The Tablertown Museum People of Color exhibit is remarkable in its scale of artifacts that reflect the history of the Tabler family and its descendants, but also its potential to reflect the larger story of survival of Southeast Ohioans in Appalachia. In our public facing audio tour piece, David Butcher begins with discussing the origins of the exhibit in 2003 within the Kennedy Museum at Ohio University. We learn that community and the persistence of David’s vision allowed the exhibit to continue to evolve into a museum space that attracts international researchers interested in the history of the African American experience in the region.
Focusing on the Civil War story within the space, we go with David as we travel back into the 1840’s, through the Civil War and learn about the people who fought at key battles to preserve the Union in the United States. David highlights men of color in the Tablertown area. Milton Holland, the only person in Athens County awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor, is a highlight. Especially as he has been nationally recognized. Granville Lucas, buried just a short drive from the Tablertown Museum at the Haga Cemetery on Haga Ridge Rd. provides us with a context to the experience of soldiers of color on naval ships. Jerry Sims, who was the catalyst for his embarking on this adventure of the family archive, is a reminder that the project began with understanding there is a larger Black history that is not taught. Those soldiers and the community that surround them, particularly the women who exist within these stories, remind us that the nuances of small Appalachian towns are essential to the conversation of the American experiment.
David Butcher is a descendant of Hannah and Michael Tabler. Both born in 1775 when our country was fresh from its revolution against the British. Hannah and Michael were pioneers of Southeastern Ohio who came together on the Tabler family plantation in Virginia where she was enslaved. In 1830, post emancipation of Hannah and their 6 children, they settled in the region after crossing the Ohio River and purchasing land from a Revolutionary War veteran. Their land is known as Kilvert, Ohio on the map, but locally known as Tablertown. David is one of thousands who descend from this story but has found the greatest pull to preserve and amplify this history.
Beginning with the image of his great, great grandfather Jerry Sims that sparked his curiosity into the past, David has found his life’s work in the Tablertown Museum/People of Color exhibit. Decades of collecting, researching, grant writing and dreaming have led him to today. He is enthusiastic about the potential to educate generations of people about their history, which is important to the larger conversation of Black, Ohio and Appalachian communities.
The Tablertown Museum currently resides in a pole barn on David’s property along State Route 329 in Stewart, Ohio, but David is excited to move the museum to a facility closer to Tablertown proper. His goal is to build on the land that fed the community for generations at the heart of the coal mines. A freestanding museum to contain all he has built is what he believes can carry this legacy into the next generation. His vision is ambitious, but thoughtful in its desire to have a space for people to engage the past.
In addition to a new space for the museum, David is petitioning to return the name of the hamlet to Tablertown from the official name, Kilvert. The Kilvert Mining company has long abandoned the area, but the Tablers persist. One imagines this change in name will also reinforce the mentality of those who remain to continue fighting to preserve their legacy. Reclamation of heritage from 19th century industrialization is essential to the Black Appalachian narrative.
Tablertown Museum represents an important shift in how communities take control of their stories. A childhood seed planted in David to consider alternatives to the history we have been provided is now at a place where the global conversation has shifted away from a Eurocentric idealization of America into bigger questions of who is responsible for building this country. Enslaved Black people, Indigenous folks and immigrants who have quietly found their way, despite centuries of violence, are working to establish a new American history. The efforts of David Butcher are necessary to provide a truth of the experience in this region of those who lived it.