Attention to Slave Dwellings: "By any means necessary"

I love the fact that Joseph McGill, Jr is dedicated to bringing attention to the edifices where our ancestors dwelt.  He is using every means necessary, and the word is spreading like fire across social media.  His efforts will continue to bring great resources to the descendants of former slaves who are seeking to document the lives of their ancestors.  I am glad to see this historical work accepted as art....for it is!  Thank you for you submission, Stacey.  This was a great experience to share with your family!  Be sure that you also read the very powerful submission by Caroline Crittenden:  "It's Living History" in Nacoochee Valley.

Robin Foster
About Our Freedom

Attention to Slave Dwellings:  "By any means necessary"

By Joseph McGill, Jr. | Field Officer | Charleston Field Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation | William Aiken House l 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, South Carolina 29403 |

When the slave Dwelling Project was in its infancy, I got an inquiry from Caroline Crittenden, project coordinator of the African American Heritage Site at the Sautee Nacoochee Center in Sautee Nacoochee, GA.  We set the date for the stay, but because the project was not well established at the time of Caroline’s inquiry, she was determined to do her home work to check its legitimacy.  I found her method of checking that legitimacy quite interesting.  She informed me that she would take a 5 hour trip to Charleston, SC to hear a lecture that I was scheduled to give on the Slave Dwelling Project at the Charleston, SC County Library.  Sure enough, she attended the lecture.  I imagine that I said everything that she needed to hear because the proposed date for the stay stayed on the 2012 schedule.

Jeanne Cyriaque , African American Programs Coordinator Historic Preservation Division of Georgia Department of Natural Resources, wrote an article for Reflections which is the newsletter of the Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network.  In that article she stated: “The cabin was once home to servants of the Williams family.  After emancipation, the family maintained the cabin.  The original cabin is 16 by 28 feet with one room and two front doors, but the Williams family added a bath, bedroom, dining room, kitchen and a front porch for the family members.  In the 1930s, the granddaughter of E.P. Williams lived in the cabin.  Over the years, the circa 1850s cabin began to deteriorate.  In 2002, Sautee Nacoochee Community Association director Jim Johnston and his family agreed to donate the slave cabin for preservation and a proposed heritage site with the condition that it be moved to another location.”  The cabin was moved to the current site of the Sautee Nacoochee Center.

At some point from the initial commitment for me to spend the night in the cabin, the program associated with that stay began to develop.  In keeping with the living history programs that are constantly done at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, Caroline requested that I develop a character that had escaped slavery and become a soldier of the Union army.  I have never proclaimed myself to be a storyteller but I knew the person who could deliver.  James Brown, a member of Company I, 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment had been telling that story quite effectively for years.  I convinced Caroline that James Brown was indeed her man. 

A few days prior to the stay, Stacey Allen left me a voice message which stated he had invited himself to share the slave dwelling experience with me.  Several attempts to return Stacey’s call only resulted in busy signals.  Had I reached Stacey the gist of my conversation would have been about my willingness for him to stay with us in the cabin.  I would have also talked about others who said that they would stay but for some reason or another didn’t follow through.
Joseph McGill, Jr.
I must admit that I was skeptical about going into the mountains of Georgia.  The movie, "Deliverance" would often come to mind.  Ninety-eight percent of the people I talked to about Sautee Nacoochee, GA never heard of it.  I expected to see no other African Americans there; so travelling with James Brown gave me comfort.  The site being located in White County did not help matters.

James and I arrived at the site in a deluge with thunder and lightning to boot.  When the rain subsided, we made contact with Caroline and got our first look at the slave cabin.  Because of its use for interpretation, it was in my opinion heavily adorned.  I immediately claimed the bed.  It rivaled the biggest slave cabin that I had seen to date.

