|The plantation house|
http://www.stagville.org/ Only open Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Finding this site was a good use of my new GPS. If you don't have a GPS, you're going to want to Mapquest this one because there isn't a lot of signage directing you to the site.
You'll see the plantation house on your drive down the gravel road towards the visitor's center. As our guide pointed out, the house is not as grand as you'd expect for a southern plantation house - it's modest - but it's worth remembering that the better part of this plantation home was built in the late 1700s. The visitor's center houses a few artifacts and a small collection of gifts for purchase. Addy of American Girl fame is well represented here since her character was based on research from this site. Stagville is also a number one spot for African-American genealogical research because the Bennehan family kept very precise records of their slave population, and many of the descendants of those slaves were still living on the property up until the 1950s.
Tours start on the hour at the visitor's center, beginning at 10am when the site opens. Even though you're allowed to tour the grounds on your own, I highly recommend getting the tour because it gets you access to the inside of the plantation house, the slave cabins, and barn.
Usually the tour starts at the plantation house but, to avoid getting in the way of a school group, our tour guide began our tour at the slave cabins. We actually needed to get back into our car and follow the guide to visit the cabins. The cabins are approximately a mile away from the plantation house. There are four, two-story slave cabins lined up on the part of the property known as Horton Grove - this part of the property was named for a pre-existent homestead established prior to the American Revolution, of which the original farmhouse is still visible. The slave cabins are unique in that they have wood floors instead of dirt and the interiors are separated into rooms. Basically, Mr. Bennehan, being more entrepreneur than humanitarian, reasoned that he could get better work out of his slaves if they lived in decent houses. Our guide was nice enough to point out to my children the fingerprints and toe prints of slave children in the bricks that compose the chimney of one of the cabins.
|row of slave cabins|
Next, we saw the barn which was designed and built completely by the slaves of Stagville in the 1850s. It's an impressive structure when you see it from the inside. Our guide pointed out the fact that the slaves' barn design was influenced heavily by their experience of shipbuilding which led to the barn's interior resemblance to an upside down ship.
From the barn, we got back in our car and returned to the plantation house. I suppose by this time my toddler was just done. Either that or he was testing the tour guide to see if she could still make her presentation with his temper tantrum as the soundtrack. I really felt bad for this young woman - she had to keep her train of thought and speak above the incessant crying while watching me suspend my toddler upside down behind my back in an effort to distract him. Thank God it is a small house. Luckily, my preschooler was the quintessence of manners and sophistication, quietly listening to the tour guide and ignoring the shenanigans of her low-brow father and brother.
Behind the house there is a small garden, the foundation of another, smaller slave dwelling, and some modern picnic tables. There is also a Bennehan family cemetery on the property that I did not get to see because I couldn't coax my toddler into giving me one more minute. Leave the stroller at home for this one, it's not going to do you any good inside the house, slave cabins, or barn. There are bathrooms inside the visitor's center and you're going to need them because there isn't a gas station or fast-food joint nearby.
The guide did a really good job of engaging my preschooler in the tour by pointing out things of interest to a child. In the dining room of the house, the guide let my preschooler look at a butter mold. This is probably not the place for a free-roaming toddler like mine, though. There are too many things inside the house that he could damage.
Overall, this is a really interesting site with a lot of history to captivate the adults in your party, but you should realize that if you're bringing toddlers along you're going to have to work hard to keep them out of trouble.