Log cabin built by former slaves in Maryland tells story of freedom

The log cabin built by former slaves tells a story of the aspirations of Black people after emancipation.


A log cabin built by former slaves in Maryland tells a story of the aspirations of Black people after emancipation.

Chanell Kelton, one of the descendants who lived in the house, has tons of memories of growing up in the home.

"There were always big gatherings and family reunions," Kelton said.

In 1875, it was the first house built in what became the free African American community of Jonesville in rural Montgomery County. It was named Jonesville for the brothers who built the house, Richard and Erasmus Jones.

Paul Gardullo, the curator with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture who helped acquire the house in 2009, said the house tells a fundamental story that has been forgotten in America.

"(It's) about African Americans' visions of freedom and their realizations of freedom in the period immediately following the Civil War, something we know as Reconstruction. To me, this house is a tangible symbol of that period," Gardullo said.

Called the "Freedom House" at the museum, it also carries the title of being the Jones-Hall-Simms house, named for the families who lived there for more than 100 years.

Kelton recalls the love she shared here with her grandparents, Paul and Barbara Simms, and of her great-great-grandfather, John Simms.

"It's an honor to have been able to meet him and to have him in my life and to recall memories. I can remember him in what we would call in the house 'the old kitchen' making flapjacks," Kelton said.

Over the years. Kelton's family members and other artisans in the community helped put additions onto the house.

"They were all builders. They all worked with their hands. They all were in some type of trade field, construction," Kelton said.

The house was stripped of the additions in order to move the cabin to the museum. Gardullo said the men who built the house did so on the property where they were formerly enslaved.

"That original two-story house that two brothers, along with their community, built as a symbol of their freedom, that they were standing tall in the world, it quite literally did that, it moved them upstairs," Gardullo said.

Being upstairs also offered them a chance to keep watch over the land and protect themselves from people who did not want them to be free. A feature of the house that both Gardullo and Kelton marvel at to this day is the stairs.

"You see the grooves of the people's feet, their footfalls landing on those stairs over generations," Gardullo said.

"It wasn't no walking down those steps, we stomped. I know I did," Kelton said.

People from historic Jonesville joined with other African American communities in places like Martinsburg or Jerusalem, which are now in current day Poolesville, to worship, go to school and socialize.

A cluster of buildings that still stand today reflects the work that Black people did to build institutions in the aftermath of the Civil War as sources of strength, education, spiritual sustenance and protection. Kelton hopes that anyone who hears this story sees more than a cabin or a house.

"You can feel and you can sense the strength, the determination and the perseverance that they had," Kelton said.