The Stephenson House, a historical site in Edwardsville, is currently working with SIUE mass communication students to create a documentary about the indentured servants who worked at the house in the early 1800s.


RoxAnn Raisner, the current director at the Stephenson House, said the documentary is told from the perspective of Winn, a female indentured servant. Winn was chosen as the main focus of the documentary as the Stephenson House as they know more about her than any of the other ten indentured servants who would have worked in the house.


Jeffery Edison, former director for the house, spearheaded the project beginning several years ago. Edison wrote the script when he still worked at the house.


Raisner said telling this story is a vital part of the house’s history. She said that even though historically the term used in Illinois was indentured servants, it was a legal loophole to own slaves in the freed states.


“They were indentured servants, but they were slaves and we're trying to tell what we know about them. And unfortunately, slave history has a tendency to be very oral, and it's hard history to research because of that, and so we're lucky enough to have the indenture papers,  emancipation papers, we have a couple of bills of [sale], so we're trying to piece it together and just bring their story out,” Raisner said.


SIUE students have the opportunity to be a part of the storytelling. Cory Byers, a mass communication instructor has worked with the Stephenson House in the past to help create their informational video. He said he was contacted back in 2019 to help film the documentary. SIUE students who are in Byer’s advanced video production class were presented with the opportunity to work on the project.


Byers said he believes it’s a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience in the film industry.


“Working with other people, other clients, for example, something you can’t really get in the class itself. Even though they're not directly working with the client, they're on set and they're seeing how that interaction goes on and kind of talking about the shoot and how we figure out how to shoot things. It's a very good look at real-world production that they can observe and help with,” Byers said.


Senior Anna Gentelin, a mass communications major from Alton, Illinois, worked on set with three of her classmates one weekend. She said it was lots of fun to be able to film on an actual set and learn the story behind the film.


“It was really interesting to get an in-depth look at what it is and to see everybody in their outfits and be a part of the filming process. I really like to get more experience with filming because that's the field I want to get into,” Gentelin said.


Raisner said all of the cast is made up of volunteers or other locals who are connected to the Stephenson House. In 2019, there were nearly 60 volunteers, but in the most recent shoot, there were approximately 20 volunteers who were able to make it for filming, Raisner said. The production crew is the mass communication students from SIUE, who filmed and will edit the documentary as part of the project.


Raisner said she is glad that the students have the opportunity to work on a smaller set and earn some experience in the field, and that the stories of indentured servants at the Stephenson House are being told.


“I think to me, I think it's probably the most important side of the house. Because it's our responsibility, I think as stewards of history to share everybody's history. And history is not always pretty, but if we don't tell their story, we do them an injustice,” Raisner said.

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