Fairfield Plantation History

Fairfield's settlement by Europeans dates to Lewis Burwell I (1621-1653) of Bedfordshire, England. In chasing wealth and success, Burwell moved across the sea to profitable British America in the early 17th century, where he was able to acquire approximately 7,450 acres of Virginia land. Within ten years of his move to British America, Burwell had not only grown his wealth but also his status following a beneficial marriage to Lucy Higginson in 1650. With the help of his mother and her later two husbands, their only son Lewis Burwell II (ca. 1651-1710) would eventually grow the Virginia Burwell empire following his father's death by expanding landholdings to include 26,650 acres by 1704, making him one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in Virginia.

The Fairfield manor house dates to 1694 when Lewis Burwell II commissioned the construction of his impressive brick manor in Gloucester County along Carter's Creek. As one of the most stylish, state-of-the-art brick homes constructed in British North America at the time, Fairfield became a beacon of power and influence. Burwell was a prominent figure in Tidewater Virginia society and fulfilled many noteworthy roles during his life, including Trustee of The College of William & Mary, major of the militia, and member of the House of Burgesses (and member of the Governor's Council). While entwining himself in upper-class gentry life, he set the stage for future family success, at a great cost to the many individuals enslaved on his properties. As a plantation owner and merchant, Burwell oversaw the growth, harvest, and selling of the highly profitable and fashionable crop, tobacco. While Burwell invested in many other secondary crops, tobacco would remain the primary focus at Fairfield until the Revolutionary War when there was a near abandonment of it in favor of wheat and mixed grains. Agriculture at Fairfield Plantation relied on enslaved laborers, and at its peak in 1782 the plantation included 140 enslaved men, women, and children across over 7,000 contiguous acres.

The Fairfield manor house stood as a representation of Lewis Burwell II's power and influence from its construction through the Revolutionary War. With 11 rooms at its height, impressive craftsmanship, and lavish imported English furnishings, the home was the pinnacle of comfortable British American living through the ownership of Nathaniel Burwell (Lewis Burwell II's son), Lewis Burwell I/II (Nathaniel's son), and Lewis Burwell II/II (Lewis I/II's son). Following Lewis Burwell II/II's death and the end of the war, the home was sold to Colonel Robert Thruston. The Thruston family sold the home along with the core of the plantation in 1850. Following the Thrustons, the estate passed through several families including the Leavitts, the Cookes, and the Wares. For much of that time, both Black and White tenants leased the manor house and the community referred to the home as Carter's Creek Farm.

After the Civil War, the surrounding land was gradually subdivided and sold or leased, often to former slaves, to ensure the farm owner's access to labor during the tumultuous era of Reconstruction. The acquisition of these parcels by African Americans helped create a thriving community between the areas of Clopton and Coke in southern Gloucester County. This community, as well as neighboring African American communities, originally congregated at the Providence Baptist Church and later at First Baptist Church and the nearby Antioch Baptist Church.

The Fairfield manor house eventually burned in 1897; at the time it was occupied by an unknown African American woman. As the last known occupant of the manor before its destruction, much effort has gone into trying to unveil the identity of this woman, however, a lack of documentation has led to dead ends in every direction. At the time the house was lost to fire, it still possessed grandeur and impressed all those who saw it. Current archaeological excavations at Fairfield continue to shed light on the everyday lives of the diverse occupants of the plantation, from the Burwell and Thruston families, to the multitude of enslaved individuals prior to the Civil War, and to the tenants who followed.

East and South Facade Pre-1890s

North and East Facade Pre-1890s

Fairfield Cellar Plan

Digital Reconstruction of the North Facade Before and After the Loss of the West Wing c. 1839