Dr. Duane Sanders, River Program Coordinator, Biology Instructor
Students from St. Margaret’s School Outdoor Adventure program spent three afternoons in May kayaking on Cat Point Creek at the Menokin Plantation. Students learned about wildlife supported by this ecosystem and how the system can change over time. They also relaxed and had some fun!
How sad is it that the crew can build an entire structure faster than I can blog about it and post pictures? Very sad.
DAY 3 – Wednesday
The day was made more interesting by the arrival of two groups of horticulture and carpentry students from the Northern Neck Technical Center. Most of the students had never been to Menokin before. I was so pleased to hear many of them say that they “sure didn’t expect it to be like this!”
In case you didn’t know, May is Preservation Month. The “This Place Matters” campaign was started by the National Trust for Historic Preservation many years ago to bring attention to the importance of historic buildings to local communities as well as visitors and enthusiasts.
DAY 4 – Thursday
Raise the Roof takes on a whole new meaning when you see it happening. All the chiseling, measuring, staging and peg making were put to the test with the assembly of the structural timbers and the crown of roof rafters. The beautiful bones of the building are a perfect addition to this vast, cultural landscape.
May is Preservation Month!
Mathilde and Leslie are happy to be at the workshop!
This structure will be 15ft x 25ft. The enclosed wall surfaces will be transparent and developed in the future for educational interpretation. Participants are spending the week learning wood working and joinery techniques that were used in the 18th century.
Based on information derived from archaeological excavations, we will be recreating the framework of a dwelling that would have been lived in by Menokin’s field slaves.
DAY ONE: The Work Begins
A view of the slave quarters site from the Visitor’s Center.
Craig Jacobs, proprietor of Salvagewrights Ltd. is leading the workshop.
In the interest of time, large cuts are started with the use of power tools.
The detailed joinery work is done by hand.
Hammers and chisels are used to gouge out the fittings.
Measure twice. Cut once.
Tools of the trade
Lots of lumber. Smells wonderful at the work site.
MAKE SOMETHING WITH YOUR MIND
THE MENOKIN GHOST STRUCTURE serves as a physical metaphor to foster discourse and assist people in forming and participating in conversations about slavery as it relates to the Menokin site, the history of America and current events.
MEMORIA is a Latin term, and can be translated as “memory.” Memoria was the discipline of recalling the arguments of a discourse in classical rhetoric. Creating outline structures of the major arguments of a discourse would also aid memory.
KAIROS dictates that what is said must be said at the right time. In addition to timeliness, kairos considers appropriateness. The term also implies being knowledgeable of and involved in the environment where the situation is taking place in order to benefit fully from seizing the opportune moment.
True to our unique vision, we are not creating a reproduction of a slave dwelling, but instead a constructed form that will generate dialog about our past, with the flexibility to garner new knowledge, awareness and understanding. Once completed, this structure will be used as an educational classroom, and will serve as the centerpiece in telling the African American story – both past and present – in Richmond County, Virginia and beyond.
Thank you to everyone who has touched, or been touched by, Menokin in some way in 2017. We have had a remarkable year of growth and planning. Our programs are reaching more people than ever and we experienced a record number of visitors.
Now, during this season of celebration, it’s important to pause for quiet and mindfulness. Take a different path. Appreciate the timeless workings of nature transitioning to another season.
We offer you the gift of Menokin. It’s all here waiting for you. The road less traveled by.
This month, students from Essex Intermediate visited Menokin to learn why cultural institutions like ours are part of the Rappahannock River Valley Watershed. This is more than a STEM program, and a state initiative to give every 6th grader a MWEE, “meaningful watershed educational experience” it’s STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, (or Architecture as we like to say) and Math. And at Menokin, we demonstrate these important ways of learning every day.
Students get to visit the site and have a real water experience in a canoe on Cat Point Creek; walk the trails and learn about this special habitat; take a Hard Hat Tour and learn about the cultural history of this property, and it’s relationship to where they live.
Why is Menokin involved in a program about watersheds? Because our site has a history that goes back thousands of years. Did you know that, while our continents were forming, and waterways and mountains being created, that Menokin was always on high ground? People have lived here for a long time because of its rich natural resources, that have always made it a desirable place to live.
Our house is a couple of hundred years old, yet the high-ground of our landscape is thousands of years old and inhabited my many for thousands of years before English settlers ever arrived. Our house may be the largest artifact we have of recent cultures, but our ground is deeply embedded with the cultures of many before Captain John Smith ever arrived. Yet, he carried on the identity and heritage of the Rappahannock Tribe, by using their word for this special place, Menokin, which we still call it today, in the 21st century .
Menokin, a 500 acre classroom connecting the past to the present. Come visit for yourself, connect with your world, and be inspired.
Last weekend, 23-24 September 2017, I had the fortune to partake in the Menokin Sleepover Conference from the unique perspective of a Menokin Trustee, as well as from the various perspectives of a descendant of Virginia Northern Neck African American slaves, free African Americans, and White slaveholders.
Featuring facilitators Frank Vagnone (One Night Stand) and
Joseph McGill (The Slave Dwelling Project) in their first joint project, the Conference fostered an incredible amount of dialogue and reflection about Menokin, the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe Lee of Mount Airy Plantation.
After an authentic mid-19th century open-fire meal, Vagnone and McGill facilitated a lantern-lit discussion among the Conference participants about Menokin’s historic inhabitants; its current stewards; its mission, its intrepid melding of colonial architecture and modern glass structural building techniques; and its potential role as a catalyst of racial understanding, reconciliation, and unification.
