Historic Charleston Foundation unearths history of enslaved Africans

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD)- The Historic Charleston Foundation is expanding the history of the Nathaniel Russell House to include a more complete look at the enslaved Africans who lived and worked there.

The Foundation is turning their focus to excavating what was once used as a living space for 18 to 24 enslaved Africans when Nathaniel Russell, his wife, and their two daughters lived in the home.

Since it’s construction in 1808, the house served many different functions, eventually becoming a restored house museum for the Foundation, with the slave quarters being turned into office space.

Winslow Hastie, the president and CEO of the Foundation, says the 1990s were used to restore the front of the home in a systematic fashion to its former glory, finding pieces that would have graced similar homes in the same period.

Now, he says, they will uncover the hidden history of the slave quarters, peeling away the remnants of later lives to explore how these people lived.

"This is an incredible opportunity for us to tell the full history of this site. The history of not only the white merchant who built this house and his family who lived here, but also to tell the story of the enslaved people who lived and worked here and how they interacted and how this property functioned in the early 19th century. It is an incredible opportunity really learning from the actual fabric that’s embedded in these walls." Hastie says.

So far, a team from the Foundation and Colonial Williamsburg have found fabrics, button, bone-handle utensils, and fragments of newspapers, which would have been forbidden as enslaved Africans were not allowed to read. Those fragments can be dated to give a better sense of their story.

Hastie said the restoration of the home is ongoing. The Nathaniel Russell house is open to guests 7 days a week and is located at 51 Meeting Street.

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