The Stephenson House, a historic site in Edwardsville, is currently working with mass communication students from SIUE to create a documentary about the indentured servants who worked in the house in the early 1800s.
RoxAnn Raisner, the current director of Stephenson House, said the documentary was told from the perspective of Winn, a contract servant. Winn was chosen as the main focus of the documentary as House Stephenson because they know more about her than any of the ten other indentured servants who are said to have worked in the house.
Jeffery Edison, former director of the house, spearheaded the project that began several years ago. Edison wrote the screenplay while still working at home.
Raisner said telling this story is a vital part of the house’s story. She said that although the term used in Illinois historically was indentured servants, it was a legal loophole to own slaves in liberated states.
âThey were indentured servants, but they were slaves and we’re trying to say what we know about them. And unfortunately the history of slavery tends to be very oral, and it’s a difficult story to research because of that, and so we are fortunate to have the enlistment papers, the papers of emancipation, we have some bills of [sale]so we’re trying to piece it together and bring out their story, âRaisner said.
SIUE students have the opportunity to be 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 in 2019 to help film the documentary. SIUE students who are in Byer’s advanced video production class had the opportunity to work on the project.
Byers said he thinks this is a great opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in the film industry.
âWorking with other people, other clients, for example, something that you can’t really understand in the classroom itself. Even though they’re not working directly with the client, they’re on set and they see how that interaction goes and kind of talk about the shoot and how we figure out how to film things. It’s a really good look at real world production that they can observe and help out with, âsaid Byers.
Anna Gentelin, a mass communication student from Alton, Ill., Worked on set with three of her classmates over the weekend. She said it was a lot of fun being able to film on a real set and learn the story behind the film.
âIt was really interesting to have a deep insight into what it is and to see everyone in their outfits and be a part of the filming process. I really like getting more experience with filming because this is the area I want to get into, âsaid Gentelin.
Raisner said all of the cast were made up of volunteers or other residents linked to the Stephenson House. In 2019 there were almost 60 volunteers, but on the most recent shoot there were around 20 volunteers who were able to make it to the shoot, Raisner said. The production team is made up of mass communication students from SIUE, who filmed and edited the documentary as part of the project.
Raisner said she was happy that the students had the opportunity to work on a smaller set and gain some field experience, and that the stories of House Stephenson’s indentured servants were being told.
âI think for me I think that’s probably the most important side of the house. Because it’s our responsibility, I think as custodians of history, to share each other’s story. And the story isn’t always beautiful, but if we don’t tell their story, we do them an injustice, âsaid Raisner.