Weekend Program Puts Spotlight on Loudoun’s Enslaved Community

Several community organizations are teaming up this weekend to help educate residents about the lives of slaves in Loudoun County.

The Slave Dwelling Project is led by Joseph McGill, a Civil War re-enactor and descendant of slaves. To draw attention to still-standing slave dwellings and other buildings that once housed the enslaved, McGill travels the country and sleeps in them. To date, he and his followers have slept at sites in more than 18 states, including the north where many people do not realize there was slavery.

McGill’s program is coming to Loudoun through the support of Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, The Friends of the Arcola Slave Quarters, the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library, the Loudoun Freedom Center, and the Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

On Friday, June 2, McGill will participate in a school program at Oatlands. That evening, he will be on the courthouse lawn at Leesburg First Friday to talk about slavery and answer questions.  Information about the role the county courthouse played in the institution of slavery compiled the Black History Committee will be on display. Inside the old courthouse, there will be a presentation on “Preserving Loudoun’s Historic Court Papers.”  This program is sponsored by Loudoun Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary M. Clemens.

On Friday night, McGill and others will sleep on the courthouse lawn—highlighting the fact that enslaved people were held at the jail once located on the grounds, and the enslaved were sold in front of the former courthouse that predated the current building.

On Saturday, the public will have an opportunity to tour the Settle-Dean Cabin in South Riding. It is one of the few remaining structures from the predominantly African-American village of Conklin. Charles Dean had been enslaved by Thomas Settle and after Emancipation; the two families lived in log cabins joined together on the exterior by board siding. The property was willed to the Dean family by Settle after his death. Today, the site is owned by Loudoun County and managed by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

The Slave Dwelling Project is led by Joseph McGill, a Civil War re-enactor and descendant of the slaves.

The Settle-Dean Cabin will be open from 10-11:30 a.m. Parking is at J. Michael Lunsford Middle School, 26020 Ticonderoga Road.  Shuttle buses will be provided or visitors may walk to the cabin. Go to loudoun.gov/index.aspx?NID=3237 for additional information.

McGill also will tour the Arcola Slave Quarters. Made of stone, it has survived since its construction more than 200 years ago. The original section was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s and contains a cellar and two rooms on the first floor divided by a centrally placed chimney. The eastern section was added later, doubling the size of the building. The proximity of the quarters to the main house suggests that it served as a dwelling for the enslaved people who worked in the Lewis family’s house. Because of limited parking, this site will not be open to the public. The Friends of the Arcola Slave Quarters is working to create an interpretative program for limited public visits in the future.

On Saturday evening, starting at 8 p.m., the program returns to Oatlands for a lantern light walking tour about the enslaved community that was once there. By 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, 133 men, women and children were enslaved at Oatlands and the Carter’s smaller plantation, Bellefield, near Upperville. The tour is free and open to the public.

Descendants of the enslaved community at Oatlands will join McGill that night to sleep in the 1804 mansion, 1810 greenhouse, and elsewhere on the property.

On Sunday, Pastor Michelle Thomas, founder of the Loudoun Freedom Center, will lead an outdoor worship service at Oatlands starting at 9 a.m.  The service is free, open to the public, and open to people of all faiths.

Locations and start times may be subject to change. Visitors should check Oatlands’ website for updates. Questions can be directed to Lori Kimball at lkimball@oatlands.org (preferred) or 777-3174 ext. 3.

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