In honor of Black History Month I am sharing several local historical sites with significant connections to local Black history.
First up is the Boyette Slave House. A lesser-known site, the house is located in rural Kenly, but not far off Hwy 222. I visited recently and took a look around. The site is just the small structure itself (it measures just 16x12x8 feet), a wayside side that provides some basic history of the structure, and a small, partial fence enclosing the building, but the site is very significant in terms of Black history. One of very few remaining slave dwellings, the house is a rare piece of history that could shed light on what life was like for enslaved people in the United States. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is privately owned.
Both the National Register nomination form and the wayside sign provide information about the Boyette family that owned the 400 acre farm that the slave dwelling was a part of, but less about the enslaved people who lived in the home. The names of several of the enslaved people owned by the Boyette family were included in George Boyett’s will, probated in 1852: Silvia, Caroline, Maryan, Alfred and James. These names are included in a footnote in the National Register nomination form.
In 1850 George and his son Larkin collectively owned 8 slaves. In 1860, after George’s death, Larkin and his wife Chloe Bagley owned four slaves. The farm produced corn and sweet potatoes as well as livestock and hay (as of 1850). After the Civil War, in which George’s son Larkin fought for the Confederacy, Larkin diversified his father’s farm and grew a wider variety of crops.
According to the National Register nomination form, the house is estimated to have been built sometime between 1800 and 1852. The National Register nomination, filed in 1979, focuses on the house’s distinctive and rare architectural features–It is one of very few remaining examples of a “fragile and ancient” medieval building style brought to the United States by European colonists. This style features hewn planks joined together with full-dovetail notches and dowels. The chimney is an especially well-preserved example of a stick and mud chimney. This architectural style was common for slave dwellings in the 19th century, when more substantial structures had moved to less flammable materials for chimneys. Many slave dwellings were made of similar materials and in a similar style, but when slavery ended many were demolished or fell into disrepair, making this dwelling unique today.
This home represents a form of slavery–smaller farms worked by the family and less than 10 enslaved people–that many don’t think of when thinking of slavery. As I found while working on the Still Standing Visitor Evaluation Project, most people think of plantation slavery with rows of slave cabins on the outskirts of a large (500-1,000 acres) plantation farming cash crops. But enslaved people lived a variety of experiences. In 1860, there were 331,059 enslaved people in North Carolina, about a third of the state’s total population. Many of these lived and worked on plantations, but others worked on small farms, or doing skilled artisan work or trades, or as house servants in rural and urban areas.
The Boyette Slave House is important as it preserves one way of life for enslaved people in the early to mid 19th century in North Carolina. Slave dwellings provide built evidence of the institution of slavery and can be used to highlight and discuss enslaved people’s lived experiences, their resistance to slavery through forging family and cultural ties despite their lack of freedom, and the myriad of little ways in which they created a life, a home, even as they worked without pay and were held against their will. This small cabin holds so many stories left untold, but is a preserved document of slavery in our community. Enslaved people lived here.
Boyette Slave House is located on Glendale Road in Kenly, North Carolina, off of Hwy 222. The structure is privately owned, but it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It was restored in 1981, with repairs made to the roof and the distinctive mud and stick chimney. Some information about the structure is available on the Johnston County Visitor Bureau’s website.
Have you visited the Boyette Slave House? Locals, did you know it was there?