Following the riveting discussion, several participants and I emulated Vagnone and McGill by pitching tents amidst the Menokin House ruins or in the nearby sward where the former Menokin slave dwellings once stood. At first, my immediate impression was that I was just experiencing a familiar camping-out experience under a clear star-spangled sky, not unlike those of past scouting trips, school outdoor adventures, Army bivouacs, or family mountain getaways.
As I gazed at the twinkling constellations and reacquainted myself with camping accoutrements, it suddenly dawned on me that this was not an ordinary camping experience at all. Rather, the purpose was to contemplate what it would have been like to be an inhabitant or visitor in a Menokin slave dwelling or in the Menokin House.
Accordingly, via a time and memory conduit constructed by interlacing the “rings” of my family tree with www.ancestry.com DNA dendochronology, I traveled back in time to 1792 — the penultimate year of the second term of Northern Neck son President George Washington – and I began to imagine what several of my Northern Neck ancestors might have been doing then at Menokin.
First, I conjured up the image of my 4th great-grandfather John Newman, who was born a slave in 1770 at Nomini Hall in neighboring Westmoreland County and freed in 1791 by Robert Carter III (1727-1804) as part of the latter’s manumission of more than 500 of his slaves. There are references in peripatetic tutor Philip Vickers Fithian’s Diary about Robert Carter III and his visits to Menokin.
Still savoring his newly acquired freedom, my ancestor John Newman may very well have spent many nights visiting friends and relatives in the Menokin slave dwellings, an example of how many ante-bellum African American families — similar to today’s mixed status immigrant families — had members of mixed free and slave status.
Second, I thought of my fifth great-uncle Moses Liverpool, who was born in 1773 as a slave of Lt. Col. William Fauntleroy (1716 – 1793) on his “Old Plantation” in Naylors Creek, a short paddle ride up the Rappahannock River from Menokin, which is located along the shoreline of Cat Point Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River.
Because Moses was described by the Fauntleroy family as “… a very smart, smiling fellow, who is a good cooper, a house carpenter, and ‘a little acquainted’ with the ships’ carpenter business,” I imagined Moses might have spent a few night in the Menokin slave dwellings, perhaps having been hired out to Francis Lightfoot Lee to create or repair Menokin House’s interior woodwork or, alternatively, to build or repair the ships, casks, barrels, and hogsheads used to transport commodities produced at Menokin.
Third, I contemplated how my White slave-holding ancestor Henry Lee III (1756-1818) — my 2nd cousin, 8x removed and known as
“Lighthorse Harry” because of his daring in the Revolutionary War — might have spent an evening with his cousin Francis Lightfoot Lee. Henry III’s great-grandfather, Henry Lee I, was a brother of Governor Thomas Lee (1690-1750), the builder of Stratford Hall in neighboring Westmoreland County, Virginia, and Governor Thomas Lee was the father of Francis Lightfoot Lee of Menokin. Henry Lee III married his distant cousin Matilda, granddaughter of Governor Thomas Lee, niece to Francis Lightfoot Lee, and heiress to Stratford Hall.
On the canvas of my mind, I painted a picture of Henry Lee III dining at Menokin in 1792 with his cousin Francis Lightfoot Lee and Francis’ brother Arthur Lee (1740-1792), a physician and opponent of slavery in Virginia, who served as an American diplomat during the American Revolutionary War. I considered that, among other topics, these cousins may have debated slavery and the tension and cognitive dissonance between the institution of slavery and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, which expresses:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Taken together, the fervent and introspective discussions of the Menokin Sleepover Conference participants, my own musings concerning how some of my racially diverse ancestors may have inter-related with Menokin, and the social, political, and economic issues revolving around it, Menokin occupies a singularly unique position.
Menokin can not only be the focal point and catalyst for preserving and rebuilding a national historic landmark, but also be the focal point, catalyst, and host of future conferences – a la the Aspen Institute — to foster discussions that can promote understanding and reconciliation to dissipate the long shadow of slavery by actualizing the shining ideals of the Declaration of Independence signed by Francis Lightfoot Lee and 55 other American patriots.
Last week, the 6th grade class of Westmoreland County Middle School visited Menokin as part of the TOTS (Think Outside The Sink) program. TOTS is one of several programs that make up the Meaningful Watershed Experience Program that is a joint venture between several natural resource conservation projects in the Northern Neck.
The class divided itself along the gender line, so while the boys started over at the house, the girls took place in an interactive math and graphing experiment design to measure the volume of water in a riverbed.
This involved….MATH. And…..SCIENCE. And……CRITICAL THINKING. And, to be fair, a good amount of GIGGLING (these were 6th grade girls, remember).
The exercise worked like this. The girls formed two rows (representing flowing water sources) that converged at a few points and eventually narrowed into one end point. The flowing water was made up of dried beans, which were passed from person to person, heading downstream at a quick pace. The people at the convergence points had the toughest job – receiving beans from two directions and then trying to get them on their way downstream at the same time. Naturally, a lot of beans got dropped at these points, which represented the tendency of water to overflow or flood at these points when the volume is greater than the channel.
What thrilled me beyond all measure was that they were ALL participating. No one was hanging back. No one whining about being bad at math or science.
I wished out load that the beans were magic and would grow a beanstalk so we could steal the golden goose and fund our building project. This daydream led to the naming of their project as The Menokin Magic Bean Stream.
The beans that made it all the way downstream were counted and subtracted from the original starting number. This information was calculated by season and other variables. That data was then plotted on a bar graph to visually represent the information gathered.
I was so thrilled to watch our STEAM program at work and targeting the demographic of students that is traditionally left behind in this kind of study. I would like to thank these girls and their mentors and teachers for taking advantage of our education programs at Menokin, and for making my day!
Find out more about our education programs and initiatives on our website.