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There are occasions when the concept of the Slave Dwelling Project is challenged. Oakland Plantation located in Simpsonville, SC would challenge the project in many ways. Already having spent a night in slave cabins in Anderson, Greenville, Woodruff and Pendleton, Oakland Plantation would be my fifth stay in the upcountry of South Carolina. Like my stay in the slave cabin at the Woodburn House in Pendleton, Oakland Plantation was not on the list of places to stay that was released in November 2012. In fact, this stay came about as result of the stay at the Woodburn House in Pendleton, SC.
The information distributed at the site states: “In 1823 the Dr. Thomas Collin Austin family established a working plantation on this site. The Austin family was one of the earliest settlers in this area. This property was part of a land grant to his grandfather Nathaniel Austin. Dr. Austin’s father, Colonel William Austin, who served as a private in the Second Regiment South Carolina Militia during the Revolutionary War, gave the land to Dr. Austin. Colonel Austin’s home (Gilder Plantation) located at the corner of Highway 14 and Bethel Road was the birthplace of Dr. Austin in 1790. Dr. Austin studied medicine in Philadelphia and practiced medicine in the area from about 1818 until his death in 1883. He excelled as a planter, a good old horse and buggy doctor noted for his skill as a surgeon and general practitioner. A doctor’s office once existed on the site until 1953 when it was torn down as the house was remodeled. The plantation is a prime example of an early 1800s, 1900s farm.”
In my desire to increase the number of extant slave dwellings slept in, I accepted an invitation to participate in a program titled “Celebrate the Emancipation: Hollingsworth Outdoor Center Honors History Through Juneteenth.” I arrived at the site at 9:00 am on Friday, June 21. On the site, the big house was obvious. It was also easy to identify many of the outbuildings and their uses. What was not obvious to me was where the slave cabin was located. I met the owner Brian Micke who was doing work in the yard. He was well aware of my reason for being there and told me where the others were setting up for the occasion which was at a location adjacent to his property. I immediately went there thinking that I would see a building that resembled a slave cabin. To my surprise, I was led back to the initial site by Greg McKee to view the slave cabin. I met Greg about two months prior when I spent the night at the replicated slave cabin at the Woodburn House in Pendleton, SC. Greg would be sleeping in the cabin with me and Terry James that night.
When I reached the cabin, it was obvious why I did not see it when I first reached the property. Located in what appeared to be a barn, was a log cabin that local historians believed to be a slave cabin. With skepticism, the more I explored the structure with Greg the more convinced that I became that slaves did at some point of the structure’s existence dwell there. In the 44 cabins of which I had slept, this would be the second with a dirt floor. Luckily for me, the first cabin with a dirt floor, Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland had a ½ story above where I was able to sleep. It was my desire that I could do the same here. Located to the immediate left of the front entrance were the steep ladder/stairs that led to the top ½ story. I took the stairs gaining enough height to peer my head into the ½ story. What I saw did not give me confidence that I would be sleeping up there. Remnants of hay that was once stored there were spread sparingly throughout. I stepped gingerly into the space because there were some floor boards that I felt could not support my weight. After that inspection, the jury was still out as to where in the space I would sleep.
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The day would be filled with activities for the visiting audience which was comprised of mostly children. The activities included broom making, cooking a hoe cake, fashioning a brick, and hand dipping candles. The audience was also treated to a living history presentation by Kitty Wilson Evans, portraying Kessie, a field slave from the republic’s early days. Additionally, a music and storytelling session with John Fowler, who is finalizing a book on George Mullins, (also known as Trotting Sally), a legendary turn-of-the-century fiddler who was born at Oakland Plantation in 1885, was conducted.
My session of course was on the Slave Dwelling Project and was given at the slave cabin. After convincing the audience that I would be spending the night in the space, the rest of the presentation went along smoothly. After the presentation, the questions were fast and furious but the important thing was that the kids got it.
My day got better when Brian the property owner told me that putting plywood on the floor of the cabin was an option. When the groups left, I went on a tour of the property with Greg. The property is the Hollingsworth Outdoor Center and is owned by the YWCA of Greenville. We came to a spot in the woods where it was obvious that some trees were planted in a circular pattern. Its location along an historic road, the spring house, the dried up stream and the archaeological dig that was going on in the space in the woods convinced me that this space was once a Native American settlement. Additionally, the property was well designed to accommodate visiting groups. While sitting at an amphitheater well imbedded in the woods, we were only interrupted by the sound of a lawnmower at a nearby housing development.
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After putting the plywood on the floor of the slave cabin, Rick Owens arrived with two air mattresses for me and Greg. Rick was the gentleman partially responsible for the stay for it was he who arranged for me to stay at the Woodburn House in Pendleton, SC. He also stated that the air mattress was a donation to the slave dwelling project. Our evening would continue on the porch of our host. “Old Reliable”, Terry James, eventually made it in from Florence, SC. This would be Terry’s fifteenth stay and again he would be sleeping with his wrists shackled. When Terry arrived, his first view of the cabin had to be made with the use of flash lights. I had already warned him that this would be his first encounter with a dirt floor. To my surprise, he did not have any doubt that the space was once a cabin that once housed people. His inspection and knowledge of the hand hewn timber impressed me. His only concern was that he had to sleep between two acknowledged snorers. On the porch of the main house, our host Brian treated us to vanilla ice cream adorned with strawberries and whipped cream.
In the cabin, we had all agreed that we would sleep with the door open. What we did not factor was the street light that would shine into the space. The next morning as I attempted to get up off the air mattress, I encountered a cramp that would not quit so I questioned if this donated item was a blessing or a curse. Rick arrived on the property with all of the materials necessary to cook breakfast. He prepared for us turkey sausage, eggs and french toast. Terry James, being the professional photographer that he is, took intricate pictures of the space and other buildings on the property before we all went our separate ways.