An Archaeological Overview and
Assessment of the
Historic Dwellings and Plantations within the Main Unit
A summary of land ownership and dwelling construction within the Main Unit during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is provided in Table 4.1; a summary of four adjacent land tracts—for the purpose of reconstructing a broader historical context—will be found in another table later in the chapter.
The data presented in these tables were derived from an invaluable source for land ownership during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Prince George County and for much of Virginia—the annual land tax. The land tax was first collected in 1782, and initially provided information limited to the owner name, tract acreage, land value per acre, and an alterations column that indicates from whom a tract was acquired during a given year. By 1813 a description of the property location and name of one neighbor were noted, and in 1814 data relating to distance and bearing from the county court house were provided. The value of the buildings on the tract was listed from 1820 onward, and the construction, improvement, or destruction of buildings was often mentioned in the alterations column. The reference to buildings is particularly important since it facilitates determination of the degree to which properties were residential rather that agricultural lands or investments in land speculations. It may also be possible to determine when a property was initially occupied, provided such occupation did not predate 1782.
Since the tax was recorded annually, it represents a fine-grained, if limited, measure of architectural development of the cultural landscape. Most Virginia counties—including Prince George—lost many of their old deed books when the records office in Richmond burned in April 1865. The land tax remains in many instances the sole means of tracing land ownership and dwelling construction prior to the Civil War for many areas in Virginia.
By the late eighteenth century, a string of plantation manors stood on the plateau overlooking the Appomattox River: "Clermont" (Cole, later Jordan), "White Hill" (Turnbull, later Gilliam and Friend), and the Taylor plantation (Figure 4.16). The Bate (later Hare) plantation lay west of the plateau bluff, but on an isolated knoll of similar elevation (100 feet above sea level). Colonial settlement patterns emphasized initial occupation of major river valleys, and early foci thus ran along the James and Appomattox rivers. Dwellings stood on all four plantations in 1820, but evidently dated back into the eighteenth century; excavations at the Taylor site indicated that the dwelling had been constructed c.1760 (Blades 1993).
The land values of 23 shillings and 3 pence per acre were among the highest in the area in 1782. By the mid nineteenth century, the plantations were among the largest in the county: Jordan 525 acres; Friend 802 1/8 acres; Hare 150 acres, plus a separate tract of 32 1/2 acres near Blandford; Taylor 475 acres. The only plantation manor on these plantations to survive the Civil War siege was the Friend house, which stood into the twentieth century.
The estate of "Clermont" consisted of 350 acres and was owned by William Cole by 1787. A survey dated May 1797 indicated the boundaries of "Clermont" and the adjoining property of "White Hill" (PG Co. Surveyor's Record 1797:24). By 1805 the notation of the estate of William Cole in the land tax indicated that Cole had died. Another William Cole received the plantation of 300 acres from the elder Cole's will. A buildings value of $2000 was assessed in 1820.
The younger William had died by 1826. William Weeks obtained 482 acres from the estate of William Cole in 1832. Josiah Jones purchased a total of 525 acres—including those formerly owned by the Coles—from George Ruffin in 1833. The value of buildings was listed as $200 from 1830 to 1839. This entry may have been an error, since the 1840 value was raised $1575 in a year when land and building values were generally reduced following the national economic panic in 1839.
Rebecca Jordan obtained the plantation via her husband's will in 1835. By 1838 Rebuke had remarried Christopher Roane, who appears in the land tax as owner. Rebuke outlived a second husband and transferred ownership of the plantation to Josiah Jordan in 1853. The buildings had been valued at $1050 in 1852, but were again assessed at $1575 in 1859. Josiah Jordan owned 16 adult slaves in 1860 (PG Co. Personal Property Tax 1860) and was the owner of the 525 acre plantation in 1864 when the dwelling and buildings were destroyed.
The estate of "White Hill" consisted of 456 acres and shared a common boundary with "Clermont" to the north. Robert Turnbull was the owner of "White Hill" when the boundaries were surveyed in 1797. By 1805 John Gilliam owned various tracts, including the original Turnbull plantation. Gilliam conveyed 460 acres to Nathaniel Friend in 1817. The buildings were valued at $2000 in 1820. By 1830 the plantation had increased to 538 acres; Charles Friend received the land in Nathaniel's will in 1842.
