Kensington Slave/Freedman Dwelling

Kensington Slave/Freedman Dwelling

Richland, South Carolina

Built: 1855

What is its history?

This surviving slave/freedman dwelling is constructed from two slave cabins that were joined together to make a larger home for share croppers who worked the property after the Civil War. The two conjoined cabins are all that remains of the original 40 slave dwellings that once housed the enslaved labor on the Kensington Plantation in 1860. The Kensington Plantation House was built between the years of 1851 to 1853 by Colonel Richard Singleton. Richard Singleton was the brother of Angelica Singleton, who was the daughter-in-law of President Martin Van Buren and was one of the finest Italianate Plantation homes built in SC. It is at this time unknown what families might have lived within these remaining cabins, but we do have a window into the lives that were lived within them. Jacob Stroyer wrote of his life as a slave born on Kensington Plantation titled "My Life in The South". He was able to write this memoir as a freed man following the war after making a life as a minister in Massachusetts.

What are its challenges?

The almost 2,000-acre property that made up the Kensington Plantation was purchased by Union Camp Corporation in 1983 for the purposes of building a paper mill. As a requirement of federal licensing, Union Camp restored the terribly dilapidated 12,000 square foot mansion at the cost of approximately $1,000,000. The slave dwellings, being isolated on the property almost 1 mile from the mansion, were not included in that original restoration.

Though Union Camp allowed the house to be open to the public for tours, following the purchase of Union Camp by International Paper, the mansion fell into disrepair and was closed to any public access. Following a public campaign by local and statewide preservation advocates for IP to intervene in the mansion’s leaking roof, damaged plaster work and the deteriorated slave dwellings, the company stepped up and rehabilitated the mansion. However, corporate management continues to ignore the slave dwellings importance as an integral part of the story of the plantation.  Only after much pressure did the company place a tarp over the structures in 2015 to stop the rain intrusion that had already caused serious damage. No one outside IP has been allowed to visit or inspect the structure in the past two years or to determine where the enslaved persons were buried. The loss of these last two simple 300 square foot wooden slave cabins will do irreparable harm to ensuring the recognition that this magnificent 12,000 square foot mansion was possible only through the labor of over 400 enslaved persons. No photographs are available as of now.

What it represents:

The outdated belief that historic preservation was important only for monumental and architecturally significant structures. We now understand that historic preservation is not about the monumental buildings, but the monumental human stories that makes the buildings important. With that criteria, the buildings that housed the enslaved are as important as those that housed the masters.

 

Since this list was made known to International Paper,  Tom Ryan, Corporate Spokesperson, stated that they have hired a contractor to analyze what work needs to be done on the structure. We appreciate International papers diligence on responding to the need to ensure the cabin can be restored and willingness to ensure its historical context is maintained.