When Tiya Miles began her research in Murray County about 10 years ago, she intended only to examine history surrounding the black slaves who worked on the Vann Plantation.
Instead, she ended up embarking on a journey that culminated with the publication of “The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story” earlier this year. It is believed to be the only comprehensive book about life on the Vann Plantation from the perspective of examining not only Cherokee history — owner James Vann was a Cherokee slaveholder and prominent resident — but also black history, the roles of the Moravian missionaries and white history.
“It was really important to me that if this was going to be a site of public education that it educate as fully as possible,” said Miles, an associate professor at the University of Michigan. “I felt compelled to research this.”
Miles is scheduled to attend a book signing at the Vann House on Saturday in conjunction with Vann House Day, an annual community festival in which local artisans show their skills while tours of the grounds are provided.
Miles said her discovery of life at the Vann Plantation began in 1998 when as a graduate student she was researching relationships between African-Americans and Native Americans. Since the Cherokees were one of the few slave-holding nations in the United States, her research lead her south. There’s only one other site like the Vann House that has been restored and opened to the public in the country, and it’s in Oklahoma, she added.
During her research into translations of the Moravian missionaries’ diaries, which are housed in North Carolina, Miles learned of a woman named Pleasant who was a slave of the Moravians but was constantly standing up to them, saying their religion was “hypocrisy” and going so far as to curse them and complain about her work. Since Pleasant was a go-between for the Moravians and the Cherokees, they needed her assistance.
In 2003, Miles began her research into the Vann Plantation in earnest, taking the advice of Julia Autry, an interpretive ranger at the time who suggested she broaden her research beyond the plantation’s black history.
“One of the major conclusions I take from the research is many people have experienced this historic site as a place of beauty and a place of comfort and serenity ... but this is not just a place of beauty,” Miles said. “This is, in my mind, a memorial to people who suffered very difficult lives, and I wish that when people visited the site they would bear that in mind.”
The history is one of white skilled craftsmen, subsistence farmers, elite farmers, Cherokee slaveholders, blacks and the Moravian missionaries, all of whom formed very “complex” societal relations with each other, she said.
Vann House Day coincides with a roughly week-long Vann Family Reunion in Atlanta designed to bring together relatives in the Vann family from across the nation to share their history. Participants are scheduled to visit the Vann House site on Saturday.
Vann House Day will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public in commemoration of the 206th year of the Vann Plantation and the 52nd anniversary of the Vann House restoration.
At 10 a.m. the National Society of Colonial Dames will dedicate a new historic marker at the site. Throughout the day, local craftsmen will demonstrate 19th-century weaving, basket making, quilting, spinning, rug making, blacksmithing, blowgun shooting, woodcarving, chair caning, leather work, drying of fruits and vegetables, churning and making butter, and the making of straw mattresses.
There will also be a War of 1812 re-enactment with black powder firing demonstrations.
Miles is an associate professor of history, American culture, Afro-American studies and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. Her book is $35, and all proceeds go to the Friends of the Vann House for use at the site, organizers said.
At 2 p.m., Miles and Autry will do a presentation about the book in the Robert E. Chambers Interpretive Center. There will be a question and answer session following the presentation.
The Vann House museum will feature a short film and exhibits on the Vann family and the Cherokee Nation. Tours of the Vann House will also be available. Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and $3.50 for youth ages 6 to 18.
Concessions will be available for purchase.
The Vann House is at the intersection of Ga. Highway 52A and Ga. Highway 225. For more information call (706) 695-2598.