Tufts students to participate in Slave Dwelling Project

10/10/14 – Medford/Somerville, MA – The Slave Quarters at the Royall House in Medford on October 10th, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Ten Tufts students will have the opportunity to spend the night at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford as participants in the Slave Dwelling Project tomorrow.

The students, led by Joseph McGill, who founded the project, will spend Friday night sleeping in the slave quarters where they will be able to experience what life was like for slaves in Massachusetts in the 18th century, Co-President and Treasurer of the Royall House Peter Gittleman said.

“Students are going to have the opportunity to go on a flashlight tour of the Royall House,” he said. “They will be able to experience the house like how it was in the 18th century. They will be able to have a conversation with McGill, and he will be able to tell them more on what it was like for the slaves.”

The flashlight tour will give students a feeling of what it might have been like to be the residents or workers in that building, walking through it at night by candlelight, according to Royall House Communications Secretary Gracelaw Simmons.

Elizabeth Ammons, the Harriet H. Fay professor of literature at Tufts, is an active member on the Royall House and Slave Quarters’s Board of Directors and helped to connect Tufts students with the Slave Dwelling Project, she said.

Ammons said she sent emails out to students in a variety of majors and put together a group of students that will be participating in the overnight stay. She also asked and obtained, on behalf of the board, a sponsorship from the Provost that will allow them to bring McGill to speak at Tufts today.

McGill is attempting to sleep in as many former slave dwellings as possible, according to Gittleman.  He has slept in more than 60 so far and hopes to draw attention to help preserve them. The Royall House is the first one he will have slept in located in Massachusetts.

McGill’s experience and passion for the history of slaves drives him in his quest to maintain slave quarters, according to Ammons.

“He knows a lot, he’s experienced a lot, he is deeply committed to preserving slave quarters and bearing witness to the lives of the enslaved people,” Ammons said.

The Royall House and Slave Quarters’ close proximity to campus has helped it connect with the university, Simmons noted.

“Part of the Tufts campus is a part of the property that was owned by the largest slaveholder in Massachusetts in the 18th century,” she said.

The house will also hold its annual benefit event on Saturday, which will then give adults in the community the opportunity to spend the night in the slave dwellings that night, according to Gittleman.

“Our mission is to use the Royall House and Slave Quarters to observe northern slavery,” he said. “People see it as a southern issue. The Royall House had dozens and dozens of people who were slaves right on that property. We are trying to become more visible in the community and share our resources with Medford, Tufts and beyond.”

Simmons said she hopes students will gain a better understanding of what enslavement was really like,  and through the experience, an increased feeling of the value of championing the people that are enslaved.

“I see a beautiful 18th century mansion — I see that it was very beautiful, but I see it was staffed by enslaved people,” she said. “It’s a very different way to see the world, but I think it is a more just way … Rethinking what you see is really what I see [as] the ultimate goal for this project.”

McGill will speak at Tufts today at 6 p.m. in the Crane Room.