Less than one month after the Slave Dwelling Project received its non-profit status, it has received a $25,000 Federal Historic Preservation Grant. The grant, which will be administered by the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, will fund a project titled: Assessing Extant Slave Dwellings of South Carolina. The project has a total cost of $50,000 and will require the hiring of an architect to assist founder Joseph McGill in assessing extant slave dwellings throughout the state of South Carolina. The survey will be conducted September 2014 through September 2015. The provisions of the grant requires that up to $25,000 of the total cost will be reimbursed, therefore immediate fundraising will be necessary.
From restored to being on the verge of collapse, there are many extant former slave dwellings in the state of South Carolina. Storage spaces, garages, museums, exhibit spaces, guest houses and rental properties are some examples of how these properties are currently being used. Because these properties represent a shameful period in American history, generally their restoration, maintenance and interpretation has not been priority to many of their stewards. This lack of priority has led to many of these structures being intentionally demolished and many being lost to demolition by neglect.
Utilizing the Statewide Survey of Historic Properties form contained in the Statewide Survey Manual, each structure not on the National Register will be evaluated for its eligibility. All sites will be photographed and submitted to be included in the statewide survey records. Additionally, audio and visual recordings will be done at each site for a future website application.
In 1860, 703,708 people lived in the state of South Carolina, of that number approximately 412,380 were enslaved. While it is easy to find the restored, maintained and often interpreted antebellum structures that tell the stories of the Caucasian population of that period, it is more of a challenge to find those structures where those who were enslaved once dwelled, but that does not mean that these structures do not exist.
The dwellings are significant because they housed the enslaved people who were vital to the existence of this young nation. From the knowledge that these enslaved possessed in growing the agricultural products that made many agrarians rich, to the knowledge that they had of iron working, making bricks and building many of the antebellum buildings that we celebrate today, they were all housed in these dwellings that this project will survey.
These buildings are not architecturally significant, it is through the cultural aspects that make these buildings important. Living within an institution which did not allow them to own anything, not even their children, these dwellings are tangible evidence that the enslaved existed.
Since May 2010, Joseph McGill has spent nights in approximately sixty slave dwellings located in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Approximately 25 of those stays have occurred in South Carolina. With all of the knowledge gained from the sleepovers and from reliable sources such as the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office the question of how many extant slave dwellings are there in the state still cannot be answered. This architectural survey will be the best effort to date to answer that question.