James Brown
After we were joined by Jeanne Cyriaque at the site, we then proceeded to a local restaurant for dinner.  There we were joined by two local reporters.  When we got back to the site the audience was already gathering for the 7:00 pm program that James Brown and I were scheduled to give.  I was surprised to see that there was diversity in the Sautee Nacoochee area as indicated by the impressive crowd of 100 plus that showed up for the program.  Food was being served and the crowd was being entertained by a singer/banjo player.   Using the slave cabin as a back drop, the audience was treated to a slave dwelling lecture by me with the climax of the presentation being James Brown telling the story titled “How I Became A Soldier.”  Needless to say the crowd was mesmerized by the performance because James Brown delivered just as I knew he would.  As a result, they were totally engaged during the question and answer period as darkness descended upon us.  It was during this time that I finally met Stacey Allen, the gentleman who would be spending the night with us in the cabin. 

After the crowd left, the three of us who were scheduled to sleep in the cabin were joined by Candice Michelle Dyer, one of the reporters who joined us at the restaurant for dinner; Sabrina Dorsey, the first cousin of Stacey Allen;  and Caroline Crittenden.  The conversation was rich and involved the history of Sautee Nacoochee; slavery in Sautee Nacoochee; history of the slave cabin and the Slave Dwelling Project.  At some point during the conversation, it was revealed that Stacey Allen was the descendent of a slave and slave owner.  This was interesting because recently I have been coming into contact with more and more people who fit this category.
Photo credit:  Stacey Allen

I now knew why Stacey invited himself to stay and was thankful that he did.  Well after midnight, everyone was starting to fade.  Carolyn left to go home and Sabrina Dorsey left to report to her job at a local prison.  The remainder of us including the reporter retreated to our respective spots in the cabin and made ourselves as comfortable as possible.  I quickly learned that the bed was not as comfortable as it looked.  The conversation continued as we all began to slowly drift off to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to a very beautiful day.  A breakfast of pancakes and sausages was served at the community center at the site with lots of community members participating.   Many of the participants were anxious to know how we all slept the previous night to which we all responded well.  Both James and I left with the promise that we both would return if invited.

Sautee Nacoochee was the 35th stay of the Slave Dwelling Project.  This was the first stay in the state of Georgia which now totals 11.  I was in denial when I was told at my previous stay in Holley Springs, Mississippi by a local artist that what I was doing was art, yet I found myself using a slave cabin as a backdrop and incorporating the skills of a storyteller to further the intent of the Slave Dwelling Project.  What also struck me as interesting is that since I have become involved with the group Coming to the Table whose members consists of descendents of slaves and descendents of slave owners and combinations of both, people of the aforementioned categories  always seem to find me as in the case of Stacey Allen.  Be it through this blog, print media, broadcast media, group affiliations, social media or through the performing arts, my intent is to bring much needed attention to the slave dwellings that once housed my ancestors and I am willing to do that by any legal and feasible means necessary.
 Andy Allen (left), Caroline Crittenden (center), Stacy Allen (right). Photo credit:  Billy Chism, White County News.
Stacey Allen:

Sautee Nacoochee Slave Cabin

“So did you have this Ah ha moment when you woke up?”  That’s the question my wife asked me as I walked in Saturday morning.  “How did you sleep”, is what my seventeen year old son asked me.  “Daddy, did you miss me?” That’s the question my daughter asked me as I arrived home.  All very valid questions, some that did not require any thought or provoke any reflection at all to answer, others that have caused me to think of them over and over. 

So did I have an Ah ha moment? Yes and I hope I continue having them every time I get to share my experience of what it meant to me to find my place in the history of that cabin and this project as it goes forward and raises awareness and provokes conversation and builds bridges.  How did I sleep? Wow the depth of that question.  How did I sleep knowing in that very structure there were slaves despite what we think, some of my ancestors slept here and were not free.  Daddy, did you miss me?  That question is answered mindlessly.  The difference between my daughter asking me that and some slave father getting asked that by his daughter is vastly different.  My daughter was only 13 miles away and I could have easily driven to quench the loneliness.  During slavery the father more than likely was separated by states or even continents. 

Needless to say my experience was one that will leave me looking behind the ‘big house’. 

A huge thanks to Mr. Joe McGill and Mr. James Brown.  I look forward to sharing with you all again in the future.



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