Slavery FAQs

What is the significance of bricks in the context of slavery?

A manor home such as the one that existed at Fairfield Plantation would have been constructed with thousands of bricks. At the time, bricks were locally produced (typically on-site) and were highly labor-intensive to make. With such intensive labor, there was without a doubt the use of slave labor to produce these bricks in the construction of such impressive colonial homes. These homes could not have been constructed without the use of slave labor and thus it is important to remember the impact enslaved individuals had on the formation of Virginia and the whole of America.

When did Fairfield Plantation begin using slave labor?

When Lewis Burwell I moved to Virginia he brought with him European servants to work for him for a period of indenture. Upon the completion of an indenture, servants were allotted a plot of land of their own. A typical period of indenture was four to seven years, meaning that not long after Lewis Burwell I's move to the colonies the plantation would need to soon find a replacement for the labor lost.

At the end of the 17th century, elite planters in Virginia looked toward the market of enslaved laborers to enlarge their tobacco plantations. By 1720 enslaved laborers represented twenty percent of Virginia/s population and planters like the Burwells began acquiring more land and more slaves. It was around this time that the Fairfield Plantation would have begun primarily using slave labor for agricultural and domestic purposes.

Where did Fairfield slaves come from?

We do not know for sure. We do know that first and second generation Burwells acquired slaves from various sources including one ship sent by the Royal African Company and several Virginia-born slaves acquired from neighbors. We do know that Burwell did buy people directly from Royal African Company ships that landed in the Chesapeake Bay. The Royal African Company primarily traded along the west coast of Africa, revealing to us that some of the enslaved individuals would have represented a variety of West African ethnicities and languages. We are actively working to learn more about the lives of the enslaved and their lives prior to enslavement through our ongoing archaeological excavations.

What are the names of the enslaved individuals?

The names of all hundreds of enslaved individuals in the history of Fairfield have not been preserved as is typical of the time. Records of enslaved individuals typically did not include names during Burwell's time, it was not until the will's of individuals within the Thruston and Leavitt families that we get names for some enslaved individuals. We know the identity of about twenty individuals including Nan, Yambo, Dick, and Betty that were Virginia-born slaves. Others such as Jack Parratt, Tom, Will Colly, and Mulatto Kate were inherited or acquired by marriage. Other inherited slaves included Yaddo, Cuffey, Denbo, Bungey, Cumbo, Harry, Sue, Jacob, Frank, and Corajo. These wills give us a valuable and rare insight into the identities of some of the individuals enslaved at Fairfield Plantation.

The practice of renaming slaves with commonplace English names after purchase makes it very difficult, if not impossible in some instances, to track slaves between plantations and purchases. For first-generation slaves, this tracking from their capture, across the Middle Passage, and to their arrival in the colonies is even more difficult. It is unlikely we will ever know enough about the enslaved individuals of Fairfield Plantation to track family trees, but current archaeological excavations continue to recover information about the enslaved population as a group.

Were the Burwell's the only family to have slaves at Fairfield Plantation?

Despite the manor house and core of the plantation being sold in 1787 to Robert Thruston, slave labor continued at Fairfield Plantation. During the Thruston ownership, between fifteen and thirty people were still enslaved at the farm and in the household. In 1850 the manor house and 500 acres of land were sold to the Leavitts and the exploitation of slave labor continued. This pattern continued until the Civil War when the manor house was transitioned into a tenant home and the remaining slaves were sold or freed. While slavery was abolished in 1865, the slave trade continued in some places throughout the American South as an underground and black-market trade. At Fairfield Plantation, the use of slave labor ended at the conclusion of the Civil War and with the addition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

Did slaves ever escape from Fairfield Plantation?

Many slaves made an escape from Fairfield Plantation while slave labor was being used at the farm. There are archived advertisements for runaway slaves in the Virginia Gazette that give us insight into the number of individuals that tried to find freedom through escape. Escape offered individuals hope in finding freedom and reuniting with family members. While many tried to escape, it was the fear of punishment if they were unsuccessful that deterred most slaves from trying to escape (Schwarz, 1988).

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