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Salve students featured in ‘Where They Slept’ documentary on slave dwellings to air on RI-PBS

Rhode Island PBS will premiere the half-hour documentary "Where They Slept: Slave Quarters in Rhode Island" on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.

The program features Dr. Jon Marcoux and three of his students in Salve Regina’s Noreen Stoner Drexel Cultural and Historic Preservation program as they join Joseph McGill, founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, for an overnight stay at Smith's Castle in North Kingstown. 

Rhode Island historian and author Robert Geake is also featured in the program, which records the experience of spending the night in one of the homes of The Narragansett Planters where slaves were housed during the 17th and 18th centuries.

“I think it’s an understatement to say that our visit to Smith’s Castle and our discussions with Mr. McGill and Mr. Geake were transformative,” said Marcoux, assistant professor in Salve’s CHP program. “There is no amount of reading or talking about a slave’s life that can compare with actually going up to the attic where he or she slept and to see the cramped, slanted ceilings and the lack of a fireplace - to leave through the hatched door that opens so easily for us but was likely secured with a heavy lock for them. The students and I are fortunate to be at an institution that promotes social justice as part of its mission. I strongly believe that this experience has inspired all of us to be even more committed to that mission and to respect and promote the dignity of the people whose daily lives we explore as scholars.”

By seeking out and sleeping in extant slave dwellings in the U.S., McGill is raising awareness about the importance not only of preserving the dwellings but also interpreting the lives of enslaved peoples. He has slept in more than 70 places in 16 different states. McGill, who started his project five years ago, is now frequently joined by others on his overnight stays, effectively converting these old slave dwellings into classrooms.

“More people are coming and wanting to experience this with me,” McGill said. “And that’s good because they have networks and they share this information with their friends and that brings even more attention to these places.”

“Where They Slept” was produced and directed by Jamie McGuire, Salve Regina’s coordinator of social media and video production. Students who participated in the overnight stay at Smith’s Castle include Bridget Bolles, Abigail Burke and Grace Snyder, all members of the Class of 2019 at Salve Regina.