Last Day! Philadelphia & Reflection

Today was our last day of our incredible Colonial American journey! How fitting that our historical stops were such symbolic and monumental ones. I visited the Liberty Bell and then stepped across the street to Independence Hall.

The Liberty Bell used to hang in the Pennsylvania State House (aka Independence Hall) and came to symbolize the liberty for which our country stands. The bell was originally known as the “state house bell” and rang to beckon the many assemblies that took place at the Pennsylvania State House. The state house bell rang to summon the crowds on July 8, 1776 for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The bell continued to symbolize freedom at other crucial moments in our history, such as the anti-slavery movement and the women’s suffrage movement. It was an anti-slavery publication that first dubbed it the Liberty Bell. After the Civil War, the bell took a tour across the country by train for crowds of Americans to see and touch.

Then, I took a tour of the Pennsylvania State House. It was SO EXCITING to be in such a historic room. A very knowledgable park ranger spoke comprehensively about the formation of the two documents signed in that very assembly room: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. I was happy to know a lot of that information already and proud that this information is included in our curriculum (re: the Declaration – unfortunately our year ends before we can get to the Constitution). One tidbit stood out to me in particular. The very chair George Washington sat in during these assemblies remains in that room, and at the top of that wooden chair a sun is engraved. During the years and months leading up to the Constitutional Convention, the union looked to be unraveling. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to amend the Articles of Confederation (current framework of government), and the committee ended up writing a whole new document, the U.S. Constitution, instead. Benjamin Franklin, the Pennsylvania delegate, stated that he “often pondered upon the sun to think if it was rising or setting. I’m happiest to know it’s a rising, not a setting sun.”

In reflection upon this magnificent journey, I could not be more excited to return to Curtis with the knowledge I gained over the past two weeks. I have pages of notes and photos I plan to share with my team, full of takeaways that belong in our classrooms. I will return to school in the fall with a greater awareness of the underrepresented voices in our history that provide an important framework for the Social Studies Depth of Study group I will co-lead with Gina Favre next year. It will take some time to process and decompress, as I saw a lot! I am thrilled to have had this opportunity and could not be more grateful.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please do reach out directly if you would like to speak further about any of the topics explored on my trip.

The liberty bell!

The liberty bell!

The liberty bell!

The liberty bell!

The courtroom in the Pennsylvania State House

The assembly room of the Pennsylvania State House, where the Declaration and the Constitution were both signed


Museum of the American Revolution

On our penultimate day of the trip, I leisurely explored the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. I came upon this museum while researching locations for the trip this spring. It only opened this past April, so I am lucky to have been able to go! The museum is a wonderful addition to the city. It is engaging and interactive and tells the story of the Revolution in the form of a narrative that is easy for any museum-goer to follow. While the museum experience is quite comprehensive and focuses on all the major battles and people, my main takeaways were the lesser-known stories and details, those that add depth and color to the Revolution.

I was particularly interested in learning about the Oneida’s role in the war. The Oneida is one of the Six Iroquois Nations. They stayed neutral during the French and Indian War, but were pressured to take sides during the Revolutionary War. Many other Native American Nations chose to fight with the British, who promised they would preserve their land in the even that they won the war. The Oneida were especially critical during the Battle at Valley Forge. They were later employed by General Washington as spies and scouts that reported information to the Patriots about British military strategy. The Oneida were important allies to the revolutionaries.

On July 9, 1776, just a few days after the Declaration of Independence was signed, General Washington asked the Declaration to be read to his troops in New York. Many took to the streets after the reading, which led to crowds of Patriots knocking down and demolishing a metal statue of King George. Musket balls were made out of the metal as an act of symbolism. Only a few fragments of the statue remain, and those are on display in the museum.

The museum included exciting displays about the events that led up to the Revolution as well. I smelled the same kind of tea that was dumped into the Boston harbor in an act of protest. I saw an enlarged version of Paul Revere’s etching of the Boston Massacre, a critical piece of Patriot propaganda. I felt a piece of the tree that served as a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty. I saw the stamp that was placed on every piece of parchment and taxed during the Stamp Act. It didn’t occur to the British that the colonists would be upset by these taxes. The very concept of Taxation without Representation didn’t occur to them. Boy, were they in for a surprise!

