On Thursday, Sept. 19, Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) hosted Joseph McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project, an initiative to preserve and interpret the historic value of former slave quarters. To bring attention to their efforts, McGill has has begun seeking out these places and spending the night in each of them. His goal is to one day visit every slave dwelling in the country in an effort to bring attention to efforts to conserve them.
The Slave Dwelling Project was started out of the necessity to understand the importance of the historic spaces. While many slave cabins still exist today, they often exist in a state of disrepair, according to the online exhibit, “All of Us Would Walk Together.” Conservation and preservation focuses on the more desirable spaces, houses of the elite like Mount Vernon and Monticello. While many popular historic mansions make an effort to discuss slavery, the places where slavery was most visibly present are often inaccessible or not maintained. The slave home at HSMC was purchased by the museum in the early 20th century, and underwent restoration along with its main house, the Brome-Howard Mansion, called St. Mary’s Manor in the 19th century. The building served as a home to a family, the Milburns, from 1920 into the 1960s.
The building was then moved from its original space, along with the mansion, to its current site, which serves as the Brome Howard Inn. While this changes the historical context of the building, McGill sees a new dimension added to the importance of the dwelling as it is now. According to “All of Us Would Walk Together,” McGill’s ability to visit the slave dwelling today “is not because they have been protected by preservationists, but because they have been lived in by families, often African Americans. Preserving these buildings not only brings awareness to the experiences of enslaved African Americans, but it sheds light on the post-Emancipation experience for African Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Joseph McGill plans to continue with the Slave Dwelling Project. Information can be found at his Twitter, @slavedwelling. “All of Us Would Walk Together” is an online exhibit by Ph.D. candidate Terry Brock, who is studying the history of slavery and emancipation at HSMC and working to preserve and interpret the slave dwelling as an exhibit space that conveys this history. It can be found at https://www.stmaryscity.org/walktogether/. Check in soon for an update on the future of the slave dwelling and what’s in the works at HSMC.