There’s a good chance that there are already slave dwelling sites in your local community. Slave Dwelling Project founder Joseph McGill has spent nights in over 90 slave dwellings in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. He initially called his project the Slave Cabin Project, but saw the need for a name change after he realized the diversity in the types of structures which housed enslaved persons. This diversity even varies within communities, as you can see in the diversity of sites within the city of Holly Springs.
Those in what were urban communities are often hidden in plain sight, and identifiable through historical memory or by architectural historians of slavery like Jobie Hill whose Saving Slave Houses project identifies and preserves such sites. Here are some suggested steps for identifying slave dwelling sites
- Determine if there is a local historic preservation institution, such as Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs, Inc., in your community and ask if they know of any slave dwelling sites.
- Also contact any local or state heritage trusts, such as the Mississippi Heritage Trust. They work to save and restore sites of significance in the city or state.
- Each state has a historic preservation office, such as the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. This office will likely have a historic preservation staff, including an architectural historian. That person might be helpful with identifying slave dwelling sites in your region.
- State and national parks in your area might also own and manage colonial or antebellum properties related to slavery. Reviewing their websites, and then contacting park managers, can be helpful. Examples of federal sites are Melrose estate, part of Natchez National Historical Park in Mississippi and Kingsley Plantation, part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Florida.
- State and regional branches of archeological conservancies, like the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Archeological Conservancy may also help to identify local sites of slavery. The Southeast Region of the Archeological Conservancy owns a historic home at the former Prospect Hill Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi. Archeological conservancies generally do not preserve standing structures, yet this site also has important archeological remains which caused the Conservancy to purchase the property. One result of this effort, among many, was a Slave Dwelling Project sleepover at the site in May of 2018.
- Contact the owners or directors of any local colonial or antebellum era historic sites. They may have slave dwelling sites on their property. If they do not know, then they might be interested in having a preservation architect survey their sites. If they are aware of slave dwelling sites, then ask if they already have a slavery interpretation program, or if they are interested in interpreting their sites of slavery.
- Jobie Hill sends letters to private owners, who might have slave dwelling sites on their properties. The letters ask if they might be interested in having their properties assessed. This gives the homeowner the ability to respond to your request, or not, without feeling the direct pressure of a door knock or phone call.
- A specialist in the architecture of slavery, like Jobie Hill, should be brought in to do an architectural assessment of the property if possible. The University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group, which recovers, preserves, explores, and understands slavery and its legacies at the University of Mississippi, helped Holly Springs homeowners bring in renowned architectural historians Ed Chappell and Carl Loundsbury. Chappell and Loundsbury assessed eight sites in Holly Springs and several others in North Mississippi, confirming that they are slave dwelling sites.
Through these steps, you might find key allies to partner with already doing this work, or address some of the issues you are targeting.