CHAPEL HILL — Deardra Green-Campbell stood for the first time Wednesday in the home of her enslaved ancestor.
Dirt and cobwebs covered the floor from years of neglect, and the original horsehair plaster crumbled off the wall in chunks.
In the midst of remnants from her family’s past, Green-Campbell broke down with emotion. Tears streamed down her face, and she collapsed into her son’s arms.
“There’s no place I can be or step in this house that she has not touched,” Green-Campbell said. “It’s just overwhelming.”
She couldn’t have imagined that her journey would lead her to this house and life-changing discovery.
The Hogan-Rogers house was built about 1843 by Thomas Lloyd Hogan, a descendant of early Orange County settlers. It is set for demolition in November to make room for a new church complex.
But the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill is trying to save the house, one of the few antebellum houses left in the county, and turn it into a center for the surrounding, historically black Rogers Road neighborhood.
The society wants to move the house but keep the basement where it is on Purefoy Road as part of a new museum. The move and renovations are expected to cost $600,000.
Efforts to save the home led to an unexpected discovery for Green-Campbell.
The Hogan-Rogers house had drawn the interest of Ernest Dollar, director of the preservation society. He and intern Lauren Poole ventured into the basement of the house, abandoned since the 1980s.
“I’ve seen creatures I’ve never seen on planet Earth in that basement,” Dollar said. “But when I got down there, I found the treasure I was looking for.”
It was a fireplace, evidence that someone once lived there, he said.
Later, he stumbled upon another treasure: Thomas Lloyd Hogan’s will.
In the will, Hogan gave his son three slaves, and one was named Harriet.
“I suspected that these were the slaves that were closest to the family,” Dollar said.
The three slaves most likely lived in the basement because the family would have wanted them close at hand, he said.
Green-Campbell visited the house in April but did not go in.
“I didn’t have the courage to come in the house knowing my ancestor was enslaved in this home,” she said.
On Wednesday , she stepped with trepidation down into the cellar where her great-great-great grandmother likely once slept.
“I’m actually walking in Harriet’s footsteps 170 years later, actually almost 200,” Green-Campbell said. “It’s just amazing.”
‘The Ironic Fourth’
Green-Campbell and Dollar met after he wrote an article about the house called “The Ironic Fourth of July” and posted it on the society’s website.
Soon he received a call from Green-Campbell in Atlanta, who had come across the article while searching Google for traces of her family’s past. She said she knew her mother Harriet was named after a distant grandmother and thought there might be a connection.
She and Dollar eventually concluded that Green-Campbell’s great-great-great grandmother was Harriet Hogan, a slave who likely lived in the basement of the house.
After more research, the two determined that Harriett’s son had been fathered by a man named William Johnston Hogan, the son of Harriett’s white master.
The preservation society sponsored a comparative DNA test of the two families, which meant Green-Campbell needed to find a black male Hogan descendant. She contacted Haywood Hogan, a distant cousin in New York, who agreed to submit DNA for the test.
“I can’t describe how it feels to meet family I didn’t know I had,” Hogan said Wednesday.
Green-Campbell said her family will hold a reunion next month.
“This is the first time we will have a Hogan at our reunion,” she said.