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February 3, 2022 / Joanne Yeck

Snowden: A Plantation in Buckingham County, Part I

“Snowden” marked on the Fry-Jefferson Map

In 1995, I began to investigate my maternal grandmother’s Virginia heritage. This research quickly snowballed into an interest in her native Buckingham County, particularly 19th century plantation life. A branch of my grandmother’s Harris family purchased a farm called Snowden from the estate of Randolph Jefferson. When I discovered this, I hadn’t the faintest idea who Randolph Jefferson was. It didn’t take long to find out. . . .

Since then, my research concerning Randolph Jefferson and Snowden has never ceased and has resulted in multiple publications, including The Jefferson Brothers (2012), Peter Field Jefferson: Dark Prince of Scottsville and Lost Jeffersons (2019), Peter Jefferson’s Snowdon: A History of Settlement at the Horseshoe Bend (2020) and “The Dwelling House At Snowden: A Virginia Historical Inventory Case Study.” (Central Virginia Heritage, Summer 2020).

The series that follows is just a taste of what I believe is a fascinating history of what was once a very valuable plantation, located at the Horseshoe Bend of the James River.

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Peter Jefferson’s “Snowdon”

In the 1750s, Col. Peter Jefferson, father of future President Thomas Jefferson, assembled a plantation on the south side of the James River, at the Horseshoe Bend, located across from the new Albemarle County Courthouse at Scott’s Ferry. There, Jefferson assembled by purchase and patent over 2,000 incredibly valuable acres consisting of both high and low ground. He named his farm “Snowdon,” after the family’s presumed homeland in Wales. Located at the center of the newly formed Albemarle County, Jefferson envisioned not only the potential for a productive farm, but also a lucrative ferry landing — complete with an ordinary, or tavern, at the river. While he did not live to see his vision realized, Peter Jefferson’s plantation would blossom into an agricultural and commercial success in the decades to come.

When Peter Jefferson died on August 17, 1757, he owned two significant plantations: Shadwell, near the Rivanna River where he made his home, and the distant Snowdon, occupied by a handful of enslaved field hands, a few horses, and some livestock. When Peter’s elder son, Thomas Jefferson, came of age, he chose Shadwell as his own. Here he would eventually build Monticello. As a result, his much younger brother, Randolph, inherited Snowdon. Beginning in 1776, when he reached the age of twenty-one, Randolph would claim Snowdon. Over the years, spelling drifted to Snowden (conforming to pronunciation). There, Randolph Jefferson settled with his bride, raised his family, and remained until his death in 1815.

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For much more about Snowdon during Peter Jefferson’s lifetime, consult my book, Peter Jefferson’s Snowdon: A History of Settlement at the Horseshoe Bend

Coming Next: Snowden: A Plantation in Buckingham County, Part II

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