It is always my desire to sleep in places where slave dwellings are extant. That opportunity does not always present itself, yet all efforts that interpret the existence of the enslaved Ancestors should be rewarded. My opportunity to spend a night on Edisto Island, South Carolina came with very little fanfare. Very few people would be joining me in this overnight stay. This sleepover would be symbolic. It would be near the site where the original slave cabin was dismantled only to be reassembled in the new National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, DC.
I did not hesitate to accept the invitation for the sleepover from Julia Breckenridge Gyselinck, Editor in Chief at Explore Edisto, a media outlet solely dedicated to promoting the history, events, local businesses and the diverse ecological system of Edisto Island. About two years ago, Julia and others participated in an excursion on the Combahee River which retraced the activities of Harriet Tubman’s June 2, 1863 raid that included the Union Army and Navy and freed 750 enslaved people. As an avid Civil War reenactor, I was supposed to participate in that event but something came up that prevented me from doing so. I vaguely remember that the thing that came up had something to do with sleeping in a slave dwelling.
Since then Julia has been an avid supporter of the Slave Dwelling Project but the two of us had never met face to face. We both agreed that the best time for the sleepover would be the Friday, September 23, 2016 which was the night before the Saturday opening of the National Museum of African History and Culture. Six years into the Slave Dwelling Project, I have learned that I have to be nimble enough to take advantage of sleeping in slave dwellings whenever the opportunity presents itself. I have to get in where I fit in because in most cases, African Americans do not own the spaces where our Ancestors were enslaved. I must work with the coalition of the willing because not everyone is buying what I am selling. I must convince the stewards of these historic dwellings that I come in peace, I mean them no harm and my purpose is preservation and honoring the enslaved Ancestors.
Per Julia’s instructions, the sleepover had to occur with little to no fanfare because that is all that the current owner would allow. Because of that stipulation, I could only invite one other person to spend the night with us at the site. Planning for the Third Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference which occurred two days prior to the sleepover prevented me from seeking that one person to join us in the sleepover. Additionally, I prefer that anyone who would experience a sleepover at a site for the first time that they sleep in an extant slave dwelling.
Even with our meticulous planning, the event almost didn’t happen because Mother Nature almost stole our joy. I do not usually work on Fridays but on this Friday, I worked at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens for a coworker who needed a day off. Additionally, after work, I committed to attend an event which was held at the Medical University of South Carolina. These new developments would prevent me from getting to the site at a time that was feasible for taking pictures. The other challenge would be that because there was no extant slave dwelling on the site, I would have to set up my tent once I got there that is why it was imperative that I got to the site before dark. It was when I was attempting to leave the event at the Medical University that I was delayed in getting to my car because it was raining profusely. When I called Julia she stated that they had set up their tent on the beach and they had a camp fire going and that there was no threatening weather. I let her know that I would be on my way once the rain stopped.
When I contacted Julia again, I was ten minutes away from where they were. She gave me an opportunity to cancel as she expressed skepticism because they spotted lightening nearby. By then, I was too close and was not about to cancel. My only regret was that it was dark and I would not be able to take any photographs when I got there.
When I got to Point of Pines Plantation, Julia and Caroline Matheny came to meet me to lead me back to the site. Caroline was the sound and video person who would be spending the night at the site. A series of twist and turns later and we were at the site which I would never had found without their assistance. At the site, plenty of insect repellant was necessary because the mosquitoes were abundant. As I began to pitch my tent on the beach by the campfire, the caretaker on the property, came over and was adamant about that not being a good idea. He showed us the tideline which made it clear that water would have clearly consumed the tents at some point during the night. That would have been a rude awakening for the three of us! With this knowledge, we relocated the tents to the clearing where we parked the vehicles.
The tide was low enough for us to enjoy the beach and campfire as we discussed the Slave Dwelling Project and the history of Edisto Island. I am certain that Julia got the story that she wanted in the interview because no subject matter was taboo. Julia taught me some things. Point of Pines Plantation was a cotton growing plantation, not rice as I had originally thought. Hanging out on the beach was also a great opportunity to bond with the caretaker of the property.
This night would be the second time that I would spend a night in a tent on a former plantation. My first was Hampton Plantation in Charleston County, South Carolina. Lying in the tent and being able to see the stars while being protected from mosquitoes was quite serene. Although there were two people in the adjourning tent, this sleepover was reminiscent of the few nights that I would spend alone in slave dwellings when the Slave Dwelling Project was not so popular. No one joined me until the fourth sleepover, now I rarely sleep in these sacred spaces alone.
The next morning presented me the opportunity to witness a beautiful sunrise and do what I could not do the night before and that was take photographs. I got a great geography lesson as Julie pointed out Kiawah Island which was directly across the waterway. We proceeded to the site of where the slave cabin was dismantled that now sits in the new museum in Washington, DC. To my dismay, there was nothing left on the landscape that indicates that cabin was once there. A marker would have been sufficient. That is one reason that most preservationists prefer that historic buildings are restored in their original locations.
From there we proceeded to another site on the property where another slave cabin had been dismantled. This cabin is now a part of the local museum on Edisto Island. Remnants of one cabin is still there with little to no hope of restoration. Despite that, I still have much respect for the owner of the property because, as is common, both of the cabins that have been relocated could have been obliterated from the landscape.
This sleepover was a great opportunity to go back to the basics. While sleeping in extant slave dwellings with the descendants of the enslaved and those who enslaved them is good for the mission of the Slave Dwelling Project, I must remember that this project does not exist to satisfy my ego. By accepting the invitation to sleep at Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, I have begun to build a relationship with another property steward that will allow the stories of the enslaved Ancestors to be told. We need more property owners like this one.
It is now my quest to spend a night in the cabin that is now in the National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, DC. That would be quite a “Night at the Museum”. I will let you all know how that goes.