History of Oatlands
Oatlands is grounded in History—valuing and lifting the voices of all who have shaped and been shaped by this historic site. And it is dedicated to Scholarship, for it is only in the active pursuit of knowledge can we sustainably forward the significance and relevance of this important historic site.
In 1798 a young bachelor named George Carter inherited 3,408 acres of prime Loudoun County, Virginia farmland from his father, Robert “Councilor” Carter III. Unlike other sons of wealthy Virginia planters, George did not inherit enslaved people. His father emancipated more than 500 people he held in bondage, starting in the mid-1790s. George did not follow in his father’s footsteps and began to purchase enslaved people as he established Oatlands. The main crop was wheat, and eventually Carter branched out to grow other small grains; raise sheep for their wool; and build a mill complex on nearby Goose Creek. As the plantation grew so did the number of enslaved people to labor on it. By 1860, the enslaved community at Oatlands numbered 133 men, women, and children. It was the largest plantation in Loudoun County.
After the Civil War, formerly enslaved people purchased land from the Elgin family and formed the nearby community of Gleedsville. Near the Carter’s western Loudoun plantation, Bellefield, newly freed people bought land and established Howardsville. The second generation of Carters at Oatlands operated the property as a farm, girl’s school, and summer boarding house. They sold Oatlands out of the family in 1897 to Stilson Hutchins, who never lived here.
In 1903 prominent Washingtonians, William Corcoran Eustis, and his wife Edith Morton Eustis purchased Oatlands as their country home. William was a grandson of Washington philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran, and Edith was the eldest daughter of Vice President Levi P. Morton. Several formerly enslaved people and their descendants worked for the Eustises. Following Edith’s passing in 1964, the family donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1965. Oatlands is a National Historic Landmark, the highest designation given by the National Park Service.
Learn more about the history of Oatlands
The Plantation Era
The land that became Oatlands started as a land grant that Robert “King” Carter purchased for his son, Robert II. At the time of King Carter’s death in 1732, he owned about 300,000 acres that stretched from the Northern Neck to west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and he enslaved approximately 3,000 people.
< Robert “King” Carter
Robert Carter III was the grandson of King Carter and served on the Governor’s council in Williamsburg, earning him the nickname of “Councilor.” One of the large landholdings Councilor inherited from his father was the 11,000-acre Goose Creek tract in Loudoun County. Councilor never lived on the tract; rather, he leased the land to numerous tenant farmers who paid him an annual rent. Some of the tenant farmers might have used enslaved labor to work their leased land.
Robert Carter III >
In addition to the Goose Creek tract, Councilor had numerous landholdings throughout Virginia, encompassing tens of thousands of acres, and he enslaved over 500 people. Over the course of his life, he came to view slavery as immoral and in 1791 he filed a Deed of Emancipation in Northumberland County, Virginia, for the gradual manumission of the people he enslaved. The laws at that time permitted enslavers to free the people they held in bondage if certain conditions were met. Councilor’s “Deed of Gift”, as it is known, is believed to be the largest private emancipation in American history, and one that is not well-known.
< The First Emancipator by Andrew Levy
Construction on the Federal-style mansion began in 1804, using bricks made on the property by enslaved people. Over time, a walled, terraced garden was carved out of a hill on the east side of the mansion, and a propagation greenhouse, dairy, smokehouse, and garden dependency added to the domestic core. A three-story bank barn anchored the agricultural area to the southeast of the mansion, and a large grist mill, saw mill, nail factory, and the county’s only known oil mill for pressing oil out of flaxseed were constructed on Goose Creek.
< Oatlands Mansion and Garden today
In 1817 George successfully petitioned his neighbor and newly elected president, James Monroe, to establish a post office at the mill site. This enclave of businesses became a thriving commercial hub which continued into the mid-20th century.
George Carter’s success as a farmer and businessman was dependent on enslaved labor. Enslaved men, women and children farmed the land, tended the 4 ½ acres of terraced garden near the mansion, cared for the family, and probably worked at the mills. The number of people held in bondage grew from 17 in 1800 to 133 recorded in the 1860 census, right before the start of the American Civil War.
