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.
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.