Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, travels the country spending the night in historic slave dwellings to bring awareness to their existence, history, and need for preservation. On Friday, September 9, he will spend the night at Historic Huguenot Street in the Bevier-Elting House cellar. Six SUNY New Paltz students and 5 members of the public will be invited to join him for this transformative experience.
This will be Mr. McGill’s second overnight in a historic New York State slave dwelling, following his visit to Long Island last year. “Contrary to the popular belief that slavery was practiced exclusively in the South, Northern states were also dependent on enslaved African labor in the 17th and 18th centuries,” said Josephine Bloodgood, HHS Interim Executive Director. “In fact, slavery was not legally abolished in New York State until 1827.”
A descendant of slaves, Mr. McGill founded the Slave Dwelling Project in 2010, having worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Charleston, SC, seeing the need for preservation of historic slave dwellings first-hand. Since 2010, Mr. McGill has spent the night in dozens of slave dwellings throughout the country, at times even in antebellum wrist shackles.
In recent years, Historic Huguenot Street has made a conscientious effort to interpret Northern slavery. Directly influenced by the story of Ulster County freed slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth by means of her autobiography, tours of Historic Huguenot Street bring visitors into the Bevier-Elting House cellar to explore the reality of slavery in New York.
The Bevier-Elting House on Huguenot Street was first built by Louis Bevier, one of the founders of New Paltz, sometime between 1698 and 1705. It is known that Bevier was a slave owner, as made evident through tax records from the early 1700s, specifically a record from 1709 which states that he was taxed for "1 chimney, 1 stove, 2 slaves.”
On Saturday evening, September 10, Historic Huguenot Street will host a special reception, during which Mr. McGill will discuss the previous night’s experience in the Bevier-Elting House cellar and his mission to preserve historic slave dwellings. “Now that I have the attention of the public by sleeping in extant slave dwellings, it is time to wake up and deliver the message that the people who lived in these structures were not a footnote in American history,” says Mr. McGill.
This event is being organized in collaboration with the Black Studies Department at SUNY New Paltz. More details to follow.
This program is made possible with support from The 1850 House & Tavern.