Charles Friend owned a plantation of 802 acres during the Civil War, a plantation that had 36 adult slaves in 1860 (PG Co. Personal Property Tax 1860). Unlike the homes of the vast majority of neighbors, the Friend dwelling survived the siege. However, $2000 of a total value of $3240 was deducted in 1865 for destruction of buildings. The dwelling stood into the twentieth century; a photograph in the park archives in Petersburg shows a two-story frame house and suggests a two-room deep or "double pile" floor plan.
Richard Bate owned 200 acres south of "White Hill" in 1782. Two Mutual Assurance Society policies dated 1796 and 1805 recorded the principal buildings on the Bate plantation. The sketch on the 1796 policy (Mutual Assurance Society 1796) indicated the following structures were present (Figure 4.17):
The buildings were valued at $2000 in 1820. The size of the plantation was reduced to 158 acres by 1799 and 150 acres by 1824. Bate had died by 1830. Otway Hare obtained the 150 acre estate from the Jockey Club of the nearby New Market horse race field in 1837. The value of Hare's buildings were reduced to $1500 after the 1839 economic panic. Hare was the owner of this plantation of 189 acres during the Civil War; the 1860 personal property tax indicated he also owned 22 adult slaves. His buildings were destroyed during the siege.
The Taylor plantation reflects one of the more complex ownership histories. As mentioned previously, archaeological evidence indicates that the dwelling was constructed during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, probably by Richard Taylor, who owned the property in 1782. Richard deeded the a plantation of 130 acres to his son George in 1790 (PG Co. Deeds 1787-92:347,348), although the gift was not recognized in the land tax until 1797 when 300 more acres were transferred. George had died by 1816; the plantation was owned by a succession of individuals—probably land speculators—during the 1820s. The value of the buildings was assessed at $1500 in 1820.
A measure of ownership stability emerged in 1830 when the Hearth family purchased the property. The plantation returned to the Taylor family in 1848 when Mary Taylor purchased the 305 acre estate. William Byrd Taylor inherited the plantation from his mother in 1851. The building value was increased to $2375 in 1859, but contemporary increases in building values on the Jordan, Friend, and Hare plantations suggest currency inflation rather than additions or improvements. William owned 18 adult slaves in 1860. The dwellings and other farm buildings were destroyed in June 1864. The site was referred to on Civil War maps as the "Chimneys," a reference to the tendency of brick chimneys in Tidewater Virginia to remain standing after the associated frame dwellings had burned.
A particularly interesting aspect was the return of William Byrd Taylor to the farm after the Civil War. He built a smaller frame dwelling on the brick foundation of the kitchen and laundry once occupied by his former slaves, and continued to occupy the farm until his death in 1875. A dairy farm was located on the site during the early twentieth century until the property was purchased by the National Park Service.
The Gibbons house and farm along the Prince George Court House Road near Harrison Creek reflect a different pattern: increasing settlement density during the nineteenth century as some older plantations were subdivided and sold. The Gibbons farm had once been a portion of a larger tract; 36 acres were purchased from John Tatum by Francis Rives in 1848. William Gibbons purchased the tract from Rives in 1855. A value of $1008 for buildings in 1856 suggests that Gibbons had structures built in 1855-56. Gibbons was taxed for the 36 acre tract and a nearby one of slightly more than 9 acres during the Civil War, but buildings previously valued at $1008 were destroyed during the siege. The Gibbons farm was thus occupied for only a decade between 1855 and 1865, although the 1942 master plan map indicates twentieth-century activities on the property.
The tiny (1 acre) Griffith tract along the plank road south of Blandford (modern Crater Road) reflects an earlier subdivision of an estate. Lydia Fells, a "free negro," obtained the lot from Elizabeth Taylor, an heir to the estate of Richard Taylor who previously owned (and built?) the Taylor dwelling. Fells owned the lot for 30 years, but no building values were noted in the land tax. Fells evidently sold the lot to Samuel Brisband in 1851, who in 1852 sold it to Timothy Rives, owner of a large plantation near Blackwater River in the county. By 1857 a building value of $700 was listed for the 1 acre lot. William Griffith purchased the lot in 1861; the buildings were noted as destroyed on the 1866 land tax.
