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.
We are a State of South Carolina incorporated nonprofit organization. We are a 501(c) 3 organization for Tax Exemption from the Internal Revenue Service.
Best Year Ever
2014 has been the best year ever for the Slave Dwelling Project. Highlights included assisting in building a slave cabin at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison; obtaining our 501(c) 3 non-profit-status; receiving a $25,000 matching grant to assess slave dwellings in South Carolina; and conducting our 1st Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference in Savannah, GA.
Until 2014, interaction of the Slave Dwelling Project with former presidential sites did not exist, although twelve of our presidents owned slaves and eight of them owned slaves while serving as president. February 16 – 22, I joined a team of sixteen people from across the nation at Montpelier the home of our fourth President, James Madison, to participate in a field school. The purpose of the field school was to build a hand hewn log cabin using period tools. The log cabin now sits on the footprint of the original. In April of 2015, I will return to Montpelier to spend a night in the replicated cabin.
The National Park Service
Since its inception, the Slave Dwelling Project has had a challenging time breaking through the bureaucracy of the National Park Service. That bureaucracy was broken with a stay at Magnolia Plantation. Magnolia Plantation is a former plantation in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001. Included in the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Magnolia Plantation is also a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. This was my second stay in the state of Louisiana and it highlighted the influence that the French had on slavery in America.
Madison, North Carolina
Interacting with the descendants of enslavers and the descendants of the enslaved on the property where the enslavement occurred is rare. One of the best planned and interactive events occurred in Madison, North Carolina. My contact with host Jonathan Williams came as a result of the Tony Horwitz article that was written in the October 2013 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. Johnathan, a high school assistant principal and history teacher, organized a day of interacting with students at the high school and an opportunity to interact with the descendants of the enslaved and slave owners on the property where the sleepover occurred.
Maximizing my time at each site is always recommended when I travel to sites especially those that are out of the state of South Carolina. To that end, my northern Virginia trip did not disappoint. That trip included stays at Ben Lomond County Park and Clover Hill in Manassas, Virginia and the Lee Fendall House in Alexandria, Virginia. The Lee Fendal House was the home of Light Horse Henry Lee, father of General Robert E. Lee.
The opportunity to add new states to the roster is always welcome. Tennessee was added when stays occurred at Clover Bottom, Belle Meade Plantation and The Hermitage all located in Nashville. Organized by the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office, all of these stays were special in their own way but The Hermitage was my first sleepover at a site of a former President, that being our seventh President Andrew Jackson.
Slavery In Wisconsin
Yes, Wisconsin entered the Union as a free state, but like Wisconsin some slave owners entering into free states did not free their slaves. Isn’t that what the Dred Scott case was based on in 1856? Chris Lese a history teacher at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his students did some research and found evidence that there was once 148 enslaved people in Wisconsin. They took their research to a new level when they joined me for overnight stays in the Old Charleston Jail, Hopsewee Plantation and Magnolia Plantation.
Under the Stars
Until 2014, I had not slept in a former slave dwelling that had not contained at least four walls and a roof. That would change when I attempted to spend a night under the stars among the tabby ruins at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, SC. The attempt was thwarted when Mother Nature unleashed a thunderstorm complete with heavy winds and rain that lasted throughout the night. All was not lost because my host had set up a big tent in the vicinity of the ruins and we all were able to sleep there. This was the second stay in which I had to catch a boat to get to an island.
Some are disillusioned into thinking that the enslaved were happy with their lot in life. Some have even been lulled into thinking that the enslaved stood by idly waiting for others to deliver them their freedom. A stay at the Crockett – Miller House in James City, North Carolina highlighted how the enslaved were proactive in obtaining their own freedom.
Slavery in the North
One of my biggest challenge for the Slave Dwelling Project is convincing some that slavery existed in northern states. 2014 gave me the opportunity to spend a night at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, Massachusetts. Prior to the stay as I encountered Massachusetts residents and told them about the upcoming stay they wanted it so badly to be a site associated with the Underground Railroad. Well the state of Massachusetts did not abolish slavery within its boundaries until 1783. The fact of the matter is that the stay at the Royall House and Slave Quarters would be my third stay in an extant slave dwelling in a northern state.
