Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greenville, SC: Sleeping in a relocated slave dwelling

This is another wonderful post that reveals the history of slave dwellings brought to us by Joseph McGill Jr. and the Slave Dwelling Project.  I cannot think of a greater experience than going back to the place where our ancestors lived during slavery.  Thank you so much, Joe,  for writing about your experiences and sharing them. It is the next best thing besides being there.  If these wonderful updates have kept you fascinated or helped you learn more, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Robin Foster
About Our Freedom
Visit our sister blog Over Troubled Water

Joe at Roper Mountain Slave Cabin
Sleeping in a Relocated Slave Dwelling
By Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 | Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: |

Saturday, June 11, 2011 found me in Greenville, SC to stay at Roper Mountain Science Center in a former slave dwelling that was disassembled from its original location and reassembled there. Preservationists prefer that buildings are restored in their original locations but we know that this is not always the case. This is an example of an alternative that can save a building.

Since the project started McGill has come across many property owners who either want to move a slave dwelling from or to their property.  The former slave dwelling that is now located at the Living History Farm at Roper Mountain Science Center is an example of how that process can work.

This would be my second venture into the upstate of South Carolina to stay in a former slave dwelling. The first was Morris Street in Anderson early in the project. I first learned about the building at Roper Mountain years ago when an application for funding the move came across my desk. At that time, the Slave Dwelling Project was only an idea but I did make a request to spend a night in the dwelling at some point in the future.

On this trip, I traveled with my daughter, Jocelyn, and my wife, Vilarin. Although Jocelyn shared the experience of spending a night in a slave dwelling with me in the past, she and Vilarin had conveniently booked a room in a Greenville Hampton Inn. After my stay in the slave dwelling on Saturday night, our intent was to deliver Jocelyn to Tuskegee University in Alabama on Sunday to spend a week in their VET STEP program.

I arrived at Roper Mountain around 10:00 am as planned. I was surprised and impressed that there was a young African American female in period dress interpreting the dwelling. I only regret that time did not allow me to interact with her. I only know that she is a volunteer and a high school senior. Knowing that we have so much in common, I wanted to compare notes and know what inspired her to take on such a controversial task. 

The 23X16-foot structure was built before the Civil War by people enslaved by Dr. Thomas Blackburn Williams, a prominent Greenville physician. After slavery, the dwelling became a home for families who worked on a nearby farm. The last occupants moved out in the early 1930’s. Unfortunately, only fifty percent of the original materials were able to be used in the reassembled building.
Roper Mountain visitors
I was scheduled to interact with the Roper Mountain visiting public from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. It turned out that the initial group occupied the entire time span. The question and answer period proved to be most interesting. We covered everything from slave dwellings to current day race relations.

The center provides science classes for school children across South Carolina and also teaches in-service programs. It sits on 62 acres with classrooms/labs, a pioneer farm, nature trails, a planetarium and observatory, life science labs, a rainforest and an amphitheater. Public programs at the center are limited to Friday with the "Starry Nights" program and the Second Saturday is public day. I discovered that I was not going to spend the night alone in the dwelling. Thomas Riddle, a local history teacher and his son, Ben, would spend the night with me.

When the park closed, Vilarin, Jocelyn, and I left with the intent to come back at 7:00 pm. On the return trip, we experienced a severe thunder storm complete with rain and hail. My first thought was that a tornado was approaching.  Fortunately, I was wrong. The storm was a testament that the dwelling was properly sealed because no water entered the structure. When the storm passed, Jocelyn and Vilarin left for their hotel room leaving me with Thomas. 
Joe and Thomas Riddle in Roper Mountain Slave Cabin
The company of Thomas was much welcomed. He gave me a thorough history of the dwelling with accompanying video on his laptop computer. The disassembling and reassembling were all well documented. We left Roper Mountain and visited the original site of the cabin. The dwelling was moved because of a proposed housing development. Unfortunately the current economic conditions have forced the developer to alter his plans. Along with saving the cabin, preservationists were able to save one barn. One barn was lost. The big house was moved to another location on the site and is now being restored.

