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February 24, 2022 / Joanne Yeck

Snowden: A Plantation in Buckingham County, Part IV

Illustration by Genevieve and Maude Cowels.

Need to catch up? Click here: Snowden: A Plantation in Buckingham County, Part I

African American Life At Snowden

Over the decades in which the Jefferson family owned the plantation known as Snowden, dozens of enslaved African Americans made it their home.

While it was still Peter Jefferson’s distant plantation across the river from Albemarle County’s first courthouse with only an overseer in charge, Snowden was home to at least six adults and, eventually, a child. Named in Jefferson’s 1755 inventory were: Betty, Quash, Nell, Bellow, Crummel, Sanco, and little Bellow/Bella. The inventory of Snowden’s property included six hoes, indicating that all of the adults were involved in farming.

In 1764, when Thomas Jefferson turned twenty-one, he began the redistribution of slaves to satisfy his father’s will. Ultimately, twenty-four slaves were assigned to Randolph. Quash, Nell, little Bellow/Bella, and, possibly, Betty, left the farm, taking up residence at Monticello. Initially, Crummel, Sanco, and Bellow may have stayed on in Buckingham, while other slaves were selected from Shadwell in Albemarle County and ultimately moved to Snowden. During the years between this distribution and 1776 when Randolph took possession of the plantation, a slave named Hannah died at Snowden as a result of a beating by the overseer, Isaac Bates. Additionally, Randolph received little Rachel, a gift from his mother, Jane Jefferson.

By January of 1782, Randolph Jefferson paid tax on the following individuals:

Nimrod, James, Squire, Peter, Adam, Hanibal, Lucy, Jane, Flora, Effy, Edy, Phillis, Dinah, Orange, Milly, Pat, Daphney, Juno, Dilce, Mary, Sally, Betty, Will, Jupiter, Cyrus, Jack, Frank, Syller (Sully?), Thornton and Jacob.

The following year, some of the names were missing from the tax record and these individuals were added: Statey, Tinny (?), Esther, Luce (Lucy?), two Jennys, Isaac, Cary, Elijah and Perkins. Cary, it is known was a recent birth at Snowden.

Most, but not all, will remain only names in tax records. However, in a few special cases, details of the lives of slaves at Snowden survived in correspondence and other records.

Thomas Jefferson eventually purchased Ben and Cary, whose lives at Monticello differed sharply. Ben proved a satisfactory worker, while Cary was disruptive and eventually was sold to a Georgia slave trader.

Much later, in May of 1813, Fannie was trained at Monticello as a spinner, to work on the Spinning Jenny sent to Snowden by Thomas Jefferson from his Bedford County plantation, Poplar Forest.

In the early 1800s, Squire was frequently mentioned in Thomas Jefferson’s memos and in correspondence between the Jefferson brothers. He may be one of the two individuals named Squire listed on Peter Jefferson’s 1757 inventory, one of whom was a boy valued at £27.10.

The story of Orange and his wife, Dinah, is complex and moving. Sometime before 1782, Orange was transferred from Albemarle County to Snowden in Buckingham. There, Orange was a trusted and mobile servant, running errands for Randolph Jefferson as he had previously done for Thomas Jefferson. He was particularly motivated to visit Monticello, where Dinah remained. Separations like this were common with enslaved couples; some planters were more accommodating with visits than others. Ultimately, Orange and Dinah had at least three children together.

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My book, The Jefferson Brothers, is currently discounted online at Braughler Books. Learn much more about slavery at Snowden in the chapter entitled “The Jefferson Servants.” Click here to download a PDF of Chapter 1, “Peter Jefferson, Gent.”: The Jefferson Brothers

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

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