Smithsonian Relocates Slave Cabin To Be Centerpiece Of Upcoming Exhibition

Smithsonian
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian Institution has received a unique donation – an intact slave cabin from a plantation in South Carolina. The cabin, which was on the grounds of the Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, was donated by the current landowners.

For the past month a Smithsonian team has been meticulously dismantling it and removing it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The reconstructed cabin will be the centerpiece of the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition when the museum opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015.

While it will certainly make an interesting display and attract lots of attention, it’s a shame that it wasn’t left where it was. Historic homes and artifacts have a more immediate impact on the visitor when they’re left in the original location. The move has taken away the cabin’s context. It’s no longer in the area where the slaves worked, lived and died. Instead of experiencing the landscape – the heat, the insects, the thick undergrowth the slaves would have known – we’ll now see it in a modern museum thronging with tourists.

Perhaps it was impossible for the cabin to remain where it was. Perhaps the Smithsonian had to move it to save it, but we’ve still lost something.

Gambia And UK Open Fort Bullen Museum, A Bastion Against The Slave Trade

Gambia, Fort BullenA fort in The Gambia that was instrumental in stopping the slave trade has been given a new museum, the Daily Observer reports.

Fort Bullen was one of two forts at the mouth of the River Gambia, placed there in 1826 to stop slave ships from sailing out into the Atlantic. It stands on the north bank of the river, and along with Fort James on the south bank constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Bullen has been open to visitors for some time and tourism officials hope the new museum will add to its attractiveness as a historic site.

The museum was financed by the British High Commission in The Gambia. The country used to be a British colony. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1807 and soon took steps to eradicate it throughout its domains. Of course, before that time the empire made huge profits from the slave trade, with the River Gambia being one of its major trading centers for human flesh. One hopes this aspect of British history isn’t ignored in the new museum.

[Photo courtesy Leonora Enking]

Slave Quarters Discovered at Monticello

Monticello
Archaeologists digging at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Virginia, have discovered slave quarters used at the time he was living there.

The remains were found at Tufton, one of Jefferson’s farms a mile from the actual house. Jefferson owned several farms around Monticello that were worked by his many slaves. The artifacts dating to Jefferson’s time include everyday items such as a button and fragments of ceramic, as well as a slate pencil, which raises the question of whether one of the slaves was literate. A more sobering find was a padlock. The slaves appear to have lived in small, single-family homes.

Jefferson’s views on slavery were complex. He correctly predicted that it would divide the nation, but that didn’t stop him from owning slaves himself, and while Jefferson wrote against race mixing, DNA evidence indicates that Jefferson fathered several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

A second slave quarter site was also found, dating to the middle and end of the nineteenth century. Jefferson had died in 1826 and his family sold his 130 slaves to pay off his many debts. Monticello itself was sold in 1831. The family that bought the Tufton farm also worked it with slaves until the end of the Civil War.

Photo courtesy Stefan Volk.

National Slavery Museum goes bankrupt without ever opening

National Slavery MuseumThe National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has filed for bankruptcy.

This will make little difference to potential visitors, however, since the museum doesn’t actually exist.

Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, shown here in this U.S. Government photo, founded a nonprofit organization in 2001 to create the museum. It was supposed to open in 2004 but never did. A small memorial sculpture garden was opened in 2007.

Since 2008, the organization has owed taxes on the property, which have now risen to $215,000. The city has stepped in and is now trying to sell the land. The museum’s filing for bankruptcy is aimed at stopping this from happening. Its bankruptcy paperwork says the organization has more than $3 million in debts.

The museum is also embroiled in a legal battle with Therbia and Marva Parker, who donated almost 100 historic artifacts with the understanding that they’d be put on display. Since it’s obvious that’s not going to happen, they want their artifacts back.

Civil War anniversary: first escaped slave to take up arms against Confederacy

Civil WarAs the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War over the next four years, there’ll be a lot of mentions of “firsts”. Here at Gadling we’ve already covered first land battle of the Civil War and the first significant battle of the Civil War. One lesser-known but significant anniversary is happening today.

By June of 1861 there had been very little fighting. Both sides were preparing for their first campaigns and securing important bases. One important Union foothold was Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. From there it would be possible to launch a second front against the rebellious state.

The Confederates wanted to take it. At the moment they didn’t have the strength to assault the well-defended fort, so a force of 1,200 men kept a close watch on it from a few miles away at Big Bethel Church and Little Bethel Church.

Union commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler decided to push the Confederates back from these positions and sent 2,500 men on the night of June 9 to get in position for a predawn attack on Little Bethel. The area had already been scouted by George Scott, a runaway slave hired by the army as a guide. Butler wrote in his orders, “George Scott to have a shooting iron.” This is the first known instance of a black man being legally allowed to take up arms against the South.

A night march was not a good idea for inexperienced soldiers. One group fired on another thinking they were rebels. Two men were killed and 19 wounded. The friendly fire also alerted the Confederates at Little Bethel, who withdrew to Big Bethel where the rest of the rebel army prepared a warm reception for the Yankees. They were dug in at a strong position overlooking the bridge over Big Bethel Creek.

Despite the loss of surprise, the Union troops forged ahead and came upon the bridge early in the morning. They crossed the creek at two points but fell back under heavy fire from the entrenchments. Deciding another attempt would be fruitless, they returned to Fort Monroe. The Union side lost 18 killed, 53 wounded, and 5 missing. The Confederates lost one killed and 7 wounded.

%Gallery-126108%There’s no record of whether George Scott actually participated in the fighting, but the fact that he was legally allowed to carry a weapon was significant. It wasn’t the first time black men had done so, however. Over in Kansas, abolitionist senator Jim Lane raided Missouri farms to kill slave owners and free slaves. At least one report mentions that some armed black men rode with him. Senator Lane was acting beyond the law but didn’t care.

It would be some time before black units were formed and used in battle. Most African-Americans in the army were used for manual labor. The First Kansas Colored Volunteers was the first black unit of the American army to see battle when it defeated rebel guerrillas at Island Mound, Missouri, on 29 October 1862. At this point it was an illegal unit run by none other than Senator Jim Lane, but it eventually got recognition as a Union army regiment.

Like all too many Civil War battlefields, the site of Big Bethel is not well preserved and much of it has been built over. The Raleigh Civil War Round Table is currently trying save what’s left. Civil War Round Tables are found all over the U.S. and are often at the forefront of local research and preservation. If you want to learn more about the war in your area, joining the local Round Table is a great way to start.

The Hampton History Museum will be commemorating the battle tomorrow with the dedication of a monument to the Union soldiers who fought and died as well as a wreath laying at the monument of the Confederate soldier who died.

Thanks to the Civil War Daily Gazette for reminding me of this important anniversary. This blog gives daily coverage of the war and makes for great reading for anyone interested in this historic conflict.

[Photo courtesy of African-American Union sergeant courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This image dates from 1864 and is not of George Scott. No images of him are known to exist.]