After hearing about the original slave quarters in my town, I was interested in learning more. I asked the curator, Mr. Ben Watford, for a tour of the Crockett-Miller Slave Quarters and Memorial in James City, N.C.
He showed me the grave sites of 522 freedmen and slaves who were buried without tombstones or markers. A memorial monument was built to encompass those interned there.
He explained that slaves were dehumanized, and when they died, they weren't allowed to be respected with tombstones or grave markers. Their families would place pottery jugs with trinkets in memory of their loved ones. Then, "face jugs" were created to scare away the devil. The scarier the face jugs were, the greater chance the devil would leave their loved one alone and let them move on to heaven.
As a local potter, Watford creates these face jugs
to remind us of their history. See them on display at the Bank of the Arts on Middle Street in Downtown New Bern.
We also toured the Crockett-Miller Slave Quarters, named after the plantation, built in the 1840s. It was originally located on Johnson Street and used as a labor camp. The James City Historical Society relocated the old slave quarters to a secure location on the grounds of the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport off Howell Road.
The slave quarters are well preserved with periodic materials (i.e. bricks from the 1800s, wooden pegs used instead of nails, etc.). This small structure, approximately 18 ft x 25 ft, housed 25-30 slaves. A fireplace separated the quarters in half. A loft was used as a sleeping area. The bottom sections of the building were used as common areas for cooking, cotton spinning and conversing.
While I sat in this small cabin listening to Watford describe the sad but interesting history of slavery in North Carolina, it was at least 90 degrees outside. It was hot. Then, I realized my discomfort could not begin to compare to those poor people that worked so hard in extreme conditions, especially in the cotton and tobacco fields.
Presently, one side of the building exhibits tools and equipment used by the slaves and the other side displays pictures of leaders within the black community in the days of slavery. There are articles about the history of the slave quarters, the lives of those unfortunate souls, and how General Burnside played a large part in freeing the slaves along with Presbyterian Minister Horace James.
Walking away from this eye-opening tour, it reminded me how fortunate I am to be able to make my own choices in life as a free woman. Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to educate me.
If you're reading this and have children that prefer to spend most of their free time indoors, think about taking them outside to explore this part of our nation's history. If they don't learn about it and recognize its importance, who will be there to preserve it and educate others in the future?
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Photo: Wendy Card