Friday, July 3, 2009

Stagville, NC

By: Ebone' Pruitt
HS 129, Summer 1 2009

As a visiting summer school student I am taking classes for Montgomery College online while I am living in North Carolina where my home school is, North Carolina Central University. After talking to one of my mass communication teachers, Mr. Chambers, earlier in the week he told me about the Stagville and, said it would be good place to do the assignment. I live Durham, NC and had no idea that I lived in an area that was once home to one of the south’s largest plantations. Now called Historic Stagville Plantation, it was once a thriving tobacco plantation housing at its peak in 1860 an estimated 900 slaves and comprised of 30,000 acres.

When I visited the site on Thursday, June 4, there were numerous locations that could be photographed that captured the lives of pre civil war African Americans in North Carolina. The first picture is of the Bennehan house, master’s house, which was built in 1787 and a second story addition was added in 1799. The next picture of is of the oak dresser that still sits in the Bennehan’s master bedroom which was crafted by a free African American. Finally I chose a picture of one of the slave’s cabins called Horton Grove, which was particularly different and rare compared to most slave quarters.

The first picture is that of the Bennehan house. This was the house of Richard Bennehan, his wife Mary, and daughter Rebecca lived. In 1787 Richard Bennehan bought 66 acres of land from Judith Stagg, hence that reason the area is called Stagville after the last name of Judith Stage. In 1787 the original one and a half house was built. In the picture that is the one level side on the left of the house. The second story and right side of the house was added 12 years later in 1799. One my tour of the plantation I was told that The Bennehan house, as well as other plantation houses in North Carolina, were considerable smaller than other plantation houses in the south. Still, the house was quite large. One room in the house is about the size the typical farm house.

In the picture of the house on just the back side you can count 8 windows. The windows might seem insignificant but, each one of those windows had to be made and sipped from England to North Carolina. The location of Stagville it is over almost one hundred miles from the coast and there are no major railroads or rivers that could get the windows to the house more easily so, they had to be shipped by land. Having so many glass windows at this time showed the wealth of this family. Along with the glass windows in the house, every nail also had to be shipped from England.

Also the location of the house sits on top of a hill. Before the trees and brush grew up about 70 years ago it was a looking directly down on the slave cabins. For the slaves looking up to the large white house on top of a hill showed the dominance and power the master had over the slaves. I chose this picture because though slaves did not occupy the house, it was still a symbol of their enslavement. I thought it was significant the positioning of the house. The way the house looked down on the slaves, how the slaves looked up to the house, and house the house was so far away from the slave quarters showing the separation of the two was interesting. The next picture is of a dresser that was in the master bedroom of the Bennehan house. The reason the dresser was so important to me because I offered another look into the lives of pre-civil war African Americans. Unlike most African Americans of this area and time period that man who created this dresser was a free African American. Unfortunately the tour guide could not recall the man’s names he was able to tell us about his life. This man was born free and lived in the area. The Bennehan’s as well as other wealthy land owners in the area sought out his work. The dresser was made in approximately 1810 and, has stayed in the room since then. It is also known that he was a slave owner himself. It is reported that he owned five or six slaves in his lifetime. The top of the dresser top is made of solid marble. The entire dresser was crafted by hand. Being that it was entirely made by hand and the fine quality of the materials used to construct the dresser, it was an expensive piece of furniture for its time.

The reason I chose this picture was because it showed a life and history about African Americans that is not told. The man who created this beautiful piece of work was a free black man whose mother was free likewise. I chose this picture because I wanted to show to the contrary of what white Americans at this time thought about African Americans. They thought that they were inferior to the white race and this piece of furniture shows otherwise. It shows that blacks were talented and capable of the same things as their white counterparts. The Bennehan’s were extremely wealthy and could afford a piece made by anyone and, they chose that of an African American.This is a picture of the slave quarters called Horton House. This is one of four houses in this area that are similar in structure. For this time period most slave houses where one room shacks with one door and no place for proper ventilation. When this house is now there once stood a one room slave house similar to other slave quarters but, due to an alarming high death, illness, and disease rate these new slave quarters were built in the 1850’s. Each of the four houses housed up 40 slaves at a time. There are four rooms in the house and, each room housed one family. If you look at the base of the house you can see it is elevated because it helped keep the ground from flooding and, by the ground being raised disease carrying insects were less likely to reside in houses with elevated floors.

Also the walls are brick unlike most slave houses that had wood planks for walls. The bricks were used for installation purposes and less the likelihood of infestation of rodents. If you look at the fire place, which was bricked by slaves, there are indentations of the slaves fingerprints in the bricks. Also, the material used to hold the bricks together is similar to the materials used in Africa by Africans who constructed their houses.

I chose this picture because again it shows the massive size and wealth of this plantation. On the large 30,000 acre plantation these four houses only housed 180 of the slave population. Throughout the plantation there were other massive compounds if you would call it of slaves. To me it spoke of the extreme power the Bennehan’s had in this area that I now call home.

After visiting Stagville I found it quiet interesting that this major historical site was 20 minutes away from where I lived and I had no idea it even existed. This assignment was an eye opening experience. I might sound corny but , I swear I could feel the souls of the slaves on the land. Two hundred years ago for all I know some of my ancestors could have been slaves on this very plantation. The three pictures that I felt spoke to me most hopefully will inspire someone to look into their past.

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