After the tour of the original site, we proceeded to the city of Greenville. I had no idea Greenville was so vibrant with night life. Hundreds, I would even venture to say thousands of people of all hues, were taking in all the city had to offer. Pedestrian traffic galore, live music, sidewalk dining, it was all happening there. In the city is where we met Ben, Thomas’s son. His mission was to pick up a few items that Tom forgot before meeting back at the cabin.
Thomas Riddle (left) Ben Riddle (right)
At the cabin, we all decided to occupy one of the two rooms. Ben chose the bed, Thomas chose the spot by the door and I chose the spot by the back window. Before going to sleep, we first recorded a video that will be used for some type of promotion in the future. We all slept well.

The next morning we all discovered that we shared the cabin with a nesting Carolina Wren. The nest was located in a basket about one foot above my head as I slept. This experience taught me that relocating a slave dwelling can work if there is a plan and resources in place to sustain the structure. The leadership at Roper Mountain should be commended for overcoming all of the challenges of dissembling, moving, reassembling, interpreting, and maintaining a former slave dwelling on their property.

The remainder of Joseph McGill Jr's schedule includes:
  • Stay and lecture at Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood, Maryland, July 9-10
  • Family reunion lecture, Charleston, SC , July 30
  • Lecture, Greenwood County Historical Society, July 31
  • Lecture, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis Missouri, August 14
  • Panel Discussion, American Association of State and Local History, Richmond, VA, Sept. 14 – 17
For more information, follow these links:

Cliveden Opens Its Servant's Quarters For the First Time in Its History
Expert on slave quarters to speak at Bellamy Mansion
Saving slave cabins one at a time
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Community is above self with South High Students and Columbus, OH Rotary Club

Antoinette Harrell and Robin Foster, Hosts of Nurturing Our Roots on internet radio and NOATV, wishes to honor Freshman Ambassadors, Tyler Fisher, Jaidon Price, Ileesha White, Colin Stearns, Terry Davis, and Amber Reynolds of South High School in Columbus, Ohio.  What started as a school project has evolved into a major act of community service as these students are the catalysts for bringing much needed school supplies to school children of the Mississippi Delta.

These students are a shining example to us all of compassion and putting others above self.  Antoinette Harrell, is not just a genealogist and a peonage researcher.  Her knowledge has taken her to a new level. She is a relentless advocate of those who are suffer the effects of generations of poverty subsequent to slavery.

Her first contact with the South High came when Dr. Johnetta D. Wiley, principal of South High School, called to set up an interview at the request of Tyler Fisher.  Tyler contacted Antoinette Harrell for an interview to learn more about 20th Century slavery, poverty, and how she became involved.

I really like the way Ileesha White explained how they made the decision to chose a community within the United States:  "We've come to a conclusion that we should start with the Untied States before venturing off to others when people are in need here!"  Ileesha explained that they wanted to inform the student body and the staff members about what they learned from the YouTube videos and the interview with Antoinette so they all could help "make a change in the country and inform others" about what is going on right here in the United States.

This is a slide show that the students created using interviews:

The students also interviewed teachers and other students about peonage, and it is so wonderful to see them helping to educate their community. To me, there is no greater power than a student who has made his or or mind up to bring about change. Their desires have brought them a long way, and has inspired the Columbus Ohio Rotary Club to help in addition to arranging for the students to personally deliver the school supplies in time for the school this Fall.

I have never heard such excitement as you now can hear in Antoinette's voice.  She is so proud of these students for what they have done.  She created the slideshow below:

Antoinette is truly grateful to the Columbus Rotary and South High School principal and staff for the enormous support they have been to the students. She is also deeply touched by the recognition they have received, and that their accomplishment has not gone unnoticed.  We would like to thank Millie Broste of the Columbus, Ohio Rotary Club for all the support given to the Student Ambassadors of South High School. She is busy preparing to welcome the students to the Mississippi Delta.

"I am excited about this upcoming project.  Those students will be traveling here.  I just think that is wonderful. What I am hoping to achieve here is to introduce the South High students to those people they saw in the video. I would like the young people in the Delta to tell them what their everyday life is like. I want the students to interact with each other. I just want to listen and learn.  I want to see these children compare their lives having resources versus having no resources. I want to take the students to a town where there is no library, no bus stop, no mall. I want to be able to bring to them a life changing experience,"  said Antoinette.  Antoinette attributes social media as the avenue where the students were able to connect and have the opportunity to have this life changing experience.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Can a branch bear fruit without the vine?

