I Am Not for Sale (But I Used to Be)

Several years ago I visited Charleston SC on a vacation. While there I toured the Aiken-Rhett House, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is now a museum. I love museums and I love old houses, but the Aiken-Rhett House is unique among all the old house museums I’ve ever been to: it retains an outbuilding that once contained slave quarters (discreetly described as “servants’ quarters” in the NRHP nomination form).

I arrived at the house shortly after it opened to visitors for the day, so had it pretty much to myself. I followed the audio tour through the main house, then walked out the back door. Two nearly identical buildings flanked the courtyard—to the left, the stables; to the right, the slaves’ quarters. I went up the stairs to the second floor, above the kitchen. The small rooms, which reminded me of a bargain motel, were where the slaves had once lived. They were mostly bare—I remember a wooden bed frame without a mattress and a simple wooden table—because slaves’ furnishings were not saved as heirlooms and very few have survived the years.

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