Background history (Wikipedia):
The Prospect Hill Plantation was a 5,000-acre plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi owned by Isaac Ross, Revolutionary War veteran from South Carolina. He developed it for cotton culture in the antebellum era. Worried about slavery, in 1830 he was a co-founder with other major planters of the Mississippi Colonization Society, a chapter that planned to relocate freed slaves from the state to the new colony in West Africa.
In 1836 Ross died; his will freed those slaves who agreed to relocate to the colony in Africa established by the American Colonization Society, and provided for sale of his plantation to fund their move. His will was contested and litigated by a grandson and heir who occupied the plantation while the court case and appeals were litigated. The will was finally upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1845. That year the mansion had burned down and a girl died in the fire. About a dozen slaves suspected as responsible were lynched.
The plantation was finally sold and approximately 300 slaves were freed and transported by 1848 to what was called Mississippi-in-Africa on the coast of what became Liberia. They and their descendants were among the Americo-Liberian elite that held power into the late 20th century.
In the 1850s Ross’ grandson Isaac Ross Wade reacquired the Prospect Hill property, building a second plantation great house in 1854. Wade/Ross descendants occupied the house until 1956, and it was occupied by others until 1968. This mansion still stands today. In 2011 the plantation and house were acquired by the Archeological Conservancy for preservation of the total property. It is expected to yield artifacts that will contribute to the story of slavery in the United States, as well as to African-American culture and the diaspora.
This weekend, I attended a sleepover at Prospect Hill Plantation in Mississippi. It was similar to a camping trip because of all the essential items one needed for an overnight stay (sleeping bag, flashlight, bug spray, snacks, etc.) But before I go any further please let me give you one main tip that really matters if you ever visit this landmark: DO NOT DRIVE THERE AT NIGHT!
Ok, now let’s continue. I arrived at the plantation 2 hours later than the start time, due to work and traffic getting out of New Orleans. Thank God for my friend and the host archeologist who came to pick me up at a nearby store because I kept getting lost. Being on dark roads by yourself in Mississippi is not a good look for an African-American woman, or any woman for that matter. Upon my arrival, everyone from all walks of life were gathered around a camp fire discussing the history of either their own families connections to slavery, or the history of the land. Everyone welcomed me and was thankful for my safe arrival because I was extremely lost trying to find the place.
Listening to the different stories, eating the bbq food that was delicious and sipping on some wine I packed of course, made me feel inclusive to the conversations happening around me. There were only three African Americans present (I’m included in that count), but to hear how apologetic the white men and women who family lineage included slave owners, were heartwarming. Given that I was two hours late, shortly after we retired to the inside of the house to claim our sleeping spots on the floor. Again, thanks to the wine I had, I slept like a baby on those hard wood floor.
I woke up at about 6:30am Saturday morning and that’s when I really got to see the land. I learned that on this plantation the slaves also lived in the “Big House”, but in the basement. I walked around the land, visited the cemetery and stumbled upon a well that still had water in it. Like most slave dwelling experiences, I begin to cry a bit because I can’t articulate in words how I can thank my African American ancestors for enduring the most difficult pains of bondage in America’s history so that I can enjoy my freedom today. And let’s be honest, I’m a cry baby!
The other guest were either out enjoying coffee and donuts or waking up and packing their things to travel back to their destinations. I was told by my friend that sometimes, you can look in the bricks of the houses and find the slaves fingerprints. I must admit not everyone I told where I was going was receptive. I can’t understand, why some African Americans find it difficult to learn about our history as a culture and sometimes the history of our families no matter how hurtful that history may be. If we don’t continue to pass on our stories whether orally or written, our people for generations to come, will perish due to our stories being erased in time.
Overall, it was a GREAT experience! To learn more about the Slave Dwelling Projects, you can like their page on Facebook.