At the beginning of July we officially closed our slave quarters to the public. These two buildings are reconstructions on the site of the late-18th century stone quarters that housed “home farm” slaves (domestic workers and other skilled laborers).
You’ve heard already about the preservation work currently in progress, and the planning for educational hands-on and classroom space that will open in the east building in the coming months. But remember I mentioned that there are two buildings? What about the west building (the one closest to the Great House, pictured above)? In October 2010 we’ll be revealing a brand new exhibit space in this structure. Designers are putting the finishing touches on the text and graphic panels. I’m working feverishly on lists of museum objects and appropriate reproduction objects to furnish the two lower-level rooms (the building is a double quarter for two families, with main living rooms below and attic lofts above). And Sarah, our collections manager, is getting dirty this week as she tries to safely clean and move the historic furnishings out of the spaces and into storage.
What will you see when we reopen the space in October? You will see two separate living spaces. One will house an enslaved gardener named Anthony (he appears in a 1776 inventory) and other skilled male workers. I am hesitant to call this a “bachelor” household, though. Slave women often worked as field laborers, so perhaps the single men living here had wives and children that they visited on Sundays and holidays at outlying farm quarters away from the Stratford home farm.
The other living space will be furnished to represent a female domestic family, specifically a woman named Nelly and her daughter Mary. Nelly and her child Mary appear in a 1776 estate inventory, and we find Mary again in a 1782 slave list with the descriptor “blind” after her name. What was life like for Mary? That’s just one topic we’ll touch upon in these new exhibits.
You’ll also soon see on display fragments found in archeological digs in the area. We’ve included things like a stoneware and creamware dish fragments, a sewing needle, and a shell button. Artifacts that indicate that slaves were consumers. They purchased fashionable goods using money earned by raising and selling vegetables and other goods, or bartering their skills.
This project has been in the research and development phase for close to two years, drawing upon period documents, archaeology, and current scholarship. Stay tuned for the big reveal in October. We look forward to having you visit and hearing what you think!