“We were hearing the story of our ancestors, learning of their history – our history. Then we toured the grounds; walking in their footsteps, being handed back a part of our soul that we didn’t even know was missing.”
- Angela Wilson, Sotterley descendant.
The mission of the Descendant’s Project is to keep and grow an official registry of all people that identify as Historic Sotterley Descendants whether enslavers, the enslaved, workers, free and allied families during the museum’s historical dates of significance. We hope to encourage enrichment through their stories, engaging Descendants’ and their families in our vision, mission, operations, events, support and leadership.
We count among our Descendants anyone whose ancestry is connected to our site’s 300-year history. Stories from Descendant perspectives and their research add richness to our stories and the lives we reach, teach and touch.
How it started
Historic Sotterley trailblazers Agnes Kane Callum and John Hanson Briscoe built a strong foundation and set a tone for our Descendant program.
In John’s words, “We talked about that history; her people, my people. We came forward in a positive way. We link our ancestry. But to teach lessons, and to preserve this whole story here, not just the slavery that took place here. But the economic, cultural and social history that ties both of our families together. Both of who we are very proud of.”
In 2017, we formalized our Descendants’ Project. At the heart of why Historic Sotterley is both important and truly unique, is the involvement of our Descendants in our day-to-day activities, our educational programming development, interpretative and preservation decisions and in our events.
Our Descendants model to the greater world how people from disparate backgrounds and who have experienced different realities can come together to foster understanding and healing in these troubled times. Their ancestors defined Historic Sotterley’s past, but it is our Descendans who are shaping our present and our future.
- We currently have over 200 self-identified Descendant’s living in 30 states and across 4 countries.
- Awarded the 2021 Free Press Prize for Leadership by Underground Railroad Free Press, the program.
- Our Descendants have been asked to speak across the United States, including at the American Alliance of Museums Conference in Boston in May 2022 and the 2021 Slave Dwelling Project conference.
- Five Descendants currently sit on our Board of Trustees representing ancestors who were enslaved, enslavers and 20th Century laborers.
The program today
Descendants are presenters in our Common Ground programming, and their willingness to share their stories allows for a more personal connection to, and understanding of, the realities of our shared past. Descendants have their own private Facebook page, allowing them to strengthen their ties to Sotterley and to each other.
Whether you know you are descended from Historic Sotterley’s people or suspect you might be, you are welcome to join our Descendants’ Registry, visit and keep in touch.