Image at Wikipedia
For anyone, true freedom is having access to everything that you need. Take a look at the grape vine.  How long would the branch last if it became severed from the vine?  Would it be able to bear fruit on its own?

We must regularly pause and reflect on the people and sources which have brought us from a mighty long way.  I meet a lot of people who are not interested in who their ancestors are and the great principles which governed their lives. 

Is there danger in drifting to far away from the knowledge of those who came before?  The first thing we should do is to make sure our desires are in line with the will of the One from whom all good things come.  Some desires lead us away from the basis of who we truly are.  The acquisiton of these particular things can never satisfy us in the long run.

The next thing we need to do is to make sure we understand our motivation for seeking the things we work to obtain. Having as the motivation the desire to bless the lives of other people or to put ourselves in position to bless the lives of others puts us in a more certain positon of receiving the things we seek.

We will not recognize true freedom as long as we work to acquire things only to consume it upon our own lusts.  These items become very slippery and become a hardship to us.  I think many are feeling the results of a life spent working for things alone.  They are perhaps more miserable than those who have not at all.  Poverty is bondage, but so can be prosperity.

With our purpose and a correct idea of the things for which we should seek, we next need to through obedience seek the One True Source.   My ancestors knew what that meant. They were able to pull themselves up with the help of that source and service.  Out from the "big house," off the plantation, and up from the weigh of oppression. 

How were they able to start with so little and accomplish so much?  They knew of this promise:

"I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.  If a man abideth not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you."  St John 15: 5-7.

What a promise! How blessed I am to be able to reflect back this Father's day to my grandfather, Emory Wallace Vance, who endured many forms of pain and suffering, and by his example, left a legacy of what it means to be connected to the One True Source.   He only carried the baton of his father, Lafayette Franklin Vance, born in 1861.  Lafayette carried it out of slavery and picked it up from his father, Beverly Vance, who was born in 1832. 

To be able to have whatever I ask from the One True Souce, that is freedom.  This is the legacy I must continue to build upon and share.  Who knows how to succor me better than He?  Yes, I am proud of my  heritage and proud of my race. I am proud to be commissioned to carry the baton forth, and I will be ever careful that it be not stained or tarnished when it becomes my turn to pass it on.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slave Dwelling Project extends to North Carolina

 "The slave quarters at Bellamy Plantation are definitely more upscale that most slave dwellings. Joe, we are happy to see this project extend to NC, and look forward to your next update.   As The Slave Dwelling Project draws attention to the place were our ancestors lived during slavery, it reminds us of our quest to discover more about our progenitors and the need to preserve our collective histories.  As we discover and share what we learn about our ancestors, we are telling the collective history of the community.  Your history is my history.  Hopefully, we can recapture the history not contained in the history books."  Robin Foster, About Our Freedom. Join a FamilySearch Facebook Research Community.

Slave Dwelling Project Expands to North Carolina
By Joseph McGill, Jr.

Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office

Joseph McGill, Jr.
Slave quarters on Bellamy Plantation

Sunday, May 15 found me spending the night at Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, NC. I arrived there around 4:45 pm which was good because the young lady working there did not have prior knowledge of my arrival. This was very important because she was now aware that she should not turn on the alarm in the slave dwelling. The context of the house reminded me a lot of the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, SC. One could easily be enamored by the architectural significance of the house and totally ignore the slavery that was associated with the structure if the former slave dwelling was not still located in back and interpreted. The dwelling was two stories, made of brick, two bed rooms up top; downstairs contained a bedroom, kitchen and privy.

When I got settled into the slave dwelling, I took a leisurely stroll to the Wilmington waterfront. I was amazed by its beauty and the vibrancy of the city. There were a wealth of activities happening. I had an abundance of restaurants from which to choose. I finally decided on one that would allow me to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather and people watch as I ate my meal.
Sign on slave quarters.
When I returned to the dwelling, I turned on my computer and was amazed to discover that I had wifi capability. This capability gave me the opportunity to get caught up on blogging about some of the past stays that I had done. 