Tomorrow is our last full day of the trip before we fly home early Tuesday morning. We’ll visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Thanks for reading!

The Museum of the American Revolution

As many as six men would sleep in a tent this size

A display in honor of the Oneida and their contribution to the war

An array of weapons used during the war

Philadelphia was the biggest city in the colonies at the time of the war

Edgar Allan Poe & Ben Franklin

This morning we left DC and headed towards Philadelphia. Since the drive was nearly 4 hours, we decided to split the time by stopping in Baltimore. I took the opportunity to pay a visit to Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore house, which has been converted into a small museum in his memory.

I learned interesting information about Poe and his life in Baltimore. He lived in this modest house with his grandmother, aunt and cousins. He got married while living in Baltimore. At the time, the house was surrounded by pastures and farmland. Now, the house is surrounded by apartment buildings. It’s quite hard to find in the sea of buildings, in fact. While living in this house, Poe decided to start writing prose as opposed to poetry, and wrote his short story “Berenice” during this time, which is described as “gruesome.” Poe died in Baltimore a decade later. The circumstances surrounding his death are mysterious to this day. He died in the hospital after being found on the street disoriented and incoherent. We do not cover Poe’s work in fifth grade, but I was happy to learn more about a significant American voice.

After the second leg of our drive, we visited the Benjamin Franklin Museum in the heart of Philadelphia. Franklin is one of my favorite historical figures to teach, and is quite a memorable one for the students! Year after year, students cite Franklin as their favorite historical figure that they learned about in fifth grade. The museum is small, but packed with excellent artifacts and details to represent Franklin’s contributions to American history. He was a model American in many ways. Franklin was a revolutionary and fair politician, an inventor, a scientist, a writer, and a printer. He educated himself by reading every book he could get his hands on. Franklin asked questions and inspired others to think for themselves.

I took this opportunity to deepen my knowledge about Ben Franklin by absorbing facts and details I didn’t yet know about his life and accomplishments.

I knew about Franklin’s relationship with France, but was unaware with his relationship London as it pertained to his connection to the American Revolution. Franklin spent ample time in London as a representative of Pennsylvania’s political and financial interests. London originally saw him as a reluctant revolutionary. Then, Franklin was accused of leaking a letter from the Lt. Governor of Massachusetts that criticized the Boston rebels. He was humiliated in front of the British Privy Council. After that, Franklin reconsidered his positive relationship with London and became a leader in the Revolution and contributed to drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Franklin wrote and printed a pamphlet called Experiments and Observations on Electricity. The pamphlet explained his electrical experiments, including his experiment with lightning as a natural form of electricity. This document made Franklin well known as a scientist.

As a world traveler who traversed the Atlantic 8 times, Franklin studied the ocean and weather patterns in hopes to make traveling and global trade more convenient and quicker. He charted the field of the gulf stream. He envisioned ways to streamline vessels for travel.

Franklin loved chess! “Franklin’s passion for the late night games was checked only by his supply of candles. He believed the skills cultivated in chess would be ‘useful in the course of human life.'” How fascinating, yet not at all surprising.

With only two full days left in our trip, we will spend time visiting Philadelphia’s other historical sites. Thanks for reading!

Edgar Allan Poe’s writing desk

Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore home

Ceramic belonging to Benjamin Franklin and his wife

Benjamin Franklin loved chess!

A pamphlet Franklin printed to demonstrate his belief in higher education as a service to mankind

Franklin investigated the gulf stream

A Glass Armonica of Franklin’s design

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture – WOW!

It’s the hottest ticket in town, and deservedly so. After hearing for months from others that Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was a must-see, I went online to book my tickets. It was April. I was booking for July. It had to have been early enough to secure tickets, right? Wrong. I learned the hard way that tickets book 3-4 months in advance. I could try to log in at 6:30 am the morning of my visit, so I tried that. I’d surely get tickets, right? Wrong. I did log in, right at 6:30, and the website spun and spun. I would have to try my luck at the 1:00 walk-up line. At 12:30, we approached the line and waited for a few minutes. We learned guests with current CPR cards would be admitted with their families, and bingo! My husband miraculously had his CPR card with him, so we were in!

