2017 Theme: “Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Dorchester”

SAVE the DATE:  October 13-14, 2017

Click Here for ALL Information on this EVENT!  Updated September 2017

The Nanticoke River and the area around Handsell known as the Indiantown has had a rich and diverse history, which includes the stories of American Indians, African American men and women and English Colonists.

In celebration of Dorchester County’s rich African American heritage, the “Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Dorchester” will bring attention to vernacular structures associated with this history including extant vernacular structures that served as dwelling houses, churches or other cultural and utilitarian uses in the lives of African Americans and well as provide an opportunity to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery”.   This project will feature Joseph McGill of the SlaveDwellingProject.org who will stay one night in the Handsell Slave Chamber in Vienna and one night at the Bayly House Slave Cabin in Cambridge and discussions led by Coming to the Table organization.

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance is owner and caretaker of Handsell, a National Register of Historic Places Site on Indiantown Road.  NHPA has planned this event as a demonstration of their commitment to two of their mission statements: (1) “Cultivate and encourage the appreciation of racial and cultural diversity by the public though programming and social interaction”; and “Engage the public by sponsoring historical and cultural living history events”.

The event will begin with a Friday Opening Reception at the Harriet Tubman State Park with a Introductive Presentation by Mr. McGill, followed by a “Candlelight Vigil” at the Bayly Slave Cabin with live vocal performances based on Negro Spirituals.

On Saturday, an living history event at Handsell will feature two presentations and discussions (morning and afternoon)  led by ComingToTheTable.org. The goal of this to unite descendants of Slave owners and enslaved people to “Come to the Table” in unity to discuss their common history.   Other planned activities for Saturday at Handsell will include the “Inalienable Rights” troupe,  African American living history performers representing early African American skills, crafts, military history and food historians.  During the day on Saturday, The Harriet Tubman Organization will escort  tours of Dorchester County African American historic sites, including the HT State Park which will include a stop at Handsell for all the festivities.  The bus tour will help promote Dorchester County Tourism.

In weeks prior to the event, the Dorchester County Historical Society will organize public school tours to both Handsell and the Bayley Cabin and an associated student Art Show is being considered as well.

Members of the

Members of the “Inalienable Rights” troupe of African American interpreters.



The Three Cultures at Handsell:


At the Handsell plantation two cultures lived and worked together in a mutual beneficial relationship for the first 100 years of contact.  Eventually the English encroachment pushed the native people off their lands and their culture would vanish from our memory.  At Handsell we are paying tribute to the Nanticoke people by building the first functional longhouse (native dwelling) replica of it’s kind on the Eastern  Shore in over 200 years.  This permanent outside museum exhibit is being supplemented now by the addition of a native garden and “work shelter”.  Together these structures provide the perfect backdrop of living history events to commemorate the native people.

Living History interpreters join us each year from various native Tribal groups including the Pocomoke Indian Nation, the Nanticoke of Delaware, the Lenni-Lenape of Delaware, the Mid-Atlantic Cherokee Tribe and the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians.  In 2017, we will explore the relationships of 18th century Native people who remained on the Eastern Shore with African American enslaved and freeman.

Groups who are interested in these demonstrations, please contact NHPA at restorehandsell@gmail.com



New evidence is suggesting that Harriet Tubman used the Nanticoke River on AT LEAST one of her journey’s north.  Underground Railroad experts  and historian Pat Lewis joins the Jamboree team this year in the History Tent to lead a discussion on the newest evidence to support the Nanticoke River-Marshy Hope Routes of the UGRR.

Research has shown that in 1870 Census, 16 year old Rachel Jackson was the “House Servant” for the Samuel Thompson family at Handsell.  She would have worked in the basement kitchen area and since there was no other know kitchen at Handsell, Rachel most likely prepared food in that space of the brick house.  The newly restored kitchen and cook fireplace will be the backdrop for the story of Rachel Jackson and her family during the 19th Century.

In addition, the NHPA has produced a 25 minute documentary called “Voices of the Indiantown”, a history of African American sharecroppers in Dorchester County Maryland in the early to mid-20th century.  This is shown at various venues throughout the State and is available for purchase at www.restorehandsell.org

Kat Lindsay and Angela Pinder interpret slave life at Handsell

Kat Lindsay and Angela Pinder interpret slave life at Handsell at the 2013 Jamboree.


The house now standing at Handsell, formerly called the Webb House bears the historic name of Taylor’s original land grant. The dwelling house was a handsome brick structure, two full stories over a raised basement. The house was indicative of those built by someone of wealth in the late 1700s.   It is believed the original house was built by Henry Steele, an English gentleman from Oxford, MD, who was also a business partner of Colonel John Henry, father of Gov. Henry.  Mr. Steel moved to Dorchester County near Vienna when he married Ann Billings, first cousin of Governor John Henry, while still maintaining a partnership with Merchants Ponsonby and Gale of London.  Steeles inherited Handsell in 1768.  In 1763, 1769 and 1770 Henry Steele was a delegate from Dorchester County in the Maryland Assembly and House of Burgesses.  The Steele family is also connected to the Henry, Murray, Buchanan and Lloyd families through several marriages.


Living History actors Carolyn and Monte Hailey perform the role of “Mr and Mrs James Steele” each year at the Nanticoke River Jamboree

The Steele family owned over 8,000 acres in Dorchester County and more than 90 slaves.  In the 1783 Tax Assessment records, Handsell is shown is have had 5 “logged houses”, a description of slave cabins which lends great potential for African American archaeological study on the property.  The NHPA, Inc has already begun researching the African American history through a special Steering Committee made up of descendants of those who once lived here.

The Handsell house we see today is a more modest dwelling than the original house.  There is much evidence that a devastating FIRE occurred at Handsell which caused a partial collapse of the structure.  The house was rebuilt to its present form in 1837 by  owner John Sheehe, who bought the property from the last Steele to own Handsell.  All the interior woodwork dates to this period.  The house is listed on the Historic American Buildings Survey and also on the State and National Register of Historic Places.


Handsell is open for tours during the Jamboree, in the spring yearly for Chicone Village Day and for special group tours by prior arrangement.

For more information Contact: restorehandsell@gmail.com 

Visit:  www.restorehandsell.org

Handsell 2012 Nanticoke River Jamboree


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