I was later joined by Terry James, this would be his fifth stay. Terry and I were later joined by Braxton Williams, the Bellamy Mansion employee who helped to arrange my stay. Braxton gave us an overview of the history of the mansion. He then mentioned that there was an African American Civil War reenactor in the area named Fred (Sweet Corn) Johnson. Of course Terry and I both knew Sweet Corn so Terry gave him a call. 
Fred "Sweet Corn" Johnson and Joseph McGill, Jr.

He came to the dwelling in less than 20 minutes. When Braxton left, Fred, Terry and I walked back to the restaurant where I had eaten earlier for a late night shack. No matter how hard Terry and I tried, we could not convince Sweet Corn to spend the night in the slave dwelling with us. He did agree to treat us to breakfast the following morning. 

Terry and I got back to the dwelling around 11:30 pm. Our conversation did not last very long before both of us went to sleep. Terry slept in the slave shackles again for the third consecutive time. Because of the urban setting, I was awakened throughout the night by the fire, police and emergency sirens.

The next morning Sweet Corn treated us to breakfast as he promised. Terry and I then did a live interview for a local radio station. Terry then had to go back to his hometown of Florence. I was obligated to stay to give a lecture on the Slave Dwelling Project later that day. The lecture was given in the parlor of the Bellamy Mansion to a standing room only crowd.
Bellamy Mansion
I went away from that experience knowing that I have to extend the Slave Dwelling Project deep into the heart of the state of North Carolina. The network established at Bellamy will help me achieve that goal. Stay tuned for more North Carolina slave dwelling stays in the year 2012 and beyond.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Resources at FamilySearch, free and easily accessible

Resources at FamilySearch have always been free, and now records to document our ancestry are more readily accessible at  After over 25 years of research, I am still able to discover more using the historic records made available online as well as other avenues of free research assistance such as FamilySearch Forums, and FamilySearch Wiki.

I want others to have the same success in documenting their ancestry. For this reason I spend a great deal of time sharing what I know.  FamilySearch has over 140 free research courses to help you here:  Research Courses.  You will be amazed at how much you can learn from the comfort of your home.

Please find two courses below recently filmed by FamilySearch below along with resources that will be useful to viewers of Nurturing Our Roots on NO-ATV, hosted by Antoinette Harrell.

Most Overlooked Record-Types in South Carolina

Going Social with Genealogy

For the benefit of NOATV listeners this morning, the following FamilySearch resources will help you specifically identify ancestors who lived in Louisiana:

FamilySearch Internet:
See also Historical Record collections for Louisiana on this list:  USA, Canada and Mexico

FamilySearch Wiki:  Louisiana

FamilySearch Wiki:  African American Research

FamilySearch Forums

See also:  Join a Facebook Research Community
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Exploring Urban Slavery at Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, SC

Many may not realize it, but three out of every four slaves that came to America did so through Charleston. The Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston has well preserved slave dwellings.  We appreciate the work of Joseph McGill and his efforts through The Slave Dwelling Project to preserve and share our history. See his next article below and see Historic Charleston Foundation to learn more about African American slavery in Charleston.
--Robin Foster, About Our Freedom

Exploring Urban Slavery at the Aiken-Rhett House

By Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
  National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 | Phone:  843.722.8552 | Fax:843.722.8652 | Email: |

Aiken-Rhett house
Saturday, April 30, 2011 found me at the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, SC to spend the night in a former slave dwelling located there. I went there the day before with my daughter Jocelyn who had spent the night with me earlier this year in Eliza’s House, the Freedman’s Cottage at Middleton Plantation, also in Charleston, SC. Our purpose for being there on Friday was to receive a tutorial on the alarm system for the big house and tour the slave dwellings. In the end, it was decided that access to the big house was not necessary. 

Stables and Carriage House
That Friday I realized how people can be easily lulled into a false sense of history. The magnificence of the Aiken Rhett does not disappoint. As the house is approached from any angle, one cannot help but marvel at its architectural significance. As stated in its brochure: “Built in 1820 and greatly expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken Jr. in the 1830s, the Aiken-Rhett House and its outbuildings have survived as a time capsule virtually unaltered since 1858. The house speaks powerfully about the interconnections among all members of the household. Original outbuildings include the kitchen, slaves’ quarters, stable, coach house and privies.”