1st Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference
So what is the big deal about someone spending nights in slave cabins? A generous donation from the 1772 foundation allowed us to bring together scholars, artists, property stewards, and preservationists in Savannah, Ga to contemplate that question at the 1st Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference. The Conference was a success and plans are now underway for the 2nd Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference which will be held in Charleston, South Carolina.
In preserving historic buildings, passion can only go so far. We must first know what we have so that we can direct the resources for their preservation, interpretation, and maintenance. To that end, the Project received a $25,000 matching grant from the SC Department Archives and History. The purpose of the grant is to assess at least 50 slave dwellings throughout the state of South Carolina. The relationship already established over the last four years of the Project with the stewards of extant slave dwellings in South Carolina will be the basis for the assessments. Structural engineer Craig Bennett of Charleston, South Carolina will be hired to conduct the assessments.
2014 has been the best year ever. So how do we maintain that momentum? We will start by building on the firm foundation of which we have started. That means that there will be some repeat overnight stays in 2015 especially where there are opportunities to involve youths and their chaperones. New sites will also be added to the agenda.
The second annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference will be held in Charleston, SC.
Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are the fourteen states of which I have spent a night in at least one extant slave dwelling. In seeking to add more states consider the dates that the following states ended slavery within their boundaries: Arkansas, 1865; Delaware, 1865; Florida, 1865; Illinois, 1818; Indiana, 1816; Kentucky, 1865; New Hampshire, 1783; New Jersey, 1804; New York, 1799; Ohio, 1802; Rhode Island, 1784; Vermont, 1777; Washington, DC, 1862; these states, north and south and the District of Columbia, have extant slave dwellings that can help tell the stories of those who were once enslaved.
After conducting this project for the last four years, it is still my desire to have some individuals, entities and bureaucracies get over the stigma of being associated with an organization that has some variation of the word slave in its title. Some still get offended when asked to associate or interact with the organization and that needs to be remedied. Choosing the project’s name “Slave Dwelling Project” was quite deliberate because slavery has been a subject matter that we as a nation have been dancing around for far too long.
The year 2015 offers the Project the opportunity to really shine. With the addition of a new board member and the creation of an advisory board, we are on a trajectory to make 2015 a year that can surpass the previous. Your support as a member can help get us there.
Slave Dwelling Project 2015
January 22 – 23 Lecture/Bellamy Mansion, UNC, Wilmington, NC
Saturday, February 21 Lecture, The Hermitage, Nashville, TN
Thursday, February 26 Lecture, Voorhees College, Denmark, SC
Sunday, March 1 Riverview Plantation, Montgomery, AL
Friday, March 6 Hopsewee Plantation, Georgetown County, SC
Saturday, March 7 Hampton Plantation, Charleston County, SC
Friday, March 13 Laurelwood Plantation, Eastover, SC
Saturday, March 14 Lecture, Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC
Saturday, March 28 St. Simons Island, GA
Fri – Sat, April 10 – 12 Behind the Big House Tour, Holly Springs, MS
Thursday April 16 National Conference on Public History, Nashville, TN
April 17 – 18 James Madison, Montpelier, VA
April 24 -25 McLeod Plantation Historic Site, James Island, SC
May 8 – 9 McMichael High School, Mayodan, NC
May 22 -23 Hofwyl-Broadfield Planation, Brunswick, GA
Friday, May 29 Hillsborough, NC
Saturday, May 30 Stagville, Raleigh, NC
September 24 – 27 Haigh Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
October 8 – 10 Slave Dwelling Project Conference, Embassy Suites, North Charleston, SC
If you are interested in joining us in one of the overnight stays please make your request as-soon-as-possible because space is limited and I must obtain permission from the property owners for your participation. If you would like to organize a group sleepover at a site that does not appear on the 2015 schedule please let me know so that we can plan accordingly. Thank you for your continued support, become or renew your membership and let’s make 2015 the best year ever.