Rebuilding the Past

Death Records from 1853

April 6, 2017

Yesterday, I spent most of the day in Richmond. I had a meeting with the director of the American Civil War Museum. Last year, the week before our Civil War Weekend, we took President Lincoln (Ron Carley), General Grant (Curt Fields) and General Lee (Thomas Jessee) to see the museum and the Confederate White House. We had met the director during that time and he asked that we contact them when we did our next event in 2017.
I spoke to him yesterday about possibly having President Lincoln come and do an appearance before our June 3rd and 4th Civil War Weekend this year. He suggested that we make an appearance at the 1861 Tredegar Gun Foundry in Richmond. This location has more people and more open space for the appearance. Now I need to contact the Education Director for the museum and President Lincoln to see if we can mesh up schedules.

My meeting went earlier and a little faster than I had planned, so I had some time on my hands before returning to Belle Grove. I decided to hit up the Library of Virginia’s records to see what more information I could pull around our enslaved community.

Back in 2012, just before we got into Belle Grove, I had done tons of research on the people and the location. One of my stops was at the Library of Virginia. I found so much there. And I spent hours there! One thing I found at that time was Death Records for King George County. I wanted to go back and get a better copy of these records and see what more I could find.

I pulled the death records and hoped there were more than what I found last time. The information was from 1853 to 1870. But sadly, only the years 1853, 1854, 1855, 1857 and 1859 were available. The rest of the years were either missing or had no information.

After arriving home last night, I complied this information and created some display pieces to place in the museum. As I typed the information in, I found myself sadden by what I saw. Most of the deaths were children under the age of 2. The oldest death on record was Charles Washington at the year of 55. He died of an ulcer to his hand. I also found the names of the parents. How touched I was to see some of these parent’s names appearing again and again. What loss they endured.

But the hardest thing to see was the entries of slaves with just a first name. Then the cause of death to be listed as “unknown”. In some cases, the date of the death wasn’t known either. Then the ones who they didn’t know the parents or in case just to know the mother’s first name.

I think this is why this part of history has become so important to me. These people were born here, lived here and died here. Nothing was recorded for most of them. There is no grave marker that say “I was here.” No newspaper announcement. No fanfare. And the only way I know about them is the meager information that was listed.

In looking at the lists, I am sorry, but I think there had to be more that weren’t reported. There had to be. You can see diseases coming to the plantation and taking so many around the same time. Who else didn’t make the list? Who else is now lost to time.

One of the things I really want to do is to find the slave cemetery. There are no markers here. And to date, I haven’t found anyone that can point me to where it was. But yet, I have a feeling I know. Don’t ask me how, I just do. I really want to find someone with access to a ground penetrating radar so we can check and see. We don’t have a lot of extra funds available. All the foundation money is going to save the outbuildings. But if we can determine where it is, we can fence it off and have it consecrated. We may not know who is there, but at least we can say they were here.

My next step is to take these names and start doing some research on them. Maybe there is some connections somewhere. Who knows where it will lead me. What surprises I have in story. But it is a journey that needs to be taken, a journey that must be taken.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Slavery | Comments Off on Rebuilding the Past

A New Chapter Begins

April 3, 2017

It has been a long time since I have written in a post for my blog. We have been working hard at Belle Grove Plantation with the bed and breakfast and special events. But though we have been busy with day to day business, we never stray far from the historic side of this plantation.
In the beginning, I spent hours digging through the internet, library and historic archives and gathering as much information as I could about the property and its past owners. To this day, we still search to find more links, more information, more stories to recreate this grand old lady’s history.

Over the past six months, I have started going in a new direction with the history. To me, it is very important to tell all the stories, not just a small section of it. What would our history look like if we only talked about the Conway family and the birth of President James Madison? We would never talk about the Turner Family and their lives during the Civil War. Or the Hipkins-Bernard Family and their short time with us.
Six months ago, I started seeing more historic locations starting the conversation about their connections to slavery. This subject is one that I have wanted to tell for a while, but lacked the information and well, I just didn’t know how to tell it. So just as we did when we first looked at opening the bed and breakfast, we started visiting these locations to learn from their experiences. I started looking at tours all over the United States. I would pull any reviews from their tours to see how the public viewed them.