Slave Dwelling at Aiken-Rhett House

It is the purpose of places like the Aiken-Rhett House to appeal to tourists, but it is the purpose of the Slave Dwelling Project to bring much needed attention to extant slave dwellings. More recently, this project is allowing me to explore how urban slavery factored into that peculiar institution. The former home of a slave holding governor of the state of South Carolina would be a great place for me to continue my exploration.

The Stay
I got there at 4:50 pm on Saturday which was ten minutes before closing time. Although I had a key to the back gate that I had obtained the day before, the purpose was to get there while staff was still on duty in case there were last minute instructions. Staff was wrapping up an unscheduled group tour. This was a night that I was not scheduled to sleep in the slave dwelling alone. Ernest Parks, James Brown and Terry James all fellow Civil War reenactors were all scheduled to stay. This would be the second stay for Ernest and James and the fourth stay for Terry. All the gentlemen showed up but James Brown was not able to stay because of an impending job that did materialize. 

(left) Ernest Parks (right) Terry James
The remaining three of us slept in the building that contained the kitchen and slave quarters across from the stable and coach house. We all slept in the same room on the upper level farthest away from the big house. Before falling asleep, Ernest and I were engaged in conversation until 2:00 am while it was obvious by Terry’s snoring that he slept well. Terry decided to sleep in the period slave shackles for a second time. Both Ernest and I passed on the opportunity to sleep in the second pair that he brought.  The morning after the sleepover afforded us the opportunity to explore the site without having to compete with tourists. To that end, lots of pictures were taken.
One more thank you is in order for the Historic Charleston Foundation. This is the second property under its stewardship of which it has allowed me to stay. The Aiken-Rhett House like McLeod Plantation both preserve and interpret all aspects of its history. If the Slave Dwelling Project had a rating system for stewards of former slave dwellings, Historic Charleston Foundation would rate highly.
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Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Slave Dwelling Project expands to Missouri

"About Our Freedom is once again honored to share the recent news regarding the Slave Dwelling Project and Joseph McGill Jr's recent stays.  His impressive work is raising the importance of preserving the places where our ancestors once lived."
 ---Robin Foster, About Our Freedom

The Slave Dwelling Project expands to Missouri
By Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office
 National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 | Phone: 843.722.8552 | Fax:843.722.8652 | Email: |

(left) Gary Fuenfhausen (middle) David Lerch (right) Vicki – owner of Burwood Plantation

"Before Joseph McGill’s visit during the 3rd week of April, very little recognition of Missouri’s Little Dixie slave cabins could be found beyond my own efforts with my program, “Little Cabins.”  I can now say that we have people talking about Missouri’s slave cabins from Kansas City to St. Louis, something that did not exist before.  I know the spotlight will not last long, but it is our organization’s desire, as well as my own, to keep the light shining bright for as long as possible with the help of Joseph McGill and his unique and important project, said  Gary Fuenfhausen, President, "Missouri's Little Dixie Heritage Foundation."

Burwood Plantation
Monday, April 18, 2011 found me in Pleasant Green, Missouri to stay at Burwood Plantation. I came upon this opportunity through Gary Feunfhausen who contacted me back in December 2010. He is a researcher and architectural and cultural historian living in Missouri with an interest in slave history. He had been researching slave dwellings in the state of Missouri. We both agreed that the Slave Dwelling Project would go over well in Missouri. To that end, Gary proceeded to make plans for the trip, he stepped out on faith and sealed the dates in anticipation that the Missouri Humanities Council would fund the project. Two weeks prior to my trip, Gary received word that his proposal would be funded by the Council.

Burwood would be one of four stays scheduled for the trip to Missouri. My day did not start well. My flight out of Charleston, SC was cancelled. My rescheduled flight would get me to Missouri 5 hours after the time that I was originally scheduled to arrive in Kansas City. When David Lerch, another major player in organizing the trip, became aware of the situation, he immediately took charge and got me on a flight that would shave 2 hours off of the rescheduled arrival time. This was vital in order to stick to the mutually agreed upon schedule.

