Modified for residential use in the 20th century and restored in the late 2000s, the three extant tabbies on Ossabaw Island represent the most significant surviving cluster of slave dwellings on the Georgia coast. They were part of the Morel family’s North End Plantation, which was among the most successful such operations in early Georgia. Though exact construction dates for the tabby row can’t be determined, extensive archaeological research has determined they were built between circa 1820-1840s. Various Ossabaw employees lived in these structures into the early 1990s and they were modified to accommodate modern needs. Nearly all traces of those modifications have been removed and restoration work has been done.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 1 -Like the other two cabins, this was originally a saddlebag though the central chimney has been removed.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 2 – This cabin retains its central chimney.
Tabby Slave Cabin No. 3- This cabin has been stabilized and will eventually be restored. Past modifications are still visible.
National Register of Historic Places
I was recently contacted by some friends in McIntosh County about the opportunity to photograph a slave cabin on their property. Of course, this immediately piqued my interest and when I learned it was of wooden construction, I was even more intrigued. Most slave dwellings on the coast are of tabby construction and nearly all are documented, so to have the opportunity to see an undocumented wooden example was extraordinary. The owners have shared its history, which I will update soon. The property is not publicly accessible.
The structure has been preserved by a couple of families for at least 150 years and likely housed black domestics well into the late-19th/early-20th centuries. It’s presently in vulnerable condition, but the owners have expressed an interest in having it properly restored to historical specifications.
Since stories of slave cabins are nearly as abundant as those relating “Sherman’s troops slept in Granddaddy’s barn” and “George Washington slept here”, it’s important to “read” the structure to validate its age and history. There were myriad variations as to style in slave dwellings, so that alone can’t be used to confirm such a structure’s use. Most were very simple single- or double-pen cabins. Some were saddlebags, with a chimney in the middle, while others had the chimney located on one side (as in this example). Nails are a good way to make general assumptions as to age, and this one features Type B cut nails, which were in common use between the 1810s and 1900. The lack of glass windows is also a good indicator, though not definitive. It’s also worth noting that an architectural historian has made sight inspections of the structure and preliminarily believes it to be a slave dwelling.