The Slave Dwelling Project — By: Joseph McGill, Jr (Guest Blog)

My Retirement Trip has been all about “me.”  Joe McGill has been on a different kind of pilgrimage, visiting and spending the night in slave cabins that still exist.  He is doing an important work.  Read what he has to say and pass it on:



Approximately 500,000 Africans made it to the shores of North America only to become some of the enslaved of this country.  When the American Civil War started on April 12, 1861, no slavery existed in northern states but the number of enslaved in this country had multiplied to over 4 million.  America continued to benefit from their knowledge, skill and labor.  Their fate would hinge on the outcome of the war. 

The buildings that we preserve and interpret in this country are usually iconic, architecturally significant and are usually associated with a proclaimed hero.  These iconic buildings are worthy of all of the resources and scholarship that are heaped upon them.  However, in focusing on these buildings we tend to neglect a major part of the American story.  Slavery in American history is no secret, yet the subject is taboo in some circles.  Fortunately for us, there are still buildings in northern and southern states that can assist us in interpreting this part of the American story.

For the past ten years, I have been conducting the Slave Dwelling Project.  The concept is simple: find extant slave dwellings and ask the stewards to spend a night in them.  To date, I have spent nights in forty-three former slave dwellings in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.  The owners of these dwellings are: house museum, plantations, historical groups, non-profit, institutions of higher learning, state government and private.  Current uses range from: display, guesthouse, storage space, museum, studio, bedroom to man cave.  Those who have shared the experience with me range from: fellow Civil War re-enactors; teachers and professors; museum employees; chaperoned school students to descendents of the enslaved and slave owners.  Some of the unexpected benefits of the project include: African Americans now being comfortable with interacting with properties that once enslaved their ancestors; creating dialogue between descendants of slaves and slave owners; hands on learning for students who sleep in slave cabins; becoming a clearinghouse for all matters pertaining to slave cabins; identifying those slave cabins that are on the verge of collapse, and writing and publishing a blog after every stay which can be found on

The future for the project is bright.  The list of places that are identified as extant former slave dwellings is growing rapidly.  The invitations to expand the project to others sites and get other states involved that are blatantly missing from the list is growing rapidly.  Although the project is not funded by an institution or other entity, the stewards of the properties know that my intent is pure. Therefore, they provide the necessary resources to make it happen.  I’m not about reparations, I’m not ghost hunting, I’m not seeking artifacts, I’m about honoring the ancestors by helping to save the places that can help tell their stories and insert them into the storyline of the places that we choose to save because a lot of those places would not exist if not for the people living in those slave dwellings.


Categories: Race, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “The Slave Dwelling Project — By: Joseph McGill, Jr (Guest Blog)

  1. What an awsome project Mr McGinn. I am proud to have my artwork in your hands. FYI:You may want to check out the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights NY (near Harlem). It is cared for by the Daughters of the Revolution organization. They keep the house as a historic site and have 1 bedroom where George Washington slept outfitted with a rollup pallet for his slave/man-servant.

  2. Joseph McGill

    Laura R Gadson, Thank you for that lead. I am forever looking for northern states with extant slave dwellings. I will begin the research and contact process of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in hopes that this can be added to the list of places slept in for the Slave Dwelling Project.

  3. Ajamu McClennon

    My classmate is doing great work. It’s not retirement, it’s REBOOTING! Great job brother.

  4. Beth Lingg

    Joe, I am very proud of your work and you! Beth Lingg

    • Joseph McGill

      Beth Lingg, I hope to see you in Old St. Mary’s, Maryland when I visit there September 22 – 24 of this year.

  5. Joe, Contact me soon regarding your next stop…stay-over, I am interested in joining you. Launching a Harriet Tubman Freedom Tour starting in Maryland and ending in St. Catherines, Ontario…Please tell all you know to book their performance soon through or call me at 713-884-9655. Thanks, Melissa

    • Joseph McGill

      Melissa, I will call you soon. This proposed tour sounds exciting.

  6. Joe – your visits to Hopsewee have been well received and informative to the people who have participated – we look forward to having you back again!

    • Joseph McGill

      Raejean, 44 stays in former slave dwellings throughout the US and Hopsewee is one of four places where the stay has been repeated. That speaks volume. The second stay at Hopsewee earlier this year, taught me the value of inviting youths and their chaperones the value of sharing the experience of sleeping in a slave cabin.

  7. themoor78@yahoo.,com

    Let this be an invitation for you to attend the 15th annual Solomon Northup Day: a celebration of freedom, July 20th, noon to 4pm, at Filene Hall, Skidmore College Campus, Sartoga Springs, NY.
    FB; Solomon Northup Day: a celebration of freedom, group page ‘Files’ — Hope to see you there.
    Sincerely, Renee Moore, Founder 1999- to present.

    • Joseph McGill

      Renee, thank you for the invitation to the 15th Annual Solomon Northup Day. During the week of July 14 – 21, I will be participating in the 150th Anniversary of the Assault on Battery Wagner. This was the battle that was portrayed in the movie Glory. Thank you for the invitation, the 16th Annual Solomon Northup Day is a possibility.

  8. Joe, have you been to the cabins at Ashlawn-Highland, the James Monroe homestead, and Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s country home?

    • Joseph McGill

      Robert Forbes, I have not been to Ashland-Highland. I have been to Poplar Forrest but at the time of the visit, I was not aware that there slave cabins there.

  9. To Joseph McGill: Please Contact me concerning Our Peoject: We have completely restored the Crocket-Miller Slave Quarters. {one of the last free standing Slave Quarters in North Carolina at a cost of $205,000. We conduct tous to the site and would like for you to spend the night in our quarters. We wikl arrange a photo session with the local media concedrning the visit..

  10. Mr. McGill,
    Just read about your fascinating project in Smithsonian. Missouri may not be on your list of likely suspects, because my German ancestors drug it kicking and screaming back into the Union. But I know of a former log slave cabin, now a garage, that my relatives own not an hour from St. Louis. Let me know if you’re interested and I will put you in touch with them..

  11. Phillipa Banks

    Great article in the smithsonian so interesting i did not know these cabin would holdup for so many year. Thank you for sharing, journey . Faith

  12. When I read in Smithsonian magazine about your journey, I was reminded of my recent visit to the cabins in Laurel Valley of Thibodeaux LA. Was wondering if you visited that location and if so, what was your experience. I’m interested in reading more about this. What an admirable endeavor.

    • Kit Kilen, I have not visited the cabins in Laurel Valley of Thibodeaux, LA. My Louisiana stays include Evergreen Plantation in Edgard and Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River. You can learn more about the Slave Dwelling Project on the website:

      • Joe, Just curious about something. Were the plantations “down south” (meaning Mississippi and Louisiana versus the Carolinas and Virginia) known to be harder and crueler than those on the Atlantic coastline? I read the threat recently in a novel that the slave was going to be “sold down south” if he was a troublemaker.

  13. Reblogged this on ArizonaBorn Sprouting New Life and commented:
    I am glad to have stumbled upon this project. All tjanks to Jospeh McGill’s feature on History Detectives!

  14. Lisa Moser

    This is fascinating! And I am so glad that someone is bringing to light this history. History is history: we can’t dismiss parts that are not comfortable for us to remember. We have to embrace our past as a country, as a people, to learn from it and to move forward. And yes, more importantly, to honor and acknowledge the backbone to the successes we have been afforded as a country due to their (slaves) skills and hard work, and sacrifices, all of which was forced upon them, without choice. We should be ever indebted, at the leat, to their contribution.

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