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Historians disagree about building being an old slave cabin in St. Augustine

8:29 PM, Feb 27, 2013   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- "We thought it was just a garage," Walter White said about the small coquina building by his home in Lincolnville.

"We use it as a garage, storage for tools," Jabari White explained. He's Walter's nephew.  

It's a small structure, the size of a detached garage. It sits on the side of the White's family home at 94 South Street in St. Augustine. It was there when they moved there in 1964.

It wasn't until the 1990s that the White family heard what the long timers in the neighborhood always said it was: the last slave cabin in St. Augustine.

When Walter White was little, he found something in building.

"It was like a chain and two round things on each end, but at ten years old, I didn't know anything about tools and equipment," White said.

"They found them in the corner. They just said, 'I don't know what they are. They're taking up space. We need the space,' so they got rid of them," Jabari White said.

Years later, Walter White heard the building was a slave cabin.

"When they told me what [the building] was, I thought, 'that's what those things were hanging! They were shackles!" he said.

Walter remembers: "It was always strange that no one liked being back there."

"If there are spirits that linger around here, I don't think they're evil," Jabari said.

"I never felt comfortable being in there," Walter White continued, "especially when you closed the doors!"

Most of the building is made of coquina, an old building material.

The building dates back to the 1820's or 1830's.

Historian David Nolan said, "It was part of a plantation here called Buena Esperanza which means good hope."

Nolan noted that the back of the building is now made of early 20th century concrete block.

He believes it was indeed a slave cabin because an old plantation sketch shows only one structure. He also said the building is similar to other slave cabins of that time period, like those at Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville.

Nolan even worked to put a plaque by the building, informing passers-by about its history.

However, not everyone believes it is an old slave cabin.

In the mid 1990s, a historic research and archeology team with the state of Florida came here to study the site.

Dr. Susan Parker was part of that research team.

"It was my job to look through whatever documents were available," she explained.

Parker doubts it was a slave cabin.

"I can't say that it is or it isn't," she said, "There was no documentary evidence to support it."

She and her colleagues say coquina was an expensive material to use for slave quarters. She also notes there's only one building when she said there are usually several slave cabins together.

Plus, she said there were literal holes in her research.

"Unfortunately right where the slave cabin would've been, if it had been on the survey, there was a hole in the paper," Parker explained.

What does the White family think about the disagreement between historians?

"I don't care," Walter White said.

He and his family believe it was a slave cabin.

"Yeah, simply from the feelings I get when I'm back there and because of the stuff I found," White said.  

For the White family, owning a slave cabin "is good and it's bad. The bad is it tells you where you came from. The good is it tells you where you're at."

And that's enough for this family even though the mystery of the building may never be unlocked.

 

First Coast News

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