Historic Stagville still stands. This 1776, wagon Road turned into a booming plantation by 1860. The Cameron Family was empowered to exert control over more than 30,000 acres of North Carolina land and beyond. The family owned more than a 1,000 enslaved souls by 1865, some records indicate they owned more than 1,900 slaves. Slaves grew wheat, rye, oats, tobacco, corn and more. They were also instrumental in the construction of North Carolina’s railroads. This railroad work was extremely dangerous. Not only were slaves made to deal with explosives, but on sight the water supply was inconsistent. Their railroad labor was rented out for a year at a time so the family separation that is a hallmark of slavery continued at the expense of these enslaved populations over generations. What a sacrifice it took for early America to construct transportation. The level of infrastructure development America has experienced during slavery is unmatched to any other time period in her illustrious history. Lady Liberty has yet to labor like the American chattel slave.
The Great Barn was the last structure built 1860, at the time the largest barn in North Carolina. It is just as impressive today as it was when it was completed. A true testament to the craftsmanship and skill of those enslaved at Stagville Plantation.
Also impressive, the slave quarters remain intact. This area of Historic Stagville is called Horton Grove. The families that lived together room by room formed deeply rooted communities in Horton Grove. Each slave quarter featured four rooms with a whole family living in each room. Those who stayed after emancipation became sharecroppers. They lived in the same slave quarters of previous generations and actively maintained them. Sharecroppers based on Cameron family labor contracts created in April 1865, mandated of the sharecroppers: no visitors, no crop sale negotiations, no gatherings other than church with Cameron family approval.
Paul Cameron lobbied for vagrancy laws to keep the emancipated slaves in a state of perpetual servitude. By 1890, the state of North Carolina was buying plantations to make into prison farms which led to the mass incarceration we deal with to this very day. Our tour guide showed us photos from 1910 where men were transported in cages to work in Pitt County, North Carolina. Bondage never truly ended.
Since 1978, Historic Stagville has been owned by the state. A training ground for historians in 1999, the site opened to the public. One element of this visit that stood out was the fact that our guide Vera continued to relate the past to the present. Specifically, we discussed the poor quality of the land sold to freed Black people. She elaborated that the same issues with that land still impacts the descendants of the freed slaves who purchased it. They are subjected to the same issues in and around Horton Grove surpluses of water, low lying land, waterborne illness, and frequent flooding.
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