Martin Van Buren Buchanan >
George remained a bachelor until age 58 when he married the wealthy widow, Elizabeth Osborne Grayson Lewis. Her first husband, Joseph Lewis Jr., was a state and federal politician who owned Clifton plantation near the Grayson estate in western Loudoun near Upperville. At Lewis’s death in 1834, nine members of the Bryant family were emancipated by his will. One young woman remained in bondage to serve as Elizabeth’s “ladies’ maid.” Elizabeth’s father died in 1835, and she inherited 11 enslaved people by his will. With her marriage to George, two groups of enslaved people were uprooted and moved to Oatlands, where more than 60 people were already living and laboring on the plantation.
< Elizabeth Osborne Grayson Lewis
The Carters had two boys who survived to adulthood – George and Benjamin. Their father died in 1846, leaving his wife Elizabeth to run the plantation as he did – with the help of overseers, farm managers, and enslaved labor. She never remarried.
George and Benjamin Carter >
Elizabeth kept a diary from 1861 to 1872, recording the temperature, wind direction, and everyday activities at Oatlands and Bellefield, her other plantation that was near Upperville. Her entries include numerous references to certain enslaved people, probably those who were domestic slaves with proximity to the family and those who provided domestic or personal tasks outside of the house. From the diary we get a glimpse of life during and after the Civil War.
< Elizabeth Carter Diary
Elizabeth departed Oatlands after the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861 and moved to Bellefield where she felt it was safer. Both sons married during the war, and her oldest son, George, and his wife Kate Powell, lived at Oatlands.
Kate Powell Carter >
After the war, people formerly enslaved by the Carters embraced freedom and civil rights. People formerly enslaved at Oatlands bought small parcels from the Elgin family and established the village of Gleedsville, named for Jack Gleed. They built homes and eventually a church, which became the heart of their community. People once enslaved at Bellefield purchased small lots from Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law and formed the community of Howardsville, named for Sophia (Moten) and Jacob Howard.
< Gleedsville Church
The Carter family’s fortunes declined following the war. Beset with debt and unable to learn how to farm with a paid labor force, George Carter Jr. and his wife, Katherine Powell Carter, operated Oatlands first as a girls’ school and later as a summer boarding house. In 1897, the Carters sold the mansion with 60 acres to Stilson Hutchins, founder of the Washington Post newspaper. Hutchins never lived on the property, selling it in 1903 to affluent Washingtonians, William and Edith Eustis, as their country home.
Summer boarders at Oatlands, circa 1890 >
The Eustis Era
William Eustis was an avid equestrian, and he found the location ideally suited for stabling his horses and fox hunting. Edith, enchanted by the neglected gardens, was determined to return them to their former splendor.
< William Corcoran Eustis
William Corcoran Eustis was the grandson of wealthy businessman William Wilson Corcoran. Edith Livingston Morton was the daughter of Levi Parsons Morton, who was Minister to France (1881-1885) and Vice-President in the administration of President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893). Edith was life-long friends with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who visited Oatlands periodically.
Edith Livingston Morton >
The Eustises lived in Washington, D.C., and came to Oatlands frequently. The Eustises had 5 children, a boy and 4 girls: Morton, Ann, Margaret, Helen and Edith (Babs). A manager oversaw the farming operation, and a gardener tended to Mrs. Eustis’s garden. Several people who had been enslaved by the Carters worked on the farm or in the garden, as did their descendants. Bazil Turner, pictured here in an undated photo, had been enslaved at Oatlands, and he worked here on the farm and in the garden after the Eustises bought the property.
< Bazil Turner
Valentine B. Johnson was a young man from Gleedsville whose Buchanan relatives worked for both the Carters and Eustises. Valentine was killed in World War I. William Eustis also served during the war, as an aide and interpreter for General Pershing. He came home safely but died in 1921 from complications from influenza that he had contracted several years before. Three years the youngest Eustis daughter, Edith, died of tuberculosis at age 24.
William Corcoran Eustis >
Tragedy struck again when their son Morton was killed in World War II. He served under General Patton, fighting in Sicily, Italy and France, and was killed in action near Domfront, France in August 1944. Another young man from Gleedsville, Sandy Johnson, lost his life in service for his country.
< Morton Eustis
Margaret married David Finley, who was influential in helping Andrew Mellon establish the National Gallery of Art in D.C. Finley was its first Director. He also founded the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, with Jacqueline Kennedy, created the White House Historical Association.
David Finley >
When Mrs. Eustis passed away in 1964, her daughters, Margaret Eustis Finley and Anne Eustis Emmett, donated the Oatlands mansion, its furnishings, and 261 acres around it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
< Ann and Margaret Eustis