Slavery at Bacon's Castle

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Bacon’s Castle Slave Dwelling, Surry County
Bacon’s Castle Slave Dwelling, Surry County
Joseph McGill, Founder of the Slave Dwelling Project
Joseph McGill, Founder of the Slave Dwelling Project

Audio Transcript

My name is Joe McGill. I am founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. I noticed a void in the antebellum buildings that we choose to preserve. They usually include the house on the hill and they're usually white men associated with these spaces. And most often these white men were slave owners—and those are the lives that we talk about when we talk about these buildings. And the void that exists is the enslaved people who most often would have built those buildings, whose labor provided the wealth for those houses to be built. So noticing this void I created this thing called the Slave Dwelling Project, and I would request from the owners the permission to spend the night in these spaces knowing that if I can perform a simple act of sleeping inside a slave dwelling folks would be curious, folks would want to know why.

I think Bacon's Castle was one of the first to approach me. They opened it up to the public to join me in the space. Two local African American sisters stated that up until that point they wanted nothing to do with Bacon's Castle because their ancestors were enslaved there. But because I was there doing what I was doing they wanted to give it a chance. And all through the night I don't think the sisters got a wink of sleep because they were communicating back and forth. But the next day one of the sisters said not only was she thrilled that she had the experience, she was going to approach the rest of her family members to do a family reunion there. Now I’ve gone back to Bacon's Castle since I continue to interact with them, and the family reunion was indeed held there at Bacon's Castle. And the other sister said she was going to become a volunteer there to ensure that the stories of her enslaved ancestors continue to be told in that space. You know, if the spaces cease to exist—the slave dwellings—if they cease to exist, then we could continue to make the mistake that we have been making, and that mistake being that if it's not there we don’t have to talk about it. Or if the physical spaces aren’t there we don't have to talk about it. But as long as these spaces are there it’s very hard to deny the presence of the people who lived in them.