Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and now Tennessee are the states of which I have spent at least one night in an extant slave dwelling. To make up for lost time, the state of Tennessee really came in big with the Tennessee Historical Commission taking the lead in hosting the Slave Dwelling Project and the Tennessee Wars Commission under the leadership of Fred Prouty underwriting the event. The overnight stays would include a symposium, Civil War living history and overnight stays at Clover Bottom, The Hermitage and Belle Meade Plantation.
The symposium included Dr. Bobby Lovett formerly Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tennessee State University and retired Professor of History whose presentation was titled Slavery in Tennessee. He was followed by Mr. John Baker, a recipient of a national award from the American Association for the State of Local History whose presentation was titled: The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of the Washingtons of Wessyngton. Mr. Steve Rogers is a senior staff member of the Tennessee Historical Commission, his presentation was titled Clover Bottom and the John McCline Slave Narrative.
My host, the Tennessee Historical Commission, felt the substance of the Slave Dwelling Project worthy of me presenting with scholars who are well knowledgeable of how the institution of slavery was applied in the state of Tennessee. No one in the audience seemed to mind as each scholar far exceeded the allotted fifteen minutes for their presentations.
The day continued with a Civil War living history encampment conducted in front of the slave cabin that I and three others would stay that night. I was reunited with my friend and fellow Civil War reenactor, Norman Hill. The attendance was lacking but it was a pleasure for me to don the Civil War uniform and fall in to Norm Hill’s formation.
The symposium along with the overnight stay at Clover Bottom was filmed by The Renaissance Center for a public service documentary which is currently in production.
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Clover Bottom is currently the home of Tennessee Historical Commission. The Mansion was built in 1853 near Nashville’s first horseracing track for Dr. James and Mary Ann Hoggatt, who owned sixty slaves. It burned in 1859, and was rebuilt that same year (using some of the original walls) in the magnificent Italianate style. The property was the home of John McCline, whose autobiography “Slavery in the Clover Bottoms” provides a rare and detailed account of the life of a Davidson County slave prior to and during the early days of the Civil War.
Clover Bottom has numerous out buildings with conditions of various stages of deferred maintenance. The slave cabin of which we would stay is made of wood and shows evidence of people living in it far beyond emancipation. Surprisingly, the ceiling height was higher than any that I have seen to date.
Sharing the space with me would be Patrick McIntyre, Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, Dan Brown, (Local Government Assistance/Certified Local Government Program), and Kathryn Sikes, Assistant Professor of Historical Archaeology Public History Program Middle Tennessee State University. Kathryn was determined to stay because she had a 6:30 am flight to Boston, Massachusetts the next morning. Kathryn will also lead a team that will conduct archaeological digs on the site, all in an effort to interpret the presence of the enslaved on the site.
When I woke up the next morning, Kathryn was gone while Patrick and Dan were outside assessing the situation and making plans for future collaborations for the Slave Dwelling Project.
Stay number one in the state of Tennessee was a success.
In February of this year, I had the pleasure of being a part of a team that gathered at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison, to build a replica of a slave cabin that now sits on the footprint of the original. Plans are being made for me, other builders of the cabin and hopefully some descendants of the enslaved to spend a night in that replicated cabin.
My first stay in a slave dwelling at the site of one of our past slave holding Presidents occurred at The Hermitage, the home of our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, in Nashville, Tennessee. Approaching sixty stays, this would arguably be the home of the most famous person to date. As expected, everything about the operation at The Hermitage was grand.
An archaeological tour of the site revealed some of the evidence discovered thus far of the presence of the enslaved population that once inhabited the plantation. The cabins for the field hands no longer exist but surprisingly, their footprints are outlined and they were made of bricks. Most cabins for field hands that I have come across thus far are made of wood. The money crop grown on the plantation was cotton and it had its own cotton gin.
I gave a lecture to Howard J. Kittel, President and CEO of The Hermitage and other staff members about the Slave Dwelling Project. Mr. Kittel is now a true Ambassador for the Slave Dwelling Project for he stated that he is aware of four sites that can benefit from what the Project has to offer and he would use his influence to assist in making introductions.
The cabin of which we would spend the night was called the First Hermitage and built of logs. It is currently used as display space for the visiting public. I would be joined by five other people for the overnight stay. Our night was full of rich conversation about slavery and was highlighted by viewing the many fireflies that were present. Throughout the stay, we could hear the sound of carpenter bees munching away at the logs that composed the cabin which was a matter of obvious concern.
What surprised me the most about the Hermitage was once I checked in on facebook, I began to get a lot of messages that referenced The Trail of Tears.
That morning we were all entertained by a flock of wild turkeys that came as close as fifteen feet within our presence.
Tennessee’s stay numbers two was a success.
Andrew J. Triplett
Volunteer, The Hermitage
“It is hard for the young generation today to fully understand the importance of our nation’s history. Luckily, I have been able to take part in this wonderful project by staying overnight at The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson near Nashville, Tennessee. I have been a volunteer there for quite some time, but never have I had a remarkable experience like I did with Mr. McGill and the others who took part. When one stays at a historic place like The Hermitage, especially in the slave quarters, history surrounds you from every direction. It’s a feeling that one can’t describe with words. After experiencing this in person, I feel quite honored to have been a part of the Slave Dwelling Project. I firmly believe that this project is making a major difference in our lives by showing how slave quarters are just as much a piece of history as a 200 year old mansion. The history that’s housed in these places and the lessons that we learn from it make up the key to our future. That is why I, personally, love history. I believe that any young person who takes part in this project will learn some history, cherish it, and even make history someday.”