The museum was everything I imagined and more. It was vibrant and engaging. The whole museum, particularly the History floor, was told like a narrative that began in the 1400s with African enslavement and ended with the present day. Specialty exhibits focused on African American achievements/contributions to culture: media, the arts, sports, medicine, American wars. I spent 3+ hours in the museum solo (my husband walked our children around DC), soaking it all in. By the time I left, my mind was reeling. It took me a while to decompress and process everything I saw.

The displays provided a tremendous amount of detail in the form of snippets of history or people’s stories. There is just way too much for me to recount in one blog post, so I will write about some of my take-aways. I particularly enjoyed learning about people I never heard of before who contributed greatly to American history and culture.

The Middle Passage section was heart-wrenching. Many of us were in tears as we read the quotes and information on the wall and saw the images displayed and artifacts, such as shackles and floorboards.

I particularly enjoyed learning about people I never heard of before who contributed greatly to American history and culture. For example, Robert Churchwell was known as the “Jackie Robinson of journalism.” He was one of the first black journalists to work at a white-owned southern newspaper. He covered news in the black community and played a pioneering role in desegregating the mainstream press.

Prince Hall went on to establish African American freemasonry. He fought in battles of Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Yorktown. He began a legacy of African American military service to the United States.

Thousands of African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War. As many as 4,000 – 5,000 fought for the Patriots. General Washington needed to fill his army and promised African Americans freedom if they fought, though that freedom came with restrictions by the time the war was over. More than 20,000 African Americans fought for the British because Lord Dunmore also promised freedom to black men who served in the British army. At the end of the war, many of these men fled to Canada where they also faced racism, or were sold back into enslavement. The museum featured James Armistead, who was a Patriot spy. He gained trust of the British and revealed their secrets to the Patriots. Crispus Attucks was one of seven shot in the Boston Massacre in 1770, and is often considered the first American killed in the Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and The Bill of Rights all hang in the museum. “The founding documents supported slavery. Yet the authors of each document took great pains to avoid the words ‘slave’ or ‘slavery’ unable to reconcile the paradox of enslavement in a land of liberty.”

Of course, the museum devotes significant space to The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights periods. I learned a tremendous amount about each period. I am grateful for the respect and honesty the museum devotes to these brave Americans. There is a theme of activism throughout the museum that is important to highlight.

I apologize for the rambling nature of this blog post, as I have literally scratched the surface of this magnificent museum. Please do go experience it yourself! It is worth a trip to DC alone.

I’ll leave you with two quotes displayed on the walls that stayed with me, both of which I’d like to consider as themes of this whole 2-week trip experience:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or… some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it… History is literally present in all that we do.” – James Baldwin

A picturesque morning in DC!

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

The beautiful Washington Monument!

A statue to commemorate a moment of protest at the 1968 Olympics

A display about enslavement at the time of the Revolution

A list of rebellions by the enslaved

Carlotta Walls LaNier

Mount Vernon

Today was eventful on account of a drastic change in weather! We were surprised by a downpour of rain that lasted for the better part of the day. Our tickets were already purchased for Mount Vernon today, so to Mount Vernon we went. Unfortunately the rain made it challenging to experience the grounds as we originally intended, but we were able to spend some time outside and comb through the museum and educational center in detail.

Mount Vernon is a thoughtful tribute to our first president. The displays humanize Washington, and make him more than a portrait or a chapter in a history book or the face on the dollar bill. One of the exhibits that stood out to me discusses how scientists used forensics to figure out how to depict Washington’s appearance, since we do not have any visual representation of him besides portraits created at the time. There are three different sculptures of Washington in the museum at different ages – 19, 40 and 57. The video below shows a bit of information about this process.

George Washington’s face

The museum also focused on the qualities that made Washington an exceptional leader, such as his ability to lead by example. I learned all about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, which led to a pivotal turning point at the Battle of Trenton. After several months of defeat and surrender, Washington decided to pile his troops into boats and cross the river in the dead of winter in the middle of a blizzard from 11:00 pm until dawn. I was astounded to hear that Washington boarded the boat with his troops. According to the information provided by the museum, Washington inspired his troops because he lead by example. He fought with them on the battlegrounds from beginning to end.

