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July 24, 2011

A bit of history: Stagville Plantation

Many of us grew up with an inaccurate image of the South before the Civil War. Gone With The Wind was a wonderful book and movie, but it was a romanticized version of what reality was. For a more accurate version, visit Stagville Plantation in Durham, NC

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Stagville was one of the largest plantation complexes in the South. At one time, it consisted of approximately 30,000 acres, and in 1860, nearly 900 slaves labored there. Through the years, much of the property has been sold off, but many structures built in the 18th & 19th century survive there. In the 1970's, 71 acres of Stagville property was donated to the state of North Carolina, which has preserved and, in some cases, restored the original plantation house, several of the slave quarters, and a fascinating old barn.

Those of us who think of Tara as being representative of plantations in the Deep South are surprised to see the Bennehan-Cameron family home. Its quarters are extremely cramped by today's standards. The white frame building above started as the single-story structure on the right; as the family grew more affluent, they added on the section on the left. Even the fact that the home and rooms were painted bespoke tremendous wealth, as making paint required a tremendous amount of labor. The slaves would have had to go out in the woods and gather sufficient raw materials to make paint of the desired hue in a quantity that would complete the project, as it was unlikely they'd be able to gather the same exact blend of ingredients to match the color.

At the time, most slave quarters were primitive, extremely cramped buildings built on a dirt floor. Multiple families would be housed in a single dwelling. There were no windows, and thus no ventilation. And of course there was no way to heat the buildings in winter or cool them in summer. In heavy rains, the floor would be sodden. Mold flourished, as did mosquitoes. Disease was rampant, and  every resident of a single building could be laid low by illness or felled by death.
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The Bennehans recognized that this made no sense from a business perspective, so they had their slaves build structures that were elegant in comparison to those on most other plantations. The buildings were up off the ground with wooden floors. Windows could be opened in the heat of the summer, and there was a fireplace to provide warmth in the winter.So slave quarters like these pictured here - which housed 7 or 8 families - were quite elegant by the standards of their day.

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These dwellings were built by slave labor. The brick of the fireplace was fashioned by digging up the hard clay soil and tamping it into molds which would be left to dry in the sun. When dry - or nearly so - the bricks would be pried out by hand. The fingerprints of those who made these bricks can be see in some of the bricks. If you look at the bricks to the left, you can see the marks of four fingers that pulled one of the bricks out of the mold. At another point on this same chimney, the footprint of a child can be seen on one of the bricks.

Evidence suggests that some of the people who worked these fields were from west Africa, which is the only place where cowrie shells are found. A cowrie shell was found when excavating the foundation of one of the buildings that had crumbled through the centuries. There is also evidence that some of the slaves who worked Stagville Plantation were knowledgeable about shipbuilding, as woodwork in a marvelous 3-story barn found there shows craftsmanship used in the construction of boats. It is unknown if this knowledge was brought from Africa. Another possibility is that the builders of the barn had at one time worked on the coast before being sold further inland. Here are a few shots of that barn:
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In the foreground of this image is the feeding trough for the mules that occupied the ground floor of the barn.

The mules' quarters were considerably more spacious than that of the slaves who worked at Stagville.

The final shot was taken looking up from the ground floor toward the loft of the barn.

If you're interested in learning more about Stagville, check the Stagville website or this Wikipedia article.

Join me on Thursday for a new hop:


  1. Hi!
    Great pictures. Thanks for sharing the history. Have a great day!

    Food for Thought

  2. The South is pretty much a foreign land to me. I have no firsthand knowledge of it at all. Very interesting post. Sobering.

  3. Great pictures. Thanks for sharing all that it! Have a great day!

  4. Thanks for sharing on the Field trip hop. I have seen some of these type quarters while visiting Williamsburg, VA. Going to have my children look at this post:)

  5. Thanks for this review in the past and sharing with *PicStory*. LG Tina

  6. Very interesting historical post.

    My BLUE DOLPHINS -- You'll need to scroll down below the salty dog photo at the top of my blog post.

    Have a fabulous Tuesday.

  7. Hi!! I just wanted to stop by from the Super Stalker Sunday Hop!! I'm glad to see you joining us to stalk around! Hope you are having a great week and I hope to see you again next weekend for the next Super Stalker Sunday Hop!!
    Kortney @ Kortney's Krazy Life

  8. I love old houses, they are awesome! Thanks for linking up with us!

  9. Absolutely wonderful post. I love the barn & I'm so excited that you was able to provide the history of it as well. Thank you so much for this.

    I LOVE the stone foundation... that's my favorite thing about these old barns & we don't have a lot of stone foundations around here.

    Something must have happened when you linked to Barn Charm, because I had trouble getting here... but I'm going to fix that, now.

    Thanks again! =)

  10. Hi, new follower catching up from Hop along with me Monday! I'm such a history nerd and I love this kind of stuff! thanks for sharing. that is truly beautiful. its on my list if we ever make it back out Nc!


  11. This was so fascinating! I love history and am so glad you shared this with us!


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