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March 3, 2022 / Joanne Yeck

Snowden: A Plantation in Buckingham County, Part V

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

Snowden and the Harris Family

Ultimately, in order to divide Randolph Jefferson’s estate among his children and his widow, the farm was sold out of the family. A large percentage of the remaining land, 1,445 acres, was purchased by Capt. John Harris of Albemarle County, who lived at Joshua Fry’s former plantation, Viewmont. Snowden added significantly to Harris’s expansive network of plantations, mills, and commercial ventures. When he died in 1831, he was said to be the richest man in Albemarle.

Capt. Harris’s plans for Snowden were interrupted by his death in 1831 and long disputes over his will, especially concerning who would inherit the plantation. Ultimately, the valuable farm was purchased by his great-nephew, John L. Harris (c.1797–1856). Born in Amherst (later Nelson) County, Virginia, Harris was a merchant, doing business in Lovingston, Nelson County. In 1846, he was a middle-aged bachelor when he began paying installments toward purchasing 1,277 acres of the plantation.

By the time Harris acquired the farm, Scott’s Landing, on the northern bank of the James River across from Snowden, had grown into the bustling town of Scottsville. The ferry still operated from Snowden’s landing, serving Buckingham County and adding commercial income to Harris’s investment.

In 1849, Harris paid his first land tax at Snowden. In about 1850, he completed building a fine Georgian style house at the crest of the hill, overlooking the Horseshoe Bend of the James River. That year, he was enumerated there on the federal census, age forty-five, though he may have been a few years older. Thomas Baber, a local carpenter, was living with him, possibly finishing work on Harris dwelling house, which still stands today.

When John L. Harris acquired Snowden, there was no “big house” on the property. The Randolph Jefferson dwelling had burned in early 1816 and no evidence has been found that another was built between 1816 and Harris’s construction of his own dwelling c.1850. An assessment of the property written in July of 1836 states: “The improvements on this place are hardly worth mentioning consisting mostly of an old one story dwelling house with two rooms.”

A bachelor, Harris was free to build a house reflecting his own taste, without any input from a wife. The result was a large and showy dwelling for a single man. The story persists in the Harris family that he was planning to bring a bride to Snowden, explaining the size and grandeur of Harris’s home.

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To learn much more about the Harris era at Snowden, please consult my article “The Dwelling at Snowden” (Central Virginia Heritage, Summer 2020).

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

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