The enslaved communities that lived and worked on the Bennehan-Cameron lands are among the best documented in the entire South. Drawing from the Cameron Papers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tax lists and other documents, extensive research has been done about these individuals.
There were many skilled craftsmen in the enslaved community. These carpenters and artisans were responsible for the erection of the Horton Grove slave quarters, the Great Barn and all of the other buildings on the plantation except for the Bennehan House.
After the Civil War, many newly freed families left Stagville. Some chose to stay, however, as day laborers or sharecroppers. Sharecropping was the dominant form of labor throughout the South after the Civil War. Many descendants of Bennehan-Cameron enslaved community remain in present day Durham County and the surrounding area.
Few, if any, of the people enslaved at Stagville were directly from the African continent. The majority were American born. Therefore, the survival of African traditions throughout the years at this site is significant. In 1980, a divining stick, a device common to African religion, was found nailed inside the wall of one of the enslaved quarters at Horton Grove. It is likely that this stick was moved from the occupant’s former home and placed in the new house during construction. The stick was intended to call forth good spirits to protect the inhabitants of the house. This religious practice indicates the strong survival of an African tradition. It is important to note that the origins of modern African-American communities were also formed at places like Horton Grove.
||Two divining sticks discovered in the wall of an enslaved dwelling at Stagville might indicate a West African practice of ensuring that the guardian spirit that protected the home would not be forgotten when the family moved into a new dwelling. The divining sticks assured this spirit residence in the new home.|
|Cowry shells, like the one found in the remains of an enslaved dwelling at Stagville, were used in West Africa as money, clothing decoration, hair ornamentation and in religious practices.|
Additional Historical Resources
The following resources are available to those interested in learning more about the live’s of Stagville’s enslaved:
- Anderson, Jean Bradley. Piedmont Plantation. A comprehensive history of the Bennehan-Cameron Plantations. The chapter entitled “Masters of Slaves” offers specific information about some of the more unique slave experiences at Stagville.
- McDaniel, George. Kin and Community. Offers genealogical information on the enslaved and their descendants who lived and worked at Stagville after the Civil War.
- Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. This resources mentions certain enslaved individuals that worked at Stagville.
- Slave Database. Christopher Hughes and Dr. Sydney Nathans of Duke University compiled this resource, which includes information on over 1,200 Bennehan-Cameron slaves. Extensive biographical information is available on some of these individuals.