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Arts & Culture

Rebuilding A Slave Cabin: 'Proud Of The Work We’ve Done'

Building project participant Chris Kerr hard at work on the slave house.
Credit Leoneda Inge
Building project participant Chris Kerr hard at work on the slave house.

Updated 2/21/14: 

All this week, WUNC's Leoneda Inge is working with a team to re-construct a slave cabin that dates back to the early 1800s. The cabin is on the grounds at James Madison’s Montpelier in the Piedmont region of Virginia. The remains of the original slave cabin was discovered and excavated in 2010.  Leoneda and the team will be helping to rebuild the slave quarter at the actual site where it stood generations ago. She'll be blogging all week. We will excerpt her blog here and link to each day's entry.

Day 1:

"I arrived at Arlington House late at night.  I could not see the grounds.  But by morning, I noticed the small slave house about 100 feet from where I slept.  The slaves, who surely looked a lot like me, were likely the slaves who built the 1840s era house I’ll be sleeping in this week." [Read full entry.]

Day 2:

"Yes, I am enjoying this work.  But I have also shed tears.  Eric Larsen, an archaeologist from Arlington, Virginia and I chatted about the emotion that is going into each whack with an ax and every measurement to make sure the walls of this log cabin are exactly seven inches thick.  We just want to get it right!" [Read full entry.]

Day 3:

“Whenever I visit these type of places, I always think about the labor – the real engine that ran the ‘big house,” said Terry James, who joined the group from Florence, South Carolina. “Who were these people and how were they treated?” [Read full entry.]

Day 4:

"The rain stopped and the sun shined, just like weather reports predicted... I know.  You don’t have to say it.  The enslaved people of Montpelier would not have had the luxury of postponing work due to weather. I am told the slaves who originally built this cabin were considered “master” builders.  Old letters reveal, James Madison Sr., the president’s father, often "jobbed" out his slaves to build cabins for other people." [Read full entry.]

Day 5:

"It has been a historical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual week at James Madison’s Montpelier.  A group of 16 people came together to put their stamp on a historical experiment that has never taken place at a site like this before.  We came together to reconstruct a slave cabin – rain, snow, shine or tornado watch! " [Read full entry.]

Click here for background on the project, including a history of the slave cabin, information  from the archaeological excavations, and schematics.

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