Afia Short

Local actress Ubunibi-Afia Short will fill the role of Nancy in the play.

The Heritage Alliance will premiere an original play, “Nancy,” on Saturday to honor the Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, holiday.

The play, written by Anne G’Fellers-Mason, the executive director of the Heritage Alliance, will take place at the historic Embree House with showings at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. will last an hour.

There will be time for a Q&A and a chance to tour parts of the Embree House after each performance.

The back storyThe Embree House was home to Elihu Embree, known for his seven-edition paper, The Emancipator, originally published in 1820. The paper originated on Main Street in Jonesborough, with its first publication solely dedicated to the abolitionist cause, but it died with Embree in December 1820.

Despite its short life, The Emancipator reached more than 2,000 subscribers with its antislavery agenda and traveled as far as Boston and Philadelphia. However, in spite of Embree’s abolitionist beliefs, he was a slave owner.

Nancy was a woman enslaved by Embree, and it is her story that will be told in the play.

“We know Elihu Embree’s story well, and (Nancy) is an integral part of it, so I wanted to share what I know,” said G’Fellers-Mason.

Nancy is the only known documented name for the woman, as a full name can be hard to find for enslaved individuals. The play is based on primary research heavily dependent on documents from the Washington County archives.

Years in the making “Nancy” was originally meant to premiere in 2020 as a celebration of the anniversary of the Juneteenth holiday, but it was put on hold due to COVID-19.

“We’ve been working on this for several years, and there’s still research in progress, but we have enough to tell a part of her story,” said G’Fellers-Mason, “and we’re very fortunate to have an amazing actress to help tell Nancy’s story.”

Local actress Ubunibi-Afia Short will fill the role of Nancy, and the play will follow her life from January 1820, when Elihu Embree wrote his will, to January 1821, when his will was read before the Washington County court.

Embree tried to free Nancy and her children in his will, according to G’Fellers-Mason, and while they are still searching to confirm whether they were liberated in January 1821, the hope is that this year marks the 200th anniversary of their freedom.

The Heritage Alliance chose to share Nancy’s story in celebration of Juneteenth, with G’Fellers-Mason citing the importance of finding all the voices in history.

“These people are there, their stories are there,” said G’Fellers-Mason. “What always strikes me in her story is the resilience of human nature.”

June 19, or Juneteenth, celebrates the day that word of emancipation finally reached a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, in June 1865.


f you go

Tickets to “Nancy” are $12, and the proceeds will help fund the Heritage Alliance’s educational programs.

The Embree House is at 142 Matthews Mill Road in Telford.

Seating is limited to 30 per show, so it is recommended to buy tickets in advance. You can buy tickets through Jonesborough’s online system at or by calling the Visitor’s Center at 423-753-1010.

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Sarah Owens is a senior at Milligan University and a native of Alabaster, Ala.. She is majoring in communications and is a member of the Milligan Women's Soccer team. She has a passion for traveling and animals and an interest in international cultures.

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