The Dunn house remains an enigmatic feature of the landscape from the standpoint of historical documentation. The Dunn house was located south of the junction of the Prince George Court House and Jordan's Point roads, near Dimmock Battery 11. No mention of a J. Dunn was encountered in the land tax records, which may indicate that the Dunn family leased the property. (Robert Dunn of Petersburg obtained a 5 acre tract with no buildings "near Blandford" in 1849, but sold the land to B. F. Cox in 1851.) However, James A. Dunn appears in both the 1860 Virginia personal property tax and the 1860 U.S. Census. The personal property tax indicates that Dunn owned 9 adult slaves. The Census data (U.S. Census, PG Co., p. 67) record that Dunn resided in dwelling no. 555 as a farmer with real estate valued at $8000 but no personal estate. This real estate value may be compared with that of the Hare ($20,000) or Taylor ($12,000) plantations to suggest that the Dunn farm was smaller or composed of less valuable land.
Estates adjacent to the Main Unit
Four properties of varying size may be identified on lands adjacent to the modern Main Unit (Table 4.2). Two of the estates lay on the 100 foot plateau between Blandford Church and Poor Creek. The Payne farm was adjacent to the plank road (modern Crater Avenue) and was small in size (7.5 acres). The tract was owned by S. Jackson in 1857, and by David Payne and Jackson in 1858. The land tax indicates the buildings valued at $735 had been erected in 1860. David Payne was the sole owner in 1864. Payne was a lumber merchant born in Pennsylvania with real estate valued at $5000 and a large family consisting of his wife—also a Pennsylvanian—and six children (U.S. Census, PG Co., p.63). He also owned three adult slaves.
The Payne tract and the Bowman tract to be discussed remained behind Confederate lines for the duration of the siege of Petersburg. It would appear that the dwelling and any associated outbuildings survived the siege, since a value of $735 was listed in the 1865 land tax. In some instances, however, a few years passed before damage or destruction during the siege was noted in the land tax.
The Bowman farm lay slightly to the east of the Payne tract. The property was originally a small portion of the former Richard Taylor plantation. (This Taylor estate was separate from those acres that Richard deeded to his son George in 1790 on the Taylor plantation east of Poor Creek within the Main Unit.) Elizabeth Taylor owned the property of 157 acres into the 1840s. A building value of $392.50 was assessed until 1851 when no further value was recorded, presumably due to destruction of the buildings. Henry Bowman purchased 5.5 acres from the estate of Elizabeth Taylor in 1857, and in that year erected buildings assessed at $850. The 1860 Census listed Henry Bowman as a butcher with a wife and two children and real estate valued at $3000 (1860 Census, PG Co., p. 63). He was charged with one adult slave in the 1860 personal property tax. By 1861 he owned an adjoining tract of 13 acres near Blandford. Henry sold the property in 1862 to Charles Bowman and others, who were the owners in 1865 when the buildings were recorded as destroyed.
Two properties were located south of the modern park boundary (Route 109 or Hickory Hill Road), and thus lay behind Union lines throughout the siege. The Shands plantation was located on the 100 foot plateau above Harrison Creek, west of and behind Dimmock Battery 14. The dwelling on William Shand's plantation of 220 acres was evidently constructed after 1837 and before 1842, when a value for buildings of $960 was assessed. That value was lowered to $660 in 1851 and $617 in 1859. William had died by 1860 when the Census recorded Sarah Shands as a farmer with two children and real estate valued at $7000 (U.S. Census, PG Co., p. 62). The 1860 personal property tax indicated that 10 adult slaves also labored for Shands. The property is shown on the 1863 Gilmer map (O.R. Atlas 1863), but is indicated by the name "Webb." The plantation had grown to more than 308 acres, but the buildings were destroyed during the siege.
John Avery owned a large plantation south of the Sussex Road (modern Route 603). The plantation contained 660 acres with buildings valued at $2500 in 1850. The increase in buildings value to $4164 in 1857 evidently reflected the same inflationary trend noted previously for valuations on plantations within the Main Unit. The Avery buildings were clearly shown on the 1863 Gilmer map, as was a row of "Negro Qrs" (quarters) to the south. The 1860 personal property tax indicated that Avery owned 39 adult slaves. His buildings were destroyed during the siege, as were many others located close to the Union Army front lines.
The local landscape was therefore a mixture of large eighteenth-century plantations—although the earliest date for the Avery house was not determined—and dwellings of smaller farms erected in the 1840s and 1850s. Whether large or small, these farms were supported by the labor of slaves whose numbers varied directly with the size of the farms and plantations.