A Visit to Quarter Place: Tribute honors enslaved people at Red Hill

Published 3:07 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

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It’s about telling a centuries old story, honoring the lives and legacies of those who came before. People will come to pay tribute to the former enslaved residents of the Quarter Place Friday and Saturday, as Patrick Henry’s Red Hill continues the tradition.

Activities begin at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13 with special guest Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project hosting a free “campfire conversation” and continue from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 with the second annual Tribute to the Quarter Place Community.

Adding to the event is the ribbon cutting and opening of the new “Price of Chains and Slavery” exhibition Saturday.

What is the Quarter Place tribute? 

The event grew out of Red Hill’s 2021 dedication ceremony for Quarter Place that acknowledged and celebrated the lives of all those buried in the cemetery and their families, according to Takisha Fowlkes, director of community engagement and programming at Red Hill-Patrick Henry National Memorial.

“In 2022 Red Hill wanted to continue this, but chose to take a different approach by honoring the life and legacy of the enslaved by inviting descendants and members of the local African American community to take part in this celebration,” Fowlkes said, who is organizing the tribute. “It has since become a family fun-filled loving event where people as far as Washington D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, North Carolina and Georgia has come to partake in the day’s festivities. It’s Red Hill’s mission to continue this celebration each year to celebrate the life and legacy of the Quarter Place Community and their descendants.”

McGill’s campfire conversations kick off the tribute Friday offing the public the opportunity to learn, listen and engage in the telling of stories of enslaved people. A history consultant for Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, he is founder and director of the Slave Dwelling Project.

The project works to provide a “more truthful and inclusive narrative of the history of the nation that honors the contributions of all our people,” according to the Slave Dwelling Project website. 

Bringing attention to history

It also recognizes this is embedded and preserved in the buildings and artifacts of people of African heritage, and hopes to inspire all Americans to acknowledge their ancestors. As part of the effort, McGill focuses attention on their work by sleeping in extant slave dwellings. 

Red Hill will become one of more than 100 historic locations where he has slept.

“He will be sleeping overnight in our historic Coachman’s Cabin and will be participating in the annual Tribute to the Quarter Place Community on Oct. 14,” Fowlkes said. 

The cabin was the home of Harrison and Milly Henry, given to him by William Wirt Henry for his years of labor to the Henry family, according to information provided by Red Hill. 

Harrison was born an enslaved person at Red Hill in the 1790s before Patrick Henry’s death. He served as the coach driver for both Patrick Henry’s son, John Henry, and his grandson, William Wirt Henry. Harrison lived to be more than 100 years old and was emancipated in 1865.

Details about this year’s event

Red Hill’s second Tribute to the Quarter Place Community activities kick off at 11 a.m. that Saturday centered around honoring the life and legacy of the enslaved population of Red Hill and their descendants.

“The public is invited to join Patrick Henry’s Red Hill and members of the local African American community for a tribute to Quarter Place Community to honor the life of the enslaved,” she said, noting event is free.

It will include presentations on the history of Quarter Place, performances by SlamOne Ensemble, guest speakers McGill and the Rev. Joseph Moore, Kuumba dancing, poem reading, ribbon cutting for a new exhibition, the Price of Chains and Slavery, Fowlkes said.

There is an optional buffet lunch for $5 per person that includes fried and baked chicken, cabbage, yams, mac-n-cheese, potato salad, rolls, apple pie, pecan pie, sweet tea, lemonade, water and a coffee station. 

“We ask that anyone planning to attend please register,” she said, noting its easy to reserve tickets at RedHill.org/event/the-slave-dwelling-project.

“This is a family event. There is something for everyone to enjoy that day,” Fowlkes said. “The presentations are geared towards the younger and older audience. Red Hill aims to tell the complete story of life at Red Hill and about the enslaved as we know it. This history is forever unfolding and our mission to deliver truth and accuracy to everyone who visits Red Hill.”

Activities planned include games, face painting, books and a gift shop with lots of goodies for the younger children.

Kuumba Dance Ensemble Inc., a non-profit organization in Lynchburg, brings its performances to the tribute to expose both children and adults to the rich cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora. 

“The performances include singing, audience participation and storytelling of art and history,” she explained.

What is the Quarter Place? 

So what is the Quarter Place Community? That name, Quarter Place, shows up on 19th-century deeds and maps of Red Hill. It describes the group of living quarters of the enslaved and freed African Americans who lived on the property until the mid-20th century.

“One aspect Red Hill is continuing to do is expanding our recognition of the people who lived and worked at Red Hill, but who have been left out of its history, is to restore the African American enslaved cemetery and the Quarter Place Trail,” Fowlkes said. “The cemetery is located in a quiet corner at the end of the Quarter Place Trail.”

The Quarter Place Trail is a half-mile long, ending at the cemetery. She said the terrain slopes at the trailhead, levels off and then steepens as it descends to the cemetery. The one-mile, round-trip walk is of moderate difficulty. 

“Along this trail is a Quarter Place cabin, which is now a new exhibit entitled the “Price of Chains and Slavery,” cabin foundations, tobacco curing barn, and ordering pit,” Fowlkes explained. “The Quarter Place trail was the living quarters of the enslaved, sacred ground, simply telling the story doesn’t compare to the feeling you get when you experience it for yourself.”

She said they are hoping this year’s events will build on the success of the last year’s first tribute that drew more than 150 people.

“We invite you to join Patrick Henry’s Red Hill and members of the African American community for a fun-filled day to celebrate the life and legacy of the enslaved,” Fowlkes said. “Let’s show our appreciation and gratitude to them and their families.”

More about the event

This is a rain or shine event, she said, noting most of the day’s events take place in the Eugene B. Casey Education and Events Center, followed by a walk to the new exhibit and down the Quarter Place Trail. Golf cart attendants will be on the grounds to transport those who have mobility concerns.

Visit the RedHill.org website to reserve free tickets for both Friday’s campfire conversations and Saturday’s second annual Tribute to the Quarter Place Community. The Patrick Henry National Memorial is located at 1250 Red Hill Rd., Brookneal. For more information, call 434-376-2044.

Editor’s note: Jeff Moore wrote this piece for the Charlotte Gazette.