After all this research, I started on my new journey. I started looking at the history of slavery, when it came to America, reading slave narratives and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Early on, I decided it was time to tell our story. But sadly, unlike most of the owners of Belle Grove, the enslave community’s history at Belle Grove was very limited. Most historic records of this segment were reduced to just numbers on an inventory sheet or referred to as male negro in census records or just a first name in wills. Thankfully as I was researching the owners, I did have opportunities to pull slave records and hold them for future research. So at least I am not starting from scratch.

While researching, I kept in mind that I wanted to add a new tour to our tour program that spoke about our enslaved community. We have been reworking our temporary museum to houses this tour and started working on a script for the tour. It will be ready to go in the next few weeks. My goal is to have it done by May 1st for a grand opening of the tour.

Getting ready has really taught me so much about slavery. Things that surprised me. Things I wish I didn’t know. But most important, realizing that this story needs and must be told.

So, I am starting a new chapter in our blog. This journey isn’t going to be an easy one, but I hope you will join us.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Slavery | Comments Off on A New Chapter Begins


January 22, 2016

It is hard to believe that we are already 21 days into the New Year! Things here at the plantation have been going at a break neck pace since last spring. It is wonderful to see the plantation growing and becoming a destination that many are now seeking out. It makes those days at the beginning so much sweeter.

But because of the pace, my blog has fallen to the way side. I have to say I really do miss writing it. I had thought about making a resolution to write more, but knowing how hard it has become to eke out time to just sit down and write, I have decided not to put that pressure on me to do it. So I will write when I can and hope that you will enjoy sharing the journey as we move into the future.

One thing that has changed this year is that we have now taken on Tammy Anderson as more than just an Event Director for our weddings. She now not only books our weddings, but has taken on the role to book our private events as well. She has also taken on assisting me with computer work. Yes, we have become that busy! We are so happy that we found her a year and half ago. She has been a true blessing and I really enjoy not only working with her, but her friendship. I do have to say one thing though…. She is a slave driver! She does keep me on task and doesn’t like me head wonder too far off. I need that at times.

With milestones coming in for the business, I am coming up on a milestone for myself. My birthday is coming up on January 31st. I normally don’t worry too much about it, but this one is a big one for me. Yes, I am turning 50. Wow, just saying it doesn’t even make it seem real. But I am not worried about it too much, though over the last few days I have started noticing people talking about it. When I went to the movies on Monday, one of the preview commercials was talking about a lady who had just turned 50 and how she need to start worrying more about her health. Then tonight as I was listen to the Family Feud, one of the questions was “What birthday is one of the hardest to have?”. The number one answer was “50”. Yeah… I’m not too worry about it…. I think.

With this milestone, Brett and I decided it was time to take a vacation. It has been three years since we last went on vacation, a year before we opened Belle Grove. So I think it is time to stop and take a real breath. January is the best month for us to do this since we tend to slow down during this time. Though I have to say that this January has been a lot busier than past. So starting on Monday, January 25th to Sunday, January 31st, we are off to relax and enjoy seeing each other. My phone will be off, for the most part and my email will be on hold. Tammy has stepped in to be our “Inn Sitter” to keep the wheels moving while we are gone. Because when we get back, we will be hitting the ground running with February and Valentine’s Day.

So where are we going for our vacation, you ask?

Well you know me, I can’t just tell you! So we will be playing a week long game of “Where in the world is Michelle AND BRETT?” This one is going to be a lot of fun! We will be posting photos and hints and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
I know, I am supposed to be on vacation. But this is more fun than work!

So stay tune! It is going to be a crazy week!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Milestones
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