by Anita Wills
©1998-1999 by Anita Wills. Reprints require approval by the author.
I just spent two weeks
in Virginia visiting Courthouses, Archives, Libraries, Plantation
houses and the neighborhood (Old Town) in Fredericksburg where Free
blacks lived. I was in Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia and
immediately fell in love with those states. Except for Washington DC
most of the area is still quite rural and they are not in a hurry to
have Developments dotting their landscape. It was a very enriching and
educational experience for me. I noticed many Plantation houses dotted
the landscape, a grim reminder of the not too distant past.
The Plantations I
visited were Wakefield (the birthplace of George Washington), where my
ancestors Mary and Patty Bowden were born. Kenmore (Owned by George
Washington’s brother-in-law, Fielding Lewis) , Nottingham (my ancestor
Patty Bowden served from this house) and New Post (part of
Nottingham). Wakefield is located in Westmoreland County Virginia and
is right off of a main stretch of Highway. I got the best
interpretation of how my ancestors lived from my visit there.
We looked at the
Plantation, which was large, and I wondered how 75 slaves were
expected to grow tobacco there. During the Colonial, period the
kitchen and outhouse were separate from the main building. We went
inside of the kitchen and there was a "Mulatto" girl. Her name was
Kadisha and she was about 20 years old and was dressed in period
clothing. She had on a blouse buttoned up to her neck, a bonnet over
her head, long skirt and black boots. There was a huge fireplace in
the kitchen over, which hung the pots to cook the food in. Kadisha
said that most of the vegetables and meat were prepared in that
kitchen and then taken to the main house. During the re-enactment,
Kadisha explained that the skirt of the servant often caught on fire.
Over the fireplace were herbs, which were dried and used for medicinal
purposes. Those who worked in he kitchen were also responsible for
making teas and other medication for the Master and his family.
Kadisha then explained
that the house servants did not sleep in the house (unless they were
white). Those who worked in the kitchen slept over top of the kitchen.
She showed us a room next to the kitchen, which depicted how the
sleeping room was arranged. There was a bed of straw with a white
Muslim type covering around it. She said that each night before they
went to bed the servants would beat the straw to chase the bed bugs
away. As she was demonstrating how it was done, I felt as if I was
watching my ancestor and a sad feeling came over me.
From the kitchen we
went to the Main house, which was actually a replica of the original
house since the original house burned down (In fact several of the
Washington houses burned down)? Augustine Washington Junior (George’s
brother) was out of town when it happened and the slaves had a day
off. What was interesting to me was the kitchen was the only building
left standing. The Main House burned to the ground and only some items
were saved. My cousin and I gave each other "the look" as is to say we
know what happened. However, our guide was quick to assure us that the
slaves took no part in the burning of the house. It was an accident
caused by a spark from the fireplace in the kitchen (hmm).
The original house at
Popes’ Creek was occupied by Augustine Washington Senior and his first
wife Jane Butler (about 1720-1730). During that period, the
Washington’s were still just farmers with few assets to their names.
They received head rights (land) by bringing Indentured Servants from
England and Ireland, who then worked to pay their indentures off in
five to seven years. There were few slaves until Augustine Senior and
his sons married into the Butler, Aylett, Ball and Fairfax families.
With the women came dowries of money and property, including slaves.
The House on Popes’
Creek would have been considered one built for a Middle Income
Planter. It had a Main Hall going from the Front Door to the Back
door, four rooms down stairs and four bedrooms. The beds slept in by
the Master were not made of straw, but possibly, Down stuffed
mattresses. The Mattresses was probably made by the slaves, who slept
on beds of straw. We climbed the stairs to look at the second floor
where the bedrooms were located and the difference in where the
"Mulatto" Servants slept, was like day and night. The rooms were large
and airy with netting over the beds to protect against flies. Their
were Slop pots in each of the rooms (guess who emptied them) and toys
in the children’s rooms.
As we were leaving, we
noticed the sheep, Geese, horses and Oxen, basically the same animals
on the old Plantation.
We were then taken to
the slave graveyard, which is located on land still owned by
Washington descendants. The Graveyard is non-descript and sits under a
huge tree miles away from the family plot of the Washington family.
The Park Ranger said the graves are in a circular shape, which was the
way Africans buried there dead (that was news to me). This was the end
of our tour and it gave me a better perspective on how slaves and
servants lived during that period.
The other house that
left an impression was New Post, which was built by Alexander
Spotswood, who married Augustine Washington Juniors’ daughter. This
house was larger but still had outside kitchen and restroom. There was
a rusty bell hanging on a rope from the main house to the Kitchen,
which was rang to summon the servants. This house sat on twice as much
acreage as Wakefield and I wondered how many slaves worked on this
farm. The farm is still a working farm and I noticed there were black
faces in the fields although they were now operating equipment.
My cousin and I spoke
of our ancestors as we headed up the road away from the Plantations.
He told me that there was a slave cottage in Charles County Maryland,
which was burned down. It was a reminder to them of slavery and they
wanted it removed. We agreed that it is painful, but we do not want to
forget, nor do we want America writing a history that does not include
slavery. It is not black peoples’ shame, it is Americas’ shame.
Places to visit for Research:
- Westmoreland County Courthouse,
- Fredericksburg Courthouse ,
- Central Rappahannock Regional
Library, Fredericksburg VA
- National Archives, Washington DC
- Wakefield Plantation, Westmoreland
- Old Town Fredericksburg (Go to
Visitors Center in Fredericksburg and they will give you a tour
and/or a map.)
- Shiloh Baptist Church,
Fredericksburg (church has been in operation since early 1800’s)
We were well received
and the staff was helpful (they are understaffed) in showing us where
information was. They allowed us to look through books that went back
to the early 1800’s. We found a lot of information in the little
courthouses and libraries. My suggestion is that those who are seeking
information in small towns go and search the records. You will save
time and money in the long run.