The First Hermitage May 23 2014
Marsha Mullin, Vice President of Museum Services & Chief Curator
The First Hermitage has a peculiar history for a slave dwelling. Today it consists of two log buildings but at one time there were at least four buildings there; three log buildings and a two room brick cabin. The original building on the property, probably built around 1798, was a two story log farm-house. In its farmhouse form it was the home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson from 1804 to 1821. They lived there during the War of 1812 and when Jackson led the victorious American troops in the Battle of New Orleans. The two room log building, the second built in the enclave, was constructed around 1805 to serve as a kitchen and a slave dwelling for some of the nine slaves Jackson brought with him when he moved to the Hermitage property. Sometime later a third log building, no longer standing, was built.
In 1821, Jackson moved into his new brick mansion about three hundred yards south of the First Hermitage buildings. At that time, we believe that he had the first floor removed from the farmhouse, leaving the three room second floor and loft to stand as a slave cabin for his increasing number of enslaved individuals. He had a two room brick cabin (no longer standing) added to the compound of three log buildings sometime after he and Rachel moved to the mansion. These additions were needed to house Jackson’s growing number of enslaved workers.
By 1845, at the end of Jackson’s life, he owned about 150 enslaved men, women, and children who lived in three different areas on The Hermitage. This compound was the middle of the three. There was a group of slave dwellings closer to the mansion and a third group farther away. If the enslaved were divided evenly among these three groups of buildings, this would mean about 50 individuals lived at the First Hermitage.
Those fifty people were on my mind as we slept in the kitchen/slave dwelling log building. We had six people sleeping in the two rooms of the cabin which left enough personal space for each of us. In Jackson’s day there could have been twelve people living there. We kept all the doors open for ventilation. What would it have been like in winter with the doors shut and fires in the two fireplaces? The cabin has no windows so it must have been stuffy in some places and drafty in others at the very least. We also had the luxury of electric lights which of course Jackson’s enslaved workers did not. The overseer’s house, also no longer standing, was less than 100 feet away. No space, no privacy, and constant supervision…
The night had some aspects of a camping trip with a lightning bug display at night and an invasion of wild turkeys flying out of their roosts in the nearby trees at dawn the next morning. Our conversational topics ranged widely. But we frequently drifted back to those people who lived in these small cabins more than 150 years ago. We could re-enact only a little of their experience. But it was enough to give me a lot to think about.
The mansion at Belle Meade Plantation was built in 1820. By 1860, Belle Meade had grown to over 3500 acres with 136 enslaved people working for John Harding and his family.
The current day operation at Belle Meade is multifaceted. A gift shop with products galore, weddings, wine bottling and sales and tours are some of the products that can be purchased at Belle Meade.
The slave cabin is a dog trot which is well maintained and adorned with furnishings and items which is highly likely that someone living in the cabin before and after emancipation may have owned.
I gave a presentation on the Slave Dwelling Project to a small group that assembled at the cabin.
Staying with me that night would be Jenny Lamb, Director of Interpretation and Education; Jessica Klinedinst, Assistant Director of Interpretation and Matthew Klinedinst, Collections Manager.
Matthew gave me a tour of the property which included the house. There, I got to compare its architecture to others I have seen and explored how the enslaved were relegated to navigate throughout the vast space while minimalizing their presence when the owner was entertaining guests. As explained well my Matt, Belle Meade has a history that is deeply rooted in the raising of thoroughbred horses and staff is doing more to include the African American aspect of that story.
Our time at the cabin was influenced by a wedding and reception that was happening on the property and did not end until 11:00 pm. Despite that we built a fire and carried on with our rich conversation. We were then serenaded by Matt as he played his mandolin and sang period songs.
Jenny, Jessica and I decided to sleep on the porch of the cabin while Matthew slept inside one of the rooms.
Stay number three in Tennessee was a success.
The Tennessee Historical Commission did a superb job in planning and hosting the Slave Dwelling Project. The discussion has already started for future Tennessee stays. Clover Bottom, The Hermitage and Belle Meade all have gotten off to great starts in involving the Slave Dwelling Project. As I continue to interact with these sites, I hope that we will be able to involve more African Americans in general, more specifically more African Americans who have ancestral ties to each site. In my travels, I have come across best practices of how African Americans continue to interact with the properties of their enslaved ancestors, Brattonsville in McConnels, SC; McCollum Farm in Madison, NC; Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC; and Ossabaw Island, GA. The best examples of these can certainly be applied and it can assist in helping genealogists give Tennessee’s unwilling volunteers names and identify the plantations where they lived and toiled.
It is also my hope that with Tennessee coming in as the thirteenth state to be represented in the portfolio of the Slave Dwelling Project, it will inspire other states north and south that are blatantly missing to step up and be represented. The dwellings in those states that once housed the enslaved can then be properly preserved, interpreted, maintained and sustained. The Slave Dwelling Project is always willing to do its part.