PARK HILL —
In the 1800s, slaves were as common a site on farms and plantations owned by Cherokees as they were on property owned by white people.
Cherokee Chief John Ross owned slaves, and local historic interpreters believe it’s important to tell their story. A new exhibit is on display at the George Murrell Home at Park Hill, and features a number of items created by slaves who lived on the property before the Civil War.
“This is a temporary exhibit, and will be on display through the summer,” said Amanda Pritchett, historical interpreter at the site. “The research was done by Daisy Allen, one of our interns, and she put this case of items together.”
Allen’s research indicated that by 1851, of the 17,000 to 18,000 residents of the Cherokee Nation, 1,844 were slaves, and 64 were freed blacks. Only 400 of the 1,400 mixed-blood families owned slaves.
“The items in this display were part of our collection, and were either made or used by slaves,” said Pritchett. “We had exhibit panels in the past, but I believe this is the first one in which we’ve focused exclusively on slaves.”
Pritchett said slaves are an integral part of the home’s history.
“They are very much a part of the history,” said Pritchett. “These people lived here just like the Cherokees and the white people, but their story hasn’t been told.”
Pritchett said Allen is collaborating with the staff to create a booklet about the slaves that will be available at the home.
“Daisy is doing the outline, and is compiling information for the text,” said Pritchett. “We believe it’s really important, because we’ve never really told their story before.”
The artifacts include an iron pot, a blanket, and a set of tongs, among other things.
“What we’re trying to show is that these people were highly-skilled laborers,” said Pritchett. “They weren’t just servants or housemaids. Many of them were well-known in the community for their abilities.”
According to Allen’s research, Park Hill’s flinty hills did not support the large-scale production of many crops, so instead of working in the fields, many slaves worked the apple orchard, maintained the family garden, and served as blacksmiths.
Pritchett said number of the slaves were artisans in their own right.
“This blanket is my favorite,” said Pritchett. “If you look closely, you can see the tiny, tiny stitches and the handwork. This blanket was made by a master.”
Allen’s research is based on material available at the Murrell Home, along with documents from Northeastern State University’s John Vaughan Library and its Special Collections Department.
Allen, an NSU junior from Hulbert, is working under Pritchett’s supervision.
To read more about Murell and slavery in the Cherokee Nation, visit tahlequahTDP.com.