When I got to Burwood Plantation, I was greeted by the home owner Vicki McCarrell. She had assembled a group that was anxious to hear about the Slave Dwelling Project. The media was represented well within the dynamics of the group. Everyone representing the media got their interview. But there was one gentleman Clayton Slater, a graduate student in Photo Journalism at the University of Missouri who was determined to go above and beyond. We came to an agreement that he could spend the night with me in the dwelling. I am anxious to see the finished product of his work.

Tuesday, April 19 would be the first time I co-presented about the slave dwelling project. The lecture was given at Pickard Hall on the Campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia. I opened the presentation speaking on the need to preserve slave dwellings nationally and Gary followed with the need to preserve slave dwellings on a local and statewide level.

 Pleasant Green Plantation
Pleasant Green Plantation

Wednesday, April 20 found me at Pleasant Green Plantation in Pilot Grove, Missouri. I had already become acquainted with the owner Florence (Winky) Chesnutt - Friedrichs for she was a part of the group that gathered at Burwood the previous Monday night. A group of approximately 20 had gathered for a presentation on the Slave Dwelling Project. During the question and answer period, our host Winky did something quite profound, she read the list of all the slaves that were present on the plantation in 1863. As was common, each slave had only a first name, an age and was assigned a value which ranged from $0.00 to $200.00. Noticeably absent from the list were the names of men. As a Civil War reenactor, I immediately speculated that the men had seized the opportunity to join the Union Army. 

 It is a known fact that the State of Missouri supplied 600 men to serve in the 1st Iowa Colored Infantry which was also known as the 60th United States Colored Troops. Of course my assumption led to a spirited discussion during the question and answer period. After the question and answer period we all proceeded outside for photographs and a tour of the slave dwelling.

After the group left, Gary and I did a live radio interview about the project. We then had a nice dinner provided by Winky. The modest dwelling where I slept was the only one left of five that was once on the property, the other four being removed or burned by the new owners in the early 1900s. This one was lived in until the 1940s.

Russell/Reinhard House, Lexington, Missouri
Russell-Rienhard House

My third stay occurred in Lexington, Missouri at the home owned by Elizabeth S. Sellers. Unfortunately, Mrs. Sellers was out of the state and could not meet me at the site but her son William W. Sellers was a gracious host, he connected me to Mrs. Sellers via a telephone call. The Russell/Reinhard house, located within the city limits has a semidetached two-story summer kitchen and slave quarters. The original owner William Russell was a successful merchant and financer and also a partner with Waddell and Major in the overland trade and Pony Express.  Here I was given a choice of sleeping in the modernized upstairs complete with beds or sleeping in the more authentic downstairs. 
Russell/Reinhard House, Lexington, Missouri
 For the sake of the Slave Dwelling Project, I chose the latter. It was business as usual, despite the rain, a group had gathered at the site to hear my thoughts. I noticed that the project had established a following, some of the same people were showing up at these sites. After the group left, Gary and I sat down to have conversation with William. Included in the conversation was how some Union troops robbed the local bank during the Civil War and how one of the local bank was robbed by Jessie James.

Windsor-Aull Greek Revival Mansion

My fourth and last stay in Missouri occurred at Winsor/Aull Greek Revival Mansion. The house and quarters was built in 1851, by Thomas Winsor, on the Missouri River bluff. Winsor, who was a successful merchant and banker, owned 3 slaves in 1850.

The current owner of the Winsor/Aull Greek Revival mansion is Sandi Stephens. The following are her comments:
(middle) Sandi Stephens –owner Winsor/Aull Greek Revival Mansion (right) Gary Fuenfhausen

Old houses are in my blood, always have been. That is why I moved from the West Coast to Lexington, Missouri. It was incidental that my home has slave quarters on the property, but that particular area has become one of our favorite hide-a-ways on our property. It represents part of our history, one that many choose to ignore, or more importantly, make the conscious decision to remove such structures because they are deemed insignificant in comparison to the principal dwelling on the property. Not all of our history may be pleasant, but it is history none-the-less and should not be ignored. It should not be deliberately demolished, as if the lives of those who lived there and worked that land or in that house were inconsequential. I was so thrilled to be a part of Mr. McGill’s Slave Quarters Project and thoroughly enjoyed meeting him and hearing of his endeavor to preserve these integral parts of our past. As he states in his lectures and on his slides, “these places matter”.

