Do Savannnah

Free museum day focuses on the people of African American history

  • The west facade of the slave quarters at the Owens-Thomas House is being restored to allow interpreters to give equal time to the lives of the enslaved workers as they do for the owners. The north half of the building housed nine to 14 enslaved men, women and children depending on the year. Learn more about them on Aug. 20. (Photo courtesy Owens-Thomas House)
  • Inside the slave quarters at the Owens-Thomas House, find this haint blue paint on the ceiling applied by enslaved workers. Learn more about them Aug. 20. (Photo courtesy of Owens-Thomas House)
 

Free museum day focuses on the people of African American history

16 Aug 2017

Nancy was an enslaved worker at the Davenport House on State Street in the early 1800s.

She was 4 feet 10 inches tall, about 30-years-old, spoke German and had a scar on her neck. That information was made public Oct. 15, 1812, by her owner, Isaiah Davenport, because Nancy ran away that year and he wanted her back.

“As far as physical characteristics, we know more about Nancy than we do about Isaiah,” said Jamie Credle, director of the Davenport House Museum and the Historic Savannah Foundation.

In 1836, George Owens, in Philadelphia, wrote to his wife Sarah, telling her of his concern about enslaved nanny Emma’s health, and that Sarah should bring her to Philadelphia to see a doctor. Today’s Owens-Thomas House staff questions what that was like to have an owner value Emma enough to pay for her to see a physician, but to also make choices about her body that she had no say in.

It’s complicating the issue of urban slavery, and it makes the public think more deeply about the lives of urban enslaved people, said Shannon Browning-Mullis. She is curator of history and decorative arts for the Telfair Museums, which includes the Owens-Thomas House.

Credle and Browning-Mullis want to introduce the public to the urban enslaved people who lived and worked during the early 19th century at the Davenport and the Owens-Thomas houses.

Between noon and 4 p.m. Aug. 20, these two and six other area museums will present African American history to the public at no charge. This is in response to a call to Lift Every Voice during the inaugural celebration year by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened Sept. 24, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

“We’ll be approaching the Davenport House from the lives of the enslaved people from the 1820s,” said Credle said. “We have come to realize, people have no idea who built the city with their hands. We don’t have lofty goals; we just want to inform people. There was such a thing as urban slavery; it happened right there. They were people with names, histories, hopes and dreams, just like the white folks that lived here.”

The Davenport House Museum also has an 1828 list of nine enslaved workers when Isaiah Davenport’s widow Sarah had to sell property, and property included those workers.

“We have a newspaper ad, an inventory list, and a census of people by gender, race and age,” Credle said. “With this material, we know the names of the people who lived here. We have information about the people who ran away.”

On Aug. 20, interpreters will be in the Davenport House Museum talking about the lives of these enslaved people who cared for the Davenport home and children. Credle will be in the Kennedy Pharmacy with a PowerPoint showing an overview of the difference between urban and rural slavery, then introduce them to the people who lived there, as well as plans for expansion of the museum.

Armstrong State University graduate student and historical researcher Kelly Westfield will talk about her research and the possibility of linking those urban enslaved people to today’s Savannahians through genealogy.

“We hope that people in the community will find a link to these people with the last name of Davenport or Jackson,” Credle said. Henry Jackson married Isaiah and Sarah’s daughter Cornelia.

That same day, interpreters will be in the Owens-Thomas House and in the slave quarters on the other side of the garden. “We want to make sure we are representing people, not stereotypes and generalizations,” Browning-Mullis said. “We will focus on the people, Diane, Peter, things we know happened to them. The goal for me is to consider these people’s humanity.”

The Owens-Thomas House is in a transition on how the tours are presented with interpretive components and on additional preservation work, to be completed in the spring, and a symposium to follow, with a $1.5 million budget. “We are reconsidering how we use the carriage house, the slave quarters, reinterpreting it so we are giving equal time to the slaves who were there, making sure we are fully examining their relationships,” she said.

As for Nancy, she probably didn’t make it out of Savannah, Credle said. There was a $50-bounty on her, and her name appeared with her sister Peggy’s on that Sheriff’s sale list of Davenport property in 1828.

IF YOU GO

What: Lift Every Voice: Savannah’s African American Historic Sites Free Day

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 20

• The Davenport House Museum, 324 E. State St., davenporthousemuseum.org.

• Owens-Thomas House, 124 Abercorn St., Telfair.org.

• Beach Institute in partnership with City of Savannah, Research Library & Municipal Archives, 502 E. Harris St. See the exhibit “Law & Music” and information that documents Savannah’s African American history. Beachinstitute.org and Savannahga.gov/MunicipalArchives.

• Georgia Historical Society, 501 Whitaker St. Find one-of-a-kind archival materials relating to African-American life in Savannah. Pubic can share stories at a recording station. Ask an Archivist to learn more about the Society’s resources, research and preservation. georgiahistory.com.

• Georgia State Railroad Museum, 655 Louisville Road. Tours exploring the African American contributions to the history of the Central of Georgia Railway and other railroads throughout America. Chsgeorgia.org/GSRM.

• Ossabaw Island. Walking tour of North End plantation, including three restored tabby cabins built by enslaved Africans for their housing. Learn about Hercules & Betty in the 1770s, the Bond brothers in the 1850s and 1860s, and their descendants who founded Pin Point in the 1880s. Limited to 35 people; accessible via ferry for a additional fee. Ossabawisland.org.

• Pin Point Heritage Museum, 9924 Pin Point Ave. Tours about Gullah/Geechee culture given by the residents who grew up there. Learn about daily life to religion, language and food. Pin Point was founded in 1896 by freedmen, from Ossabaw Island, after the Civil War. Chsgeorgia.org/PHM.

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