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Hermitage Slave Quarters

Hermitage Slave Quarters Built in 1850, these two brick buildings were the dwellings of two families who were among 201 enslaved African-Americans working at the nearly 400 acre Hermitage Plantation on the Savannah River in Chatham County just north of Savannah, Georgia. These families supplemented the meager food rations provided by the plantation owner by planting a garden behind the house. They also hunted game and caught fish in the Savannah River.

The plantation, owned by Henry McAlpin, had 52 similar buildings arranged in rectangular formation. Although some rice was grown there, the Hermitage was primarily an industrial plantation with steam-powered saw and planing mills, a rice barrel factory, and Savannah’s largest brick works, which produced more than 60 million bricks. The plantation Hermitage Slave Quarters was known throughout the South for the superior bricks it produced.

Among the African-Americans who operated the plantation, there were steam engineers, coopers, midwives, carpenters, brickmakers, and herbalists. They worked under the "task system"--producing goods for their own use or for sale after finishing their assigned chores. Their skills enabled them to make clothing, fishnets, baskets, and containers for sale and everyday use.

Enslaved African-American craftsmen produced all of the materials used in constructing these buildings. Hermitage Slave Quarters Brickmakers produced the brick, an important industry on the Hermitage Plantation. Wood sawn in the plantation mill became the floor and rafters. Finally, African-American brickmasons and carpenters built the buildings.

On January 1, 1863, slavery was declared illegal in the eleven confederate states when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. However, at the Hermitage Plantation, freedom did not come until December 21, 1864, when Savannah surrendered to General Sherman’s army. Many enslaved African-Americans escaped to freedom in the North or Canada; others fought for freedom during the Civil War. Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in the Constitution in 1865 finally abolished slavery.

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