‘Slave Cabin’ Inhabitants Visit African-American Museum for First Time

Edisto Island residents visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time on April 10. (Courtesy of NMAAHC)
Edisto Island residents visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time on April 10. (Courtesy of NMAAHC)

Isabell Meggett Lucas, 86, and Emily Hutchinson Meggett, 84, two matriarchs of the Meggett family of South Carolina, are among 25 Edisto Island residents who visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. for the first time on April 10.

Lucas was born in the Edisto Island cabin, which is prominently featured in the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition at the museum. Her sister-in-law, Meggett, grew up in a family-owned house nearby. The cabin is prominently displayed in the history galleries of the museum where it helps tell the story of slavery and freedom in the 19th century.

“It was so exciting, so exciting,” Lucas said. “I never thought I’d see a house that I lived in be in a museum … not in my lifetime. People can look at that house and the pictures around it and know that everything didn’t come easy back then.”

Meggett recalled a sense of closeness living among a row of cabins.

“All of us living in there [in the Meggett family row of cabins], we were all together — like family,” Meggett said. “We played together, ate together; the kids, we would fight together, learn together. … We never talked about slavery. We never talked about being poor. And we never went to bed hungry.”

The two-room Edisto wood cabin dates to the 1850s, and members of the Meggett family inhabited the cabin from about 1910 until as recently as the 1980s.

Meggett is the wife of the late Jessie Meggett, who grew up in the former slave cabin in South Carolina.

Several generations of the Meggett family joined the 87-year-old to view the cabin exhibit for the first time.

The emotional experience was captured by the Smithsonian oral-history project; the filmed interviews will be preserved as a part of the living history of the cabin.

“We are delighted to host the Meggett family at the museum,” said Nancy Bercaw, co-curator of the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition. “This is a milestone in the life of the museum—being able to truly humanize an object on display; this cabin is more than a cabin; it is a home. While the current exhibition features the cabin as it was used during the period of slavery and emancipation, we see the cabin as a living object that holds hundreds of truly moving stories about the people who lived in it from 1853 to 1981. Having this cabin on view is a powerful way for museum visitors to learn about the Meggetts and other families who lived on Edisto in the 20th century.”

The Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society donated the cabin to the Smithsonian after originally receiving it from the Burnet Maybank family, which owned the Point of Pines Plantation where the cabin was built and used to house people who worked the fields.

While the exact age of the cabin remains unknown, records show that in 1853, it stood on the site of the plantation from where it was dismantled.

The Smithsonian acquired the cabin in 2013 and dismantled it, plank by plank, before reassembling it in the museum. To date, the Edisto Island Slave Cabin exhibit has been one of the most popular exhibits for visitors of the museum.