Somerset Place hosts family reunion and slave dwelling project

Published 2:17 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

CRESWELL — The Dickerson-Wood Family is returning to its roots for a family reunion in North Carolina Saturday, Aug. 3. They will come from the southeast and as far away as California, back to the place where their ancestors were enslaved on one of the largest plantations in the Upper South.

Somerset Place State Historic Site was that plantation and will celebrate this homecoming with a public program, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., that includes stories, games, artists, educational hands-on activities and tours. The private, evening Slave Dwelling Project includes an overnight stay for the family. The Slave Dwelling Project seeks to raise resources to preserve and interpret extant slave dwellings. The daytime program costs $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 12 and under.

“We welcome the community to join the family and staff in honoring the enslaved men and women who labored on this land, but who treasured family bonds,” said Site Manager Karen Hayes. “We celebrate the strength of families and the joy of being free and empowered to choose this place for a reunion.”

It started in June 1786, when 80 Africans arrived from West Africa to Somerset Place to clear land, drain the swamp, and dig canals. Among them were Kofi and Sally, who became lifelong partners and raised four daughters and a son on the plantation. Daughters Hannah, Betty, Murriah and Neisa, and son Kofi, Jr., were born between 1789 and 1807. They all would live and die enslaved. But this year, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Murriah, Wilhelmenia (Mina) Wilson of El Cerrito, Calif., is coordinating the Dickerson-Wood Family Reunion. They will return to where it all began.

“Our dear mother, Lucy Wood Wilson, passed in 2016. At that time, we realized that the mantle of leadership had passed down to our generation,” Mina explained. “As we received it, we also understood that staying connected to the legacy of our heritage was foundational not only for us, but also for future generations. Through this homecoming, we are creating that bridge of self-knowledge and connection for us, our children and hopefully their children.”

The family last gathered at Somerset for the wedding of Mina’s brother and Kofi and Sally’s four-times great grandson, Charles Lorenzo Wilson to Leslie Renée Bell in August 2003. The first Somerset Homecoming, held in August 1986, brought together more than 2,000 descendants of the masters and of the enslaved and who once called Somerset Plantation home. Five others were held, the last one in 2001.

Today the site consists of 31 acres, the original Collins family home, two representative slave cabins and a representative slave hospital, representative overseer’s house, and other original buildings. Somerset Place became a state historic site in 1969 and will have 50th anniversary celebrations this fall.

Somerset Place is a representative state historic site offering a comprehensive and realistic view of 19th-century life on a large North Carolina plantation. Originally, the plantation included more than 100,000 densely wooded acres. Over the life of the plantation, more than 50 white employees and more than 850 enslaved workers lived at Somerset.

For additional information or to rent a space, please call (252) 797-4560. Somerset Place is located at 2572 Lake Shore Rd., Creswell. It is administered by the Division of State Historic Sites in the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.