I also learned more about Washington’s stance on slavery. As some others were at this time, Washington was conflicted. He grew up with slaves. Upon his father’s death, Washington inherited slaves at age 11. At one point, Mount Vernon housed over 300 enslaved people. Washington foresaw that slavery would tear the country apart. He knew that it was hypocritical for slavery to exist in a country founded on liberty. African American men fought alongside him in his army in the Revolutionary War. He wrote in his will that he wanted all of his slaves to be freed upon his wife Martha’s death. Instead, she freed the slaves after her husband died. I am conflicted upon learning more about Washington’s stance on slavery. There were several prominent historical figures who owned slaves yet spoke out against it, and it’s hard to get past the contradiction. Historical figures can be both brilliant, and flawed.

Lastly, the museum also featured information about Washington’s spy ring. I didn’t know much about this, so it was fun learning more. Below is a video that the museum also played.

Washington’s Spy Ring

While it was a bummer that we couldn’t spend more time outdoors touring Washington’s Mount Vernon, it was a pleasure to learn more about him. The exhibits piqued my curiosity – I just spent lots of time looking up youtube videos and reading more about General Washington.

And for fellow Hamilton fans, I couldn’t stop playing lyrics in my head throughout my time there, as many of these events are captured in the show: “Here comes the General!”

A new depiction of George Washington based on forensic science

A typical outfit and provisions provided to the enslaved

Ben Franklin’s famous illustration, considered the first political cartoon


Today was all about JAMESTOWN! Our unit about Jamestown is one of my favorites to teach. The students find it fascinating and our mutual excitement makes it all very engaging. Our work focuses on the first few years of settlement, which were treacherous and rife with challenges for the early settlers. If you ask our recent fifth graders, I am confident they would be able to tell you about these challenges: mosquitoes that carried malaria, either bone-chilling or stiflingly hot weather, swampy grounds that bred the mosquitoes and made for bad drinking water and a poor site for farming. They arrived too late to plant crops and with no knowledge of how to utilize the land for farming or fishing. More than half of the 104 passengers on the original boats were English gentlemen who came from English nobility, lacked wilderness and survival skills and did not plan to contribute to the hard labor necessary to start a settlement (build houses, farm, etc). To top it all off, there was a horrible drought that lasted several years.

We discuss the leadership of John Smith, a scrappy, burly man of yeoman stock who had no patience for the English gentlemen. He believed every man should contribute to the growth of the settlement. He knew the importance of a peaceful relationship with the Native Americans, the Powhatan. Unfortunately, shortly after Smith left the colony (which was not intended to be a permanent departure, but he died unexpectedly in an accident), the Starving Time hit the colony. Of the 500 colonists at the start of Winter 1609, only 60 survived by the next spring.

Eventually, Jamestown makes it as a result of a little plant called tobacco.

We arrived at Historic Jamestowne ready to learn more details about the settlement and to walk around the very spot where the first settlers set foot on May 13, 1607. I geeked out, big time!

The most interesting part of our visit was the information about the archaeologists’ findings that tell the story of Jamestown. A whole building of the museum is dedicated to the archaeology with displays that tell all about what can be interpreted from each treasure they uncovered. For example, the scientists can extrapolate that the settlers and the Powhatan spent time together socially because pieces of Native American pottery were found in the Jamestown settlement. They found pieces of military weapons brought to Jamestown by the English gentlemen, as they had experience in the military and were expected to use their own personal weapons to help protect the colony from the Native Americans.

The museum includes a large display about Pocahontas and her role in Jamestown’s history. While many historians retell the story John Smith himself told about how she saved his life when he was almost executed by her father, the Powhatan (chief of the vast Powhatan territory), the museum stated that some critics say Smith made the whole thing up. They claim it was too early in their time in Jamestown for her to have played a role that significant, and he simply wanted the attention. I had never heard that interpretation before, so that was certainly interesting. I learned more about Pocahontas’s life beyond the early years of Jamestown. She married Englishman John Rolfe, was baptized Christian, and traveled to England to promote the colony of Virginia. Her last words, “All must die. ’Tis enough that the child liveth,” were famously interpreted to mean that she hoped her intercultural relationship would live an enduring legacy. Many individuals can trace their lineage to Pocahontas and Rolfe, so her hope came true.

