The Frasers confront slavery in colonial North Carolina

“If I save him, will they let him live?” I asked him, under my breath.

His eyes flicked from one to another of the men behind me, weighing the possibilities.

“No,” he said softly. His eyes met mine, dark with understanding. His shoulders straightened slightly, and he laid the pistol across his thigh. I could not help him make his choice; he could not help with mine — but he would defend me, whichever choice I made.

Drums of Autumn, Chapter 11

Ulysses
Ulysses is played beautifully by Colin McFarlane. Photo: Starz Entertainment.

In episode 402 of “Outlander” on Starz, Claire is brought face to face with slavery when she and Jamie arrive at River Run. Of course, she knows from her own time that slavery will eventually be abolished. But that is no comfort when she is forced to witness the brutality of slavery in colonial America.

 

In the Carolinas, slave labor was used to grow and harvest crops such as tobacco, rice and tar and pitch (as they did at River Run). By the mid-1750s, there were more than 18,000 slaves in North Carolina. That number would only grow.

If you’re interested in learning more about the lives of those enslaved in North Carolina’s colonial era, I recommend three historic sites, including one with connections to Outlander.

Historic Stagville, Durham, NC

stagville
Photo: Stagville State Historic Site.

This state historic site was one of the largest plantations in North Carolina. Here, the Bennehan-Cameron family (Yes, the Camerons had Scottish roots) owned about 30,000 acres and enslaved approximately 900 people at the plantation. Although the plantation reached its height in the mid-1800s, it began in the 1700s. The property has several original structures, including four enslaved family homes and the 18th century Bennehan family plantation home. Stagville places an emphasis on teaching visitors about the lives of those enslaved on the plantation. In fact, Stagville will host Jonkonnu Lantern Tours on Dec. 8, 2018. Jonkonnu was celebrated by enslaved families at the Stagville plantation, one of the few sites in the country with a documented Jonkonnu tradition.

Somerset PlaceCreswell, NC

somerset
Photo: North Carolina Historic Sites

Located near the coast, Somerset Place was an active plantation from 1785 to 1865. During those 80 years, more than 850 enslaved people lived and worked on the plantation. Today, you can examine several original structures, as well as reconstructed buildings such as the overseer’s house and several enslaved families’ homes. A tour of the plantation will introduce you to the plantation’s owners and the enslaved community. You’ll have the chance to learn about people like Quaminy, who used gourds to make instruments, bowls and dippers, and Becky Drew, who suffered a cruel fate when she attempted an escape to freedom and was recaptured.

Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC

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Old Salem

If you’re an Outlander reader, you know the Frasers visit Salem. (It’s called Old Salem now, but obviously it wasn’t old in the 1700s.) Located just outside downtown Winston-Salem, this living history village recently launched the Hidden Town Project, an initiative that aims to research and preserve the history of the enslaved and free Africans and African-Americans of Salem. Above the Salem Tavern, visit the Room of Meditation and Reflection, where slaves once lived. The room now holds the headstones of two enslaved people of Salem. Be sure to also stop by the reconstructed 1823 African Moravian log church, St. Philips. This congregation, which remains active today, is the only historic Moravian African-American congregation in the country. Although black people were initially buried in the main God’s Acre graveyard alongside white people, Salem later segregated its burial grounds, burying the enslaved in the Strangers’ God’s Acre and the Negro God’s Acre. (Check out my previous blog post about God’s Acre for more information.)

Sources and further reading:

Slavery,” Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

A brief history of slavery in North Carolina,” The North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements project.

Hidden in History: Old Salem’s Hidden Town,” Winston-Salem Monthly.

Every Day, We’re Making History at St. Philips,” St. Philips Moravian Church.

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