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From the Ground Up: The Sully Slave Quarter

By Tammy Loxton, Historian, Sully Historic Site

The Sully Slave Quarter: From the Ground Up is an award-winning video produced in-house by Park Authority staff. The video received the 2004 RMD Stewardship Award and the 2004 National Association of Counties special achievement award.

Sully's heritage interpreters have long told the story of the site's slave community. Using information from primary documents such as Lee family letters have enabled them to tell the story of not just unknown slaves, but to tell the story of Thornton, Ludwell, Eve and others. This has helped to create well-rounded school and public programs that interpret both the Lee family and the enslaved African-American community.

In 1999, after a decade of research and planning, construction began on recreating the slave quarter dwelling house on top of the original archaeological footprint from over 200 years ago. The Sully Foundation, Ltd., created to support special projects at Sully, provided the funding. The 16'x20' cabin was built by Park Authority restoration crew carpenters.

Sully's Site Manager, Carol McDonnell, knew how significant this event was. The addition of the slave quarter would give visitors to Sully a more complete picture of how the slaves lived. Furthermore, slavery interpretation, telling the story of slave life in an accurate and compelling way, was (and is) the focus of much discussion and study by historians and staff at historical sites and museums across the nation.

McDonnell asked the Park Authority video manager about filming the progress of the construction, but at that time, he was leaving his position. Not one to be easily discouraged, McDonnell learned the basics of videotaping and began recording the construction at Sully once a week during the 10-month construction phase. When Mark Garrah came on board as the new video manager, he at once lent his expertise and enthusiasm to McDonnell's project. Garrah visited Sully as much as possible to record programs and tours and then edited down hours of video. With the help of Daphne Hutchinson, manager of Production Services (and editor of Parktakes), McDonnell wrote the narrative for the documentary. She also wrote and received a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, that helped with narration production costs. This involved hiring a professional to do the voice-over and renting special microphone equipment. The funding also helped with copying 100 videos for distribution.

The narrator for the video is historian Robert Watson from Williamsburg, Virginia. Watson was the site manager of the recreated slave quarter at Carter's Grove Plantation and a research consultant for the Sully slave quarter. In addition, slave music, work songs, interviews and historic photographs are also part of the documentary, which involved obtaining usage rights from many different organizations across the south.

The end result is a 41-minute video relaying a specific story of the enslaved community at Sully and their daily living space. By examining archaeological evidence, it provides information on the discovery of where about 30, maybe up to 40 enslaved men, women and children lived and worked over 200 years ago. The video also discusses the reasons for building a representative structure for historians to study and interpret; and for future generations to learn from and participate in public programming. The video is being shown in museums and schools with the hopes of promoting more interest in interpreting slave life. As word spreads, requests for the video have come in from as far as Texas.

This video project is also a way to promote stewardship of the county's heritage within the Park Authority and in the community, and maintain the highest professional standards of preservation and interpretation in African-American history.

If you are interested in presenting Sully Slave Quarter: From the Ground Up at your museum, site or school, please call 703-437-1794. There is a minimal charge for shipping and handling.

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