Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It's Official: The Slave House is In!
As of this morning around 11:30 a.m. the National Park Service folks voted to officially include the Old Slave House as a part of its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

The NPS committee that decides these things — the program's national director, five regional directors and a representative from the National Register of Historic Places office — voted 6 to 1 in favor of the Old Slave House nomination filed two months ago.

The group held their meeting today to go over the 30 or so applications in an upstairs room of one of the barracks at Fort McHenry National Historic Site and Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland. Because of the distance involved relatively few nominations had a representative present.

When I arrived they were reviewing an application from Indiana, having skipped over the Old Slave House in the Illinois nominations knowing that I was on my way. They backed up and gave me five minutes to make my presentation. I took six. Then the questions began.

The most serious question came from the woman I think eventually voted no, and that dealt with whether this site, which is a "Reverse" Underground Railroad station, actually could be tied into the real Underground Railroad. It can't, but the law allowed for such sites to be nominated. She represented the side that supports a strict interpretation of what the Underground Railroad should be and had some pointed questions concerning other sites reviewed later in the afternoon that were along that same vein.

In terms of the history itself one of the key questions dealt with whether we knew for certain that John Crenshaw and John Granger were one and the same persons, since some of the early kidnapping references used the name Granger.

I answered yes, noting that researchers had known since the late 1890s that Crenshaw was one of those old Virginia names pronounced one way and spelled another. Even though we did not realize this at first, we eventually found evidence of the Granger/Crenshaw spelling varieties in John Crenshaw's own family in Gallatin County. Between the 1818 and the 1820 censuses the various households of Crenshaw, his mother and his brother show up under the Granger, Granshaw, Cranshaw and finally Crenshaw spellings. There are also other examples as well.

I was also asked about whether the upstairs pens on the third floor were original. I told them as far as I could tell they were, both from the references in the various letters that we have as well as the presence of the detailed plaster work that once existed in that hallway and on the back sides of the walls in the attic.

In terms of direct connections with the kidnappings I pointed out that a known kidnapper, Crenshaw, built the house, and that a known kidnapped victim, Maria Adams, presumably worked there as she was Crenshaw's indentured servant.

As to the third floor, I noted that the earliest stories in print and letters concerning that floor don't quibble about the presence of people of color there. Some suggested they were for Crenshaw's servants or salt workers. Others suggested it was a station on the real Underground Railroad, and the third camp thought it was a kidnapping station, which was also what the earliest account in print stated.

As I said to them, "it wasn't a question that they were up there, it was just a question as to which way they were going."

I also pointed out that since the state's researcher came out with his report three years ago, our research continued and that we had found other stories from various branches of Crenshaw's family that indicate the presence of captive slaves, or of some type of fugitives upstairs.

In addition, we found a letter in the possession of one of Crenshaw's great-great-grandchildren from 1936 that included information from a woman who lived in the house from 1851 to 1853. That letter references "queer noises" coming from the third floor that local residents had been hearing prior to her family moving inside. That woman claimed that she and her family had heard the noises as well. I pointed out that 1851 was also the high point for kidnappings in Gallatin County according to the 1887 history.

Just in case some critics think the National Park Service was going easy on us, the committee ended up turning down about half of the applications for one reason or another. I felt bad about the 6-1 vote until I started seeing what they did to the other sites.

They were fair, professional, but if you didn't make the grade, you didn't make the cut.

Although they had previously approved a site of a kidnapping, this is the first time they have approved a kidnapping station like the Old Slave House. It also means that we now have official recognition for this aspect of the site's story.

One of the committee members brought up "Uncle Bob" and the slave breeding and I noted that he was not a part of this nomination as his story didn't deal with the Underground Railroad. Likewise, Lincoln's visit was not mentioned as it wasn't included for the same reason. Both stories are valid though and are based on multiple sources, though Bob is the originator of almost all the stories about him.