermons-which were not that viewable on purpose-compared to the seats in the congregation. Next, we were seated and had to listen to the speakers that followed-especially the temporary occupants, which were Gabby, Taylor, Yashael, and Jennifer. After all the speaking passed, we all left with a brain full of history and knowledge about a past that the younger generation tends to forget.
After this experience, I have learned many new things about myself from a deeper perspective. Now, I think that I want to find out more about my past and where I came from because that question still haunts me.
My experience at the Laurelwood Plantation was a very eye-opening one. I had seen low-country plantation houses before and visited the other buildings on their grounds, but before March 14, 2014, I had never seen a slave cabin, let alone a plantation in the Lower Richland area. I never imagined that I would spend the night in a slave cabin, but I certainly say that I am glad to have done it.
Growing up, I knew some of my paternal ancestors were enslaved people. In fact, my great-grandmother Janie Epps’ grandmother was a slave somewhere in the Lower Richland area. I knew slavery existed in America and it is certainly a somber truth with a terrible history behind it, but staying in the cabin on the Laurelwood Plantation helped me to put everything into a broader perspective.
As Americans, we have a tendency to impose our values and beliefs on our neighbors and chide them for things they have done that we deem “wrong”. A perfect is what happened in World War II with the mass genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Americans were horrified at the conditions of concentration camps and the treatment of the Jews. So, they did what they were good at and went in to free as many as they could. However, many seemed to forget that more than two hundred years prior to the onset of the War, African peoples were being imported involuntarily and held in bondage while being forced to perform back-breaking labor. This is something that we as a nation must bring attention to. Yes, slavery was an absolutely horrendous practice, and yes, it is a sensitive subject, but not discussing the subject is detrimental to the generations who come after us, and Mr. Joseph’s Slave Dwelling Project helped me realize that.
It is important for us to recognize the struggle of our ancestors, especially at the early ages, so we can honor all that they suffered and understand the significance of their trials and tribulations. This then helps us to understand the significance of their stories and how their struggles contributed to the growth of the United States. In the case of younger generations, it is necessary to discuss these topics with them so that they don’t forget, learn from the past so they don’t make the same mistakes and learn to appreciate the past, rather than fear it.
Thanks to the experience I had on the Laurelwood Plantation, I can say that I have a new perspective on American history and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and insights. One can learn about history in the classroom all they want, but one cannot fully appreciate the contributions of their predecessors without experiencing the toils and situations that they did. Thank you, Mr. Joseph, for everything that you do. I would also like to thank the couple who let us spend the night on their property. Your kindness and hospitality is very much appreciated.
As a history teacher, I often encourage students to experience their history. Once again, the Thomas family was willing to open up their home to the students of Lower Richland. This year we were able to take a larger group of students to stay the night in the slave cabin. It is always fascinating to see how a student might respond when actually experiencing firsthand what someone else went through in the past.
Certainly, the eyes of our students were opened again this year. In addition to the cabin, my students were invited out to hear speakers on local history. As they were able to sit where others had sat before them, students were able to begin connecting with their past. Since the event, students have been more willing to discuss the impact of the past on their lives today as they make the connections in the classroom.
Thanks to Joe, Jeremy, Jackie, Prinny, Reggie, and Jim for reaching out to the Lower Richland community and making connections. This was a great example of how we can come together and use historical sites to make connections for our students to the past.