I can confidently say I deepened my knowledge about Jamestown and can’t wait to explore this subject further with my class in the fall!

Tomorrow, we will visit Mt. Vernon. Thanks for reading!

Historic Jamestowne

Walking across the leisurely walkway above the swampy land at Jamestown

A statue to commemorate Pocahontas

A statue to commemorate John Smith

The vast James River

Hangin’ with John Smith

A memorial for Reverend Hunt

Pottery excavated at the Jamestown settlement

A day at Colonial Williamsburg

The town silversmith’s shop[/caption]Today we spent the whole, glorious day at Colonial Williamsburg! The heat and humidity were back at it, making the day even more exciting 🙂 To spend the Fourth of July in Colonial Williamsburg was truly a treat!

My goals for the day were to see as many colonists practicing their trades as possible and to get a sense of everyday life in a colonial city at the dawn of the Revolution. I was happy to learn some new information along the way as well.

I spent the morning hopping from shop to shop, watching colonists in the thick of their work and asking them questions about their trades. I spoke with the town apothecary, silversmith, cabinet maker, blacksmith, printer, tanner and cook. Each was well versed in his/her trade and explained the steps and lifestyle of his/her persona.

Walking the streets of Revolutionary City was validating of the work we do in fifth grade familiarizing the students to everyday life during the colonial era. I was happy to see that many of the details displayed at Williamsburg are already present somewhere in our curriculum – either in our social studies work or through our topical colonial research project.

During my guided tour of the Capitol Building of Williamsburg, I learned more information about the Virginia House of Burgesses and George Mason. Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights. This included five unalienable rights, some of which went on to appear in the Declaration of Independence after Mason proposed his document to Thomas Jefferson. Mason was anti-slavery, though he owned slaves himself. He was the one who originally stated that “all men [are] created equal” in the first article, though he later amended the wording after the other delegates refused to agree, fearing their slaves would be considered their equals. The amended wording would read: “when they enter into a state of society.” This would exclude the enslaved.

I spent time tonight researching more about George Mason and was happy I had the opportunity to learn more detail about him. His was a name I had heard, but now that I have learned more about him, I’ll be sure to discuss his role with my students next spring when we learn about the Declaration of Independence.

Tomorrow, we will travel through Jamestown. Thanks for reading!

The middle of the colonial town, in front of the 18th century oven.

A town apothecary talks about remedies for a number of common ailments

A town silversmith talks at length about her craft.

The town silversmith’s shop

Conditions for the colonists

Today was a travel day. We woke up in our beautiful hotel room in Fayetteville (yay for surprise hotel upgrades!), ate breakfast, and hit the road for Williamsburg, VA. The 4-hour drive was a long one, so we broke it up with a few short stops. We reached Williamsburg by the afternoon, giving us just enough time to get the lay of the land at Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary Village. We will spend more time tomorrow exploring the town and absorbing more details about everyday life in a colonial village at the dawn of the Revolution.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, the weather here is HOT. Not only are the temperatures high, in the high 80s and 90s, but it is humid as well. A Los Angeles native, I am not used to the humidity. When the humidity is 75% and it’s 85 degrees out, you should add those two numbers together to truly capture what it FEELS like outside!

I do have a point, besides painting a picture for you all to give you a true sense of what it feels like in July in the southeast. I can’t help but imagine what these conditions must have felt like for the colonists, especially those who first settled the land in the early 17th century. The Europeans who first touched ground in the Americas wore multiple layers of woolen clothing. Some even wore chainmail suits or armor on top of their clothes as protection from the Native Americans’ arrows. They bathed maybe once or twice in a year. I feel hot and sticky in my shorts and tank top. It’s unbearable to even imagine how the colonists felt in their clothing with this heat and humidity. Not to mention those who experienced horrible droughts, such as the Jamestown and Roanoke colonists. They didn’t have the luxury of stopping for chilled water or a snow cone, either! At Wormslow, I learned that heat stroke was the #2 killer of European settlers during the colonial period.

And then there are the mosquitos. The bugs drove colonists crazy. The bugs drive ME crazy too, so I don’t blame them. I always tend to get bitten and have a handful of bites on my arms and legs. Thankfully I have anti-itch cream and bug spray so it’s manageable. The colonists did not. And to top it all off, the mosquitoes that bit the colonists carried deadly malaria germs that killed many.

