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Oct 15, 2023

Podcast host and historic preservationist Mary Donohue started following a project on Facebook four or five years ago. It was based on a very simple idea-sleeping overnight in historic buildings-but it was also genius. The project was the Slave Dwelling Project. Joseph McGill,Jr., a Black historic preservationist and Civil War reenactor based in South Carolina, had begun this groundbreaking project to sleep overnight in the countless and very underappreciated former slave dwellings that still stand across the country. What has this to do with Connecticut? McGill not only sleeps at residences across the South but the North and West too. In Connecticut, he has slept at buildings owned by the Greenwich Historical Society and in New London at the Hempstead Houses owned by Connecticut Landmarks. At each stop, events and campfires are held to explore with the public the way the history of the enslaved has been told.


When Donohue discovered that Joe had a new book coming out in the summer of 2023, she immediately pre-ordered it and read it the week she received it. Sleeping with the Ancestors How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery authored by Joseph McGill, Jr. and journalist Herb Frazier was published by Hachette Books.


In this episode, Donohue interviews author Joe McGill, Jr. and Nicole Thomas. Thomas was born and raised in New London. She gained in interest in local history 20 years ago after her

 mother purchased a historic home.


Nicole works for Connecticut Landmarks as the Assistant Site Administrator at the Hempsted Houses Museum and is also a researcher for New London’s Black Heritage Trail. The New London Black Heritage Trail was honored as a History Gamechanger Project by Connecticut Explored in 2022.


Thanks to our guests author and historic preservationist Joe McGill, Jr. and historian and site manager Nicole Thomas.


To find out more about the Slave Dwelling Project, go to their website at and follow Joe on Facebook on the Slave Dwelling Project page. His book is available on Amazon.


To find out more about upcoming events at the Hempsted Houses go to and follow them on Facebook at The Hempsted Houses. I highly recommend booking a tour with Nicole to experience the place where this history happened.

To read more about enslaved man Adam Jackson at the Hempsted Houses, click here:


 For more information on the Greenwich Historical Society’s recreation of an enslaved person’s sleeping area, visited by McGill in 2012, read more here:


And for more articles that explore the long arc of Black history in Connecticut, find out more here:


Subscribe to Connecticut Explored, the magazine of Connecticut history, at


Fresh episodes of Grating the Nutmeg are brought to you every two weeks with support from our listeners. You can help us continue to produce the podcast by donating directly to Grating the Nutmeg on the Connecticut Explored website at   Click the donate button at the top and then look for the Grating the Nutmeg donation link at the bottom. Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated-we thank you!


This episode of Grating the Nutmeg was produced by Mary Donohue and engineered by Patrick O’Sullivan at


Join us in two weeks for our next episode of Grating the Nutmeg, the podcast of Connecticut history.