Teaching through our historic sites

Somerset Place

On-Site Educational Activities

Somerset Place offers a hands-on activity-based learning experience for students to discover how most families, regardless of race or legal status, carried out domestic chores. Students will have a greater understanding of the difficulties of life in the antebellum period and be able to compare it to our lives today. At the end of the visit, each student will take home an item he or she made using the methods employed during the 19th century.

  1. Interactive Orientation Program – Students will explore the plantation's history through the chronological exhibit and interpreter-led inquiry. (Time: 15 minutes).
  2. Guided Tour – Students explore both the experiences of the Collins family and the enslaved community through an interpreter-led tour of the historic and reconstructed buildings. (Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes)
  3. Hands-On Activities: offered March 1 – November 15 (fee - $1.00 per student to defray cost of supplies) (Each student will make one craft per participant per visit as decided upon by the site during the reservation process.) (1 hour)
    • a. Making Gourd Bowls – The gourd is one of Africa's earliest cultivated crops. Africans brought their knowledge of the many uses of gourds with them to America. The gourd became a symbolic compass for runaway slaves traveling north to freedom using the secretive Underground Railroad. The song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" gave those who were escaping directions north. During the antebellum period, gourds were grown, dried and turned into dippers, musical instruments, bowls and storage containers. Their use became a Southern tradition for all cultures during and after the antebellum period.
    • b. Rope Making – Early rope was made in a long area of open ground called a ropewalk. Later on, these ropewalks were covered or set up indoors. Ropewalks could range from 80 to 224 yards in length and were sometimes called rope works. On plantations, rope was used in securing animals, making rope beds (ropes supported the mattress), tying bales of cotton or straw, ringing bells and sending a bucket to the bottom of the well. Students will learn to use a portable ropewalk and make a piece of rope to carry home.
    • c. Hearth Cooking – During the antebellum period, every family prepared meals by cooking over the open hearth, the brick area in front of a large fireplace. Most used the multi-functional fireplaces in their homes or makeshift outside hearths during the hot summer. Hearth cooking requires a wide range of heavy cast iron utensils and cookware and hot coals. Students will grind corn and prepare cornbread over the open hearth while learning about cooking methods of the mid-19th century.
    • d. Candle Dipping - Other than sunlight, oil lamps and candles provided the only source of light during the antebellum period. The availability of light dictated daily activities and bedtimes. Electricity altered forever humankind's dependence upon natural and poor light. Students will make a candle they can take home.
    • e. Broom Sedge Brooms – During the antebellum period, all families – slave and free – made their own brooms to clean their homes and sweep their yards. Yards were swept to keep grass from growing and thus to keep creepy, crawly things from getting near the house. Sedge, a tall grass-like plant with a sturdy stem that grows in marshy areas, can be gathered during the early winter. This was a task set aside for children. The sedge was stored and available to make brooms all year as broom sedge brooms only lasted about two months. Students will make a small broom they can take home.
    • f. Ginning Cotton by Hand and Making a Stuffed Pin Cushion – Until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, seeds were removed from raw cotton by hand before it could be spun into thread or woven into fabric. Students will gin by hand and make a stuffed pin cushion. During this activity, students will see cotton in three forms – inside cotton bowls with seeds, woven into fabric and as thread.
    • g. Basket Making – Baskets were used as portable containers to collect, carry and store items. Useful baskets were lightweight, durable, easy to make and made of readily available materials. During the antebellum period when natural materials were plentiful, all households used baskets for carrying eggs, laundry, fruit and for storage. On rice plantations, such as Somerset, slaves made and used large flat baskets to separate the seed from the chaff of rice and wheat. This process was called fanning. Students will make a small basket to carry home.

Reservations are required for hands-on activities. Programs including activities generally take 2 ½ hours. Programs without the activities generally take 1 ½ hours.


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