Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Slavery & the Enslaved in the USA

The Transatlantic Slave Trade forcibly relocated millions of Africans against their will to the Americas, where they were required to work in plantations, mines and other industries whilst living in inhumane conditions. Enslavement played a significant role in the shaping of the United States. Although the issue of owning Slaves was the root cause of the American Civil War, a century before that, at the time of the American Revolution, slavery was legal in all 13 colonies. There are many plantations and their Slave quarters, as well as other locations where enslaved people worked and lived, open to the public. These sites provide an understanding of the lasting impact of Slavery on American society.

Enslavement Sites in the USA

Bellamy Mansion Museum

Built between 1859 and 1861, the Bellamy Mansion was created as a home for John D. Bellamy, a wealthy doctor and merchant. The architect behind the project was James F. Post, who drew upon Greek Revival, Italianate, and Neoclassical elements in designing the structure. As well as housing the Bellamy family, the mansion was also a place of work and residence for various enslaved African Americans. Their story is highlighted in particular at the brick-built slave quarters, also designed by Post, located outside the main house itself.

Belle Grove Plantation

Located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the Belle Grove Plantation was established by the Hite family, who had arrived in North America from Germany. The plantation house was built in the 1790s; the wider plantation then relied on a workforce of nearly 300 enslaved people. In 1851 the plantation passed from Hite family ownership and in 1864 it was caught up in the Battle of Cedar Creek. The house now forms part of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park, with much of the former plantation still used for agricultural purposes.

Belle Meade

Belle Meade Plantation was established by John Harding in the early 19th century. Here he erected a Federal Style brick plantation house, later replaced with a Greek Revival building by his son William in 1853. As well as laboring on the construction of these houses, enslaved people worked in the fields, with dedicated tours now offered on this aspect of the plantation’s history. The late 19th century saw Belle Meade become known for its involvement in horse breeding. As well as being open as a heritage attraction, Belle Meade Plantation is also active as a winery.

Boone Hall Plantation

The plantation at Boone Hall was established in 1681 by an Englishman, John Boone. In 1743 an avenue of oak trees was planted here that today makes for an impressive sight. The surviving ‘Big House’ dates from 1936, completed in the Colonial Revival style. Boone Hall also devotes attention to its former enslaved residents, preserving several late 18th or early 19th-century brick slave cabins and hosting live presentations exploring the life and culture of the Gullah people, an African American group found in Lowcountry parts of the southern states.

Drayton Hall

Built in the middle of the 18th century, the Palladian-style Drayton Hall was the creation of John Drayton Senior. It passed down the Drayton family for many generations, surviving both the American Revolutionary War and then the Civil War. Today, many of the interior furnishings and artworks reflect the changing fashions and tastes of successive residents of the property. Since the 1970s, the Hall has been open to visitors as a historic attraction. Meanwhile, archaeologists have unearthed more about the enslaved and freed African Americans who resided within the surrounding plantation.

Evergreen Plantation

One of the best-preserved plantations in Louisiana, the Evergreen Plantation still has not only its ‘Big House’ but also an orate privy, stables, a kitchen, and 22 slave cabins. The plantation house was first built in 1790 although transformed into a Greek Revival structure in 1832, subsequently undergoing considerable renovation in the 1940s. Today, Evergreen remains in private ownership and is actively used for the production of sugarcane. Its management takes particular interest in researching the lives of those who lived here, including many of its enslaved residents.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

A giant in African American history, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery but escaped and became one of the most prominent abolitionists of the 19th century. This historic site in Anacostia preserves Cedar Hill, the house where Douglass lived for the last two decades of his life. The house is now decorated as it would when Douglass lived there, with period features and furnishings throughout each room. Access is by guided tour only.

Hamilton Plantation Slave Cabins

On the National Registry of Historic Places since 1988, these cabins were formerly home to enslaved laborers who worked in the cotton fields of Hamilton Plantation, itself established in 1793 by James Hamilton. The cabins were built from tabby, a substance created from lime and crushed oyster shells. Since the 1930s, the cabins have been in the stewardship of the Cassina Garden Club, which has overseen their renovation and utilised them as the club headquarters. Open on select days, the slave cabins are staffed by docents knowledgeable about the site.

Hampton Plantation

Built between 1730 and 1750, this Georgian-style ‘Big House’ was at the centre of a plantation whose wealth stemmed from the cultivation of rice. At its height, over 300 enslaved people lived at Hampton, and today the exposed foundations of the plantation slave dwellings can be seen. Displays also devote attention to the freed African Americans who subsequently lived in the Santee Delta region in the decades after emancipation. Much of the plantation is now given over to pine forest and operates as a state park; the house is open by guided tour.

Harriet Tubman National Historic Site

The ‘Moses of her people’, Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments are explored through this historical park. The park looks at her time as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and those that surrounded her. Her family home and church make up the bulk of this park, as well as a home for elderly former slaves which she founded and spent the last days of her life.

Enslavement Museums in the USA

African American Museum of Iowa

The African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids showcases the heritage of black Americans living in the Hawkeye State. The museum was established in 1994 and opened at its purpose-built premises in 2003, although was heavily damaged in a 2008 flood. Topics covered include the period of enslavement, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Various special events and temporary exhibits take place throughout the year.

National Civil Rights Museum

Housed in the Lorraine Hotel – the building that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in – the National Civil Rights Museum looks at the long struggle for racial equality in America. The museum covers a wide period of history from slave revolts in the 17th century to sit-ins and the black panthers in the 1960s, even connecting to the present day and modern fights against inequality.