Battle of Lexington State Historic Site

The last scheduled event was a lecture on Saturday, April 23 which was given by me and Gary at the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site.  Missouri was the fourth state to which the Slave Dwelling Project was expanded. This trip was a lesson in how slavery factored into the westward expansion of the United States. It was also a lesson in how slavery factored into the hemp industry. Additionally, it expanded my knowledge of how and why the state of Missouri remained a border state during the Civil War and never officially committed to either side. The four private owners who allowed me to spend a night in their well preserved and maintained former slave dwellings deserve a big thank you. We need more like you. I must especially thank Gary Fuenfhausen for all of the work that he has done to date to replicate on a statewide level what I am trying to accomplish on a national level. It was only fate that our paths crossed, we both have a lot of additional work to do.

"Oh Freedom," what that meant to our ancestors

I arose early this morning to this song playing in my head.  I had not actually heard it for many years, so I consider myself to have heard a heavenly whisper.  I decided to look up the song on YouTube to listen and perhaps discern more.

Having been so focused on identifying the higher principles of freedom which my ancestors lived and desiring to further embrace and share, my open mind has again been enlightened.   Music has always been a significant part of our history and heritage.  I feel so fortunate to be able to continue to enjoy these songs of our heritage and to apply them in my own life today.

I am equally as fortunate to be able to find good mentors who have encouraged me to discover and use my talents.  We have always been able to find good mentors to take us under their wings and inspire us.  These unsung heroes accept us in spite of our imperfections and pour their own lifeblood into us. I am afraid they do so too often without receiving the acknowledgement they deserve.

At the end of 2010, I had reached a major turning point in my research.  I knew there had to be more out there to identify and document my ancestors. I knew the skeletal research I had done did not amply add dimension to their lives or tell their stories sufficiently. I decided to focus on a topic that they would have found important, freedom.

Genealogist, Antoinette Harrell at the National Archives. Walter C. Black, Sr., photographer.
There is a saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear."  Once I decided that I wanted to know about how my ancestors felt about freedom and the principles of freedom that were important to them, genealogist, Antoinette Harrell, contacted me.  She offered to shared with me all the research that she has gathered on peonage over the past ten years or more.
Photograph by Walter C. Black, Sr.

As Antoinette shares documents and the history behind them, I blog so that others can also learn about their genealogical value. So far I have discovered freedom to our ancestors meant land ownership, education, providing for posterity, serving our community, economic independence, and serving God.  I am perplexed by how far we have drifted and what freedoms we are sacrificing which they toiled so hard to achieve.

So now, I am more than just conducting genealogical research. I am saving the future of my posterity and that of anyone else who will hearken to these truths.  How valuable is that?  Well, Antoinette has not put a price on it for me or countless others.  I have not had to register to a attend seminar, purchase a book, or pay an hourly rate for the information that she has taken the time to share.

She represents those great African American leaders and teachers who achieved more notoriety in death than they were given in life.  As busy as she is with hosting and appearing on television and radio, lecturing and teaching at various universities, and providing for the temporal needs of the distraught residents of the Mississippi Delta with Gathering of Hearts, she has taken the time to include another student. Her service is invaluable.

Photograph by Walter C. Black, Sr.
For six weeks,  Portland State University students tuned into Nurturing Our Roots BlogTalkRadio Show where, under the direction of Professor Clare Washington, they had the opportunity to learn more about the history of peonage and the documentation which exists.  It was quite refreshing to interact with the students and hear their experiences as they shared what they were learning with family members and friends. Our last episode with the students was Thurgood Marshall notifies DOJ about 1943 peonage case in MS (June 1).

I have witnessed the resistance she faces due to the sensitive nature of peonage and the lack of understanding of the importance of the records that exist which document African American ancestors and others who were trapped in a form of slavery well up to 1945.  Perhaps those who discount her efforts will be influenced by the upcoming PBS special based on the book "Slavery By Another Name," by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Douglas Blackmon.  See:  Slavery By Another Name.

Please visit About Peonage as we continue to share original documentation and highlight the historical significance and genealogical value of these record-types. We are working on our next post which documents two African American young men, Iko and Eko,  from Roanoke, Virginia, who were kidnapped and forced to work for the Al G. Barnes Circus without pay.

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