The history we know…
The story of slavery at Oatlands begins before the property was so named and before the establishment of the mansion and other buildings we know today. Robert Carter III was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter, one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. Also known as Councilor Carter because of his service on the Governor’s council in Williamsburg, one of the large landholdings Robert Carter III 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.
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 as long as 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.
None of Carter’s ten surviving children shared their father’s belief about the institution of slavery. In 1798, his son, George Carter, inherited 3,400 acres of the Goose Creek tract and landholdings in Fairfax and Prince William counties. By the 1800 census, George is recorded as enslaving 17 people on his Loudoun property. It was on this land that he established his farm that he named Oatlands and constructed on Goose Creek a large grist mill, saw mill, nail factory, and the county’s only known oil mill for pressing flaxseed. In 1817 he 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 garden near the house, 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.
Carter died in 1846, and his wife Elizabeth O. Carter continued to run the plantation as her husband did – with the help of overseers, farm managers, and enslaved labor. She 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.
Photo of Basil Turner taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston ca. 1930-1939. Mr. Turner was enslaved at Oatlands and after freedom worked for the second generation of Carters and then the Eustis family. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Speaking of the Past – Revisiting the Civil War in Loudoun is a program presented at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens on October 1, 2017.
The first phase consists of names extracted from George Carter's will, written in 1842, and Elizabeth O. Carter's diary, kept from 1860 through 1873. The database contains over 900 entries, and there are approximately 120 distinctly different names.
Information from or questions raised by Oatlands researchers are recorded in the Notes column. Future phases will include names from family wills, ledger books, and other primary and secondary source documents.
The database is in PDF (Portable Document File) format.
Reclaim Your Story
African Americans were denied their story during the time of slavery. They were denied their names, ancestral history, and family connections. They were denied their story.
On April 11, 2015, Oatlands partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun and the Loudoun Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee to dedicate two Civil War Trails markers about the enslaved at Oatlands and those who started their new lives after emancipation at Gleedsville. Many descendants of formerly enslaved people gathered to commemorate their ancestors and share stories. Kevin Dulany Grigsby, descended from Sophia (Moton) and Jacob Howard, was the keynote speaker at Oatlands. Marc Johnson, descended from the Buchanans, Valentines, and Johnsons, was the keynote speaker at the church in Gleedsville. Built in 1890, often by candlelight after a long day’s work, it was originally Mt. Olive Methodist Episcopal Church.
Locating descendants and documenting their stories is an ongoing project at Oatlands. Of particular interest are the last names of Allen, Buchanan, Day, Fisher, Gleed, Howard, Jackson, Johnson, Mason, Moton, Murray, Russ/Rust, Smith, Stewart/Steward, Thornton, Valentine, Warner, and Washington. We will tell the stories as we learn more about individuals and families.
Kevin Dulany Grigsby
Visit the Reclaim Your Story exhibit in the former Smokehouse to the left as you enter through the Garden Gate.
Family Stories of the Enslaved Community at Oatlands
Locating descendants and documenting their stories is an ongoing project at Oatlands and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun County. Of particular interest are the last names of Allen, Ball, Bryant, Buchanan, Bush, Carter, Day, Fisher, Gleed, Howard, Jackson, Johnson, Lewis, Mason, Moton, Murray, Russ/Rust, Stewart/Steward, Thornton, Valentine, Warner, and Washington.
We will tell the stories and provide updates as we learn more about individuals and families. If you have information to share, please call 703-777-3174.
Read about the following families: