On-Site Activities

Somerset Place offers a hands-on activity-based learning experience for students to discover how most families, regardless of race or legal status, carried out domestic chores. Students will have a greater understanding of the difficulties of life in the antebellum period and be able to compare it to our lives today. At the end of the visit, each student will take home an item he or she made using the methods employed during the 19th century.

1. Interactive Orientation Program – Students will explore the plantation's history through the chronological exhibit and interpreter-led inquiry. (Time: 15 minutes).

2. Guided Tour – Students explore both the experiences of the Collins family and the enslaved community through an interpreter-led tour of the historic and reconstructed buildings. (Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes)

3. Hands-On Activities: offered March 1 – November 15 (fee - $2.15 per student to defray cost of supplies). Each student will make one craft per participant per visit as decided upon by the site during the reservation process. (1 hour)

  • Rope Making – Early rope was made in a long area of open ground called a ropewalk. Later, ropewalks were covered or completely indoors. Ropewalks could range from 80 to 224 yards in length and were sometimes referred to as ropeworks. On plantations, rope was used in securing animals, making rope beds, tying bales, and drawing buckets from wells. In this activity, students learn to use a portable ropewalk and make a length of rope to keep. 
  • Hearth Cooking – During the antebellum period, most North Carolinians prepared their meals over an open hearth. Most used the multifunctional fireplaces in their homes or makeshift outside hearths during the summer. Hearth cooking requires a wide range of heavy cast iron utensils and cookware, as well as hot coals. Students grind corn and prepare cornbread over the open hearth in this activity. 
  • Candle Dipping - Other than sunlight, oil lamps and candles provided the only source of light during antebellum times. The availability of light dictated daily activities and bedtimes. Electricity altered forever humankind's dependence upon natural and poor light. Students are given a length of string, which they can use to make one or two candles to keep. 
  • Sedge Brooms – During the antebellum period, poor whites and enslaved families made their own brooms to clean their houses and yards. Gathering broom sedge during the early winter was a task set aside for children. The sedge was stored and available to make brooms all year. Sedge brooms only lasted about two months.  Each student will make one sedge broom to keep.  
  • Ginning Cotton by Hand and Making a Stuffed Pin Cushion – Until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, seeds were removed from raw cotton by hand before it could be made into thread or woven into fabric. Students will be given a small handful of cotton, from which they will pick out the seeds and make small pin cushions. This activity will thus allow the students to see cotton in three forms: inside bolls with seeds, woven into fabric, and as thread. 
  • Basket Making – The development of baskets grew out of a need for portable containers to collect, carry, and store items. Useful baskets were lightweight, durable, easy to make, and made of readily available materials. During the antebellum period when natural materials were plentiful many households used baskets for carrying eggs, laundry, fruit, and for storage. On rice plantations, enslaved persons made and used large flat baskets to separate the seed from the chaff of rice and wheat. This process was called fanning.  In this activity, students will make a small basket to keep. Baskets were used as portable containers to collect, carry and store items. Useful baskets were lightweight, durable, easy to make and made of readily available materials. 

Reservations are required for hands-on activities. Programs including activities generally take 2 ½ hours. Programs without the activities generally take 1 ½ hours.