David Butcher has many titles: husband, father, genealogist, historian and museum founder. On September 27, he was able to add one more title to his resume: a first recipient of the Black Appalachian Storytellers Scholarship.
Residing in Stewart, Ohio, Butcher is the only recipient from Ohio to receive this scholarship. His co-winners include a civil rights activist and a Ted-Talker. Although he held a full-time job, Butcher did not win this award because of his employment, or at least his paid employment.
Butcher is the curator and founder of the People of Color Museum. The People of Color Museum is dedicated to the cultural history of the area, particularly the history of Tablertown.
Tablertown can’t be found on a GPS, but it still exists. Now known as Kilvert, the community is located about 20 minutes from the Ohio University campus. Although small and sparsely populated, the town has an active church and community center.
However, it is ignored when it comes to recognition and representation. The town is left off the Route 50 sign, indicating upcoming towns off the highway. Nestled between Stewart and Amesville on State Route 329, Kilvert, or Tablertown, is completely omitted from the sign, a fact Butcher laments.
“We’re four miles closer than Amesville,” Butcher said. “We are on a national highway. We have an active church and an active community center. See how easy it is to exclude people, as if we don’t exist.
The real meaning of Tablertown’s exclusion and erasure lies in its history. Founded nearly 200 years ago, Tablertown is a shining beacon of hope, pride and love in American history.
Michael Tabler, the son of a white plantation owner, fathered six bi-racial children with a plantation slave woman named Hannah. Having most likely grown up together, there is evidence that their relationship was a love match. To prove his devotion to her and their children, Tabler moved her family to Ohio.
Butcher said the move was because he received a large inheritance from his late mother and father. The departure from Virginia, now West Virginia, was significant because the state had passed laws that made it very difficult for former slaves to stay in Virginia. Also, former slaves were not allowed to inherit property from a white man.
This story holds special significance to Butcher as he is a descendant of the Tablers. Michael Tabler being his eighth great-grandfather, Butcher’s family had passed down oral accounts of their family history.
The first document found is a postage document, a document that legally releases an enslaved person, which is on display at the museum. Gesturing towards the document, Butcher explained how important it really was.
“Michael Tabler freed his six child slaves,” Butcher said. “You have to imagine, this is the beginning of slavery in 1830, and the most important word on this document, it says ‘I do this because of the affection I have for them.’ It’s very powerful for a white man to say about a slave in 1830.”
Hannah’s role in this story, however, should not be overlooked. According to Butcher, she could have potentially given birth to 18 or 20 more children, as enslaved women were often expected to give birth every year. Although she was born on the plantation, Hannah found a way to become a free woman.
“Somehow my grandmother Hannah found a way to break free,” Butcher said. “She was freed by will, and six of her children were free. It’s almost 30 years before Harriet Tubman, so almost unheard of legally. She just had to be a wonderful, amazing woman.
Once the Tabler family arrived in the area, Michael bought the mill and started farming.
“They’re here in the 1830s,” Butcher said. “They have a mill that produces wood and white flour and flour, then we discovered coal. Everything changed.”
After the discovery of coal, the railroads arrived quickly. As there were to be intersecting railroads in the town, Tablertown caught the eye of Sam Kilvert. After Kilvert visited the courthouse, Tablertown was officially considered Kilvert.
“How the name of the town changed from Tablertown to Kilvert was that it never got an official name,” Butcher said. “Everyone calls it Tablertown, from my generation.”
One of the goals of Butcher’s and many others in Tablertown is to change the name, to further preserve the area’s history.
Butcher’s fascination with his family’s history and history in general has been part of his life since he was a young boy. Thanks to his great-aunt who gave him World War I military shells when he was four, Butcher never stopped learning and never stopped collecting.
The Colored People’s Museum is located on Butcher’s property in an old post barn. Although modest in size, the museum is full of historical relics. Some of the items on display include Butcher’s great-uncle’s wooden leg, a canned groundhog, and a Native American arrowhead that an archaeologist has identified as being around 15,000 years old. Whether it’s family heirlooms, brought in by neighbors, or items he bought at an auction, Butcher knows the meaning and significance of each object in his museum.
With the museum officially starting in 2018, it’s truly a Butcher’s passion project. Still working his day job where he commutes 100 miles away, Butcher uses his days off to show people around his museum. It is clear that as soon as those concerned set foot in the old pole barn, they expect an education far richer than anything taught in schools.
Having already purchased property in Tablertown, Butcher has high hopes for the museum. Along with the scholarship, Butcher will have the opportunity to attend the 40th annual National Festival of Black Storytelling in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as receive a cash prize. Butcher said that money will go back into the museum and be used to construct a building on the newly purchased land.
Humble as always, Butcher is adamant that the credit for the People of Color Museum is not entirely his. He says community members, family members and complete strangers have all been instrumental in making his dream come true.
“I’m very honored,” Butcher said, regarding him receiving the scholarship. “You don’t feel worthy because there are so many people. It’s not just me; it’s not just David Butcher. It was a community. I wouldn’t even say I started, I just helped push.
All parties interested in visiting the People of Color Museum should contact David Butcher at 740-590-6368.