Rebuilding a Former Slave’s House in the Smithsonian

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tags: Smithsonian, slavery



The home Richard Jones built for himself in or around 1875 was two rooms wide and two stories tall. Jones was a former slave, and along with his brother, Erasmus, he founded the freedman settlement known as Jonesville, in Montgomery County, Maryland. As that log house passed from Jones’s descendants to an unrelated buyer and then his offspring, it accumulated additional rooms, wooden siding, and other modern trappings. As late as the 1970s [1], the house was occupied by descendants of early Jonesville residents and still stood at the historical center of the community, which had by then been subsumed by the town of Poolesville.

In 2008, the owners at the time decided to tear down the house to build a new one on the property. A local preservationist alerted the Smithsonian Institution, which quickly moved to acquire the original structure. Paul Gardullo, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture [2], which opens to the public in late September, says that the acquisition filled a historical gap for the museum, whose collection also includes artifacts from the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. The house is a remarkable physical representation of Reconstruction, one that shows both the modest conditions in which former slaves lived and the social aspirations of freedmen. “It’s a two-story home,” Gardullo says. “It was a real way for this family to make a statement of moving up in the world, quite literally.”




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