Rain falls on a cedar shingle hipped roof that lies atop 1×4 horizontal boards spaced about a foot on center, supported by roughly-hewn rafters. The walls are clad in shake siding outside and whitewashed planks inside with exposed 2x4s mercifully pierced by slender double hung fenestration (without screens). Historic photographs and information about the plantation hang between many wall studs. The floor, raised off the ground about 24″, consist of 12″ planks connected to the floor joists below with rectangular nails. A massive double-faced brick fireplace divides this dwelling. Mosquitoes fly by my ears; the open windows act as their highway to us like the nearby interstate does for South Carolina drivers. Do I sleep inside the sleeping bag and sweat or douse my body with spray and brave the night on top. I am choosing the latter as long as is tolerable.
Rain falls on the roof and it sounds like a small animal’s claws on thin metal. Dogs bark at something. Several students talk on the fireplace’s other side about their fears of bugs, snakes and ticks. There is no privacy here although this cabin was designed to facilitate three rooms. My side of the fireplace consists of a student and Joe McGill, our guide in Charleston and founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. This is the slave dwelling experience from a purely sensory perspective and it is truly special.
Then there is the emotional experience of looking at these materials knowing enslaved hands shaped those boards and enslaved eyes looked up at them as I do now. What did they think about? What did they worry about? What made them happy?
These were House slaves and they were better off than those in the fields. At one time 178 slaves labored away in the distant rice fields. We learned yesterday that 1 out of 10 slaves on a rice plantation reached the age of 21. Maybe the slaves in this cabin were happy to be here when compared to those poor souls. Maybe they were worried to death over a loved one out there.
Our group of students is divided between the two extant slave cabins and tents in the yard near the Big House. Yes, a few teachers and students chose to sleep in tents. One does not have to sleep in these dwellings to have a powerful connection with them. I am now going to turn off the lantern and reflect more on this incredible opportunity to be immersed in history… now deep inside my sleeping bag.