As we drove through Virginia, I gazed out the window in awe of the thick forests, rivers, swamps, and abundant land. It’s easy to imagine what this land looked like in 1607 when the Jamestown colonists arrived. They were the first Europeans to settle this area, so they needed to build any homes they wanted to live in. I can imagine how setting foot on that wild, abundant land thick with foliage and wildlife could have felt intimidating to the first settlers, especially given the fact that they did not have any wilderness skills or work ethic. More on Jamestown in a few days when we visit the recreation of the settlement nearby. It’s one of my favorite topics, and the kids always love learning about it too.

Thanks for reading!


The Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg

The Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg

The Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg

Magnolia Plantation, South Carolina

We spent the day at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The grounds were just magnificent. The entrance looked similar to the entrance at Wormsloe Estate in Savannah. The combination of the majestic live oak trees draped with Spanish moss makes you feel like you’ve entered a fantasy world!

Magnolia offers several different tours. We decided to start with the nature train, which focuses on the flora and fauna as well as the wildlife of the plantation. We saw alligators (from a distance!), turtles, giant spiders, and lots of birds. The swampland, rivers, cattails, and ponds were abundant. Our whole family was in awe of the beauty around us. The tour guide told us a story about his encounter with a Carolina panther on that very road. One day he was taking a leisurely stroll on the grounds with his wife and he stumbled upon a panther napping in the middle of that very path!

Next, I took the Slavery to Freedom tour. Like yesterday, I took this tour solo while my husband and children ate snow cones and played in the gardens. This tour provided a comprehensive background of the history of slavery in South Carolina, repeating some details I learned at the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston. It also focused on the history of slavery at the Magnolia Plantation itself. The tour guide, Sarah, did not shy away from the facts about conditions for the enslaved. I learned about how rice became the primary crop at Magnolia and in South Carolina. It’s hard to believe considering the weather has been SO hot on our trip, but Sarah explained that the weather in South Carolina was too cold to properly grow sugar. It took them 20 years of trial and error to find a crop that would grow well there. It was the enslaved that suggested rice because it grew well in Africa. Rice ended up being the cash crop that was widely grown in the area and yielded profit. At one point, 2,000 acres of rice was grown on the plantation.

Rice was incredibly labor intensive. It took another decade or two for Magnolia to develop the infrastructure to grow rice. Rice fields had to be flooded because rice itself grew at the top of the plant. The water allowed the rice to float so it could be picked. However, stagnant water was not a good idea. Stagnant water meant mosquitos (deadly malaria), alligators, snakes, and other critters, and a hot bed for bacteria. As soon as someone cut themselves, that bacteria was in their bloodstream. The mortality rate for the enslaved was astronomical.

The Slavery to Freedom Tour shows four different houses preserved to represent different phases of history: life during the colonial period, the Reconstruction period, the Jim Crow period, and the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It was interesting to hear how the conditions changed over time. For example, after 1808, homes of the enslaved were raised above the ground which meant less disease was caught and spread. Fireplaces were just for warmth. All cooking took place outside.

John Drayton, the owner of Magnolia Plantation and a prominent figure in the Confederacy, invested all his money in the Confederacy. When they lost the Civil War, he lost all his money. At that point, he sold a big portion of his land to a mining company. 500 of the original 2,000 acres remain and are preserved today, open to the public.

I purchased a booklet about the museum to read on our next long car ride. The booklet, which is noticeably dated, features mostly information about the Drayton family and their ties back to English nobility. There is one paragraph on the history of slavery on the plantation, including this sentence: “While little is known of conditions existing in the earliest days, it is documented that during at least the latter years of the slavery era, if one had to be a slave, then life on Magnolia Plantation was relatively enviable.”

This brings me back to the conversation I had yesterday with the museum employee about the acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of the role slavery played in the history of South Carolina and the role South Carolina played in slavery. One one hand, the Slavery to Freedom tour exists and includes the details. It was informative and acknowledged the reality faced by the enslaved. On the other hand, the booklet is still sold and distributed and does not appropriately acknowledge that same history.

The “yes and” mentality applies to history too: Yes Magnolia Plantation is a breathtaking site that holds lots of important history. And the Drayton family owned hundreds of slaves who built the plantation. The Magnolia Plantation is a magnificent place – that needs a new booklet.

Thanks for reading!

The house at Magnolia Plantation

Touring the beautiful gardens at Magnolia Plantation

Touring the beautiful gardens at Magnolia Plantation

Touring the beautiful gardens at Magnolia Plantation

A typical house occupied by the enslaved during the colonial period at the Magnolia Plantation.

A 450-year-old live oak tree in the Magnolia Plantation. What has this tree seen??

A day in Charleston

I spent the morning visiting the Old Slave Mart Museum in the heart of Charleston. I knew the experience would be profound, powerful, and important, so I decided to tour the museum solo. (My husband took our children for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood.) I learned upon entering the museum that photographs were not allowed – bummer – so I put my camera away and took furious notes on the copious displays in the museum. I wanted to absorb as much as I could.

The Old Slave Mart was the site of public slave auctions, originally called Ryan’s Mart. For years, slave auctions were held outdoors. Over time, the open slave auctions became illegal and many Charlestonians felt the open slave trading didn’t fit the image of the “genteel city” they wanted to project so Thomas Ryan opened the indoor slave market on that very spot. Starting in 1786, Northern states started to ban importing enslaved Africans. In 1808 it became a federal crime to import slaves. As a result, slave owners and traders began to buy and sell American born enslaved Africans within the United States. This is known as the domestic slave trade. Charleston was one of the most prominent hubs of both slave trades – in the importing of slaves and in the domestic slave trade. At one point, 40% of enslaved Africans were sold in Charleston.

In addition to providing detailed information about the domestic slave trade and the business of slavery (Who were the buyers? What was an auction like for the enslaved Africans?), the museum focused on the experience of the enslaved Africans. Exhibits explored the treacherous “long march” – where African captives walked hundreds of miles inland to the slave trading ships on Africa’s Atlantic coast. The Middle Passage – the frightening and horrific boat ride across the Atlantic that lasted one-three months – was depicted in a series of images. The exhibits explained the root of slave life as spirituality and family. Some enslaved Africans earned their own money through mastering certain crafts and eventually bought their own freedom.

While it was hard to absorb the details outlined at the museum, it was important for me to do so. I was encouraged by the fact that the way we teach our fifth graders about slavery in the colonial period captures the necessary themes and with the appropriate amount of detail for a fifth grader. There’s no doubt that it is a challenging subject to broach, which is why my continued education about slavery is crucial.

Before I left, I approached one of the museum employees with a wondering. I told her that I recognize that slavery is clearly engrained in Charleston history, and it should be acknowledged that the very site of a prominent slave market is now a museum that faces the atrocities of slavery. I asked if the Charleston and South Carolina residents are aware of the role slavery played in its history, and the role Charleston played in slavery. The employee did not mince words and said she doesn’t think so, unfortunately. She said it’s a process, and hopefully that will happen in time. She presumes that pressure from the tourists might turn the corner, as some of the historical tours in Charleston don’t even mention slavery.

After my morning at the Old Slave Mart, we decided to take one of those historical tours, a horse carriage tour. We learned lots of interesting and fun facts about the history of Charleston. The guide discussed the founding of the South Carolina colony by King Charles’s proprietors. We passed through Rainbow Row – a row of brightly colored Georgian and Merchant style homes. We learned that the famous song “Summertime” was written in Charleston, Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind author) spent time in that neighborhood, and scenes from The Notebook were filmed in the Calhoun Mansion. I listened carefully for mention of slavery, and there was a brief note at the tour’s end. The Charleston City Market, which we also toured, was established as a market that would never allow the sale of humans. However, enslaved Africans were the only people who bought and sold other products there, as errands for their owners.

Charleston is beautiful. The tree-lined streets and brightly colored colonial homes and flowers make every corner visually stunning. We spent the rest of the day simply enjoying the town and snapping dozens of pictures.

It is important for ALL of Charleston’s history to be remembered – the history that is easy to discuss and that which reflects a dark part of American history.

Historic Charleston

Historic Charleston

Historic Charleston

Historic Charleston

Walking the streets of Historic Charleston