Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Williamsburg / Great Hopes Plantation

Colonial Williamsburg 
Teacher's Institute / Summer 2009
Series Part #7

 Plantation Master Pitches In
Great Hopes Plantation is a nice example of a small southern tobacco farm in the tidal region of coastal Virginia.  It was originally located in York County, Virginia during the 18th century and has now been recreated next to Colonial Williamsburg.  It is within walking distance and is an extension of the historic town's educational exhibits.  The property represents a farm of middling wealth that would have been worked by a labor force of three to five slaves or indentured servants. The buildings were simple, sturdy structures designed for practical purposes, rather than architectural design. Unlike wealthy plantations, the difference between the family home and the slave cabin were minuscule.  A plantation this size provided a way to make a simple living and raise a family.

 Modest Plantation Farmhouse
We often think of estates like Mount Vernon when picturing what a southern plantation looked like during the colonial time period.  However, Great Hopes Plantation is more in line with what was most prevalent in southern agriculture prior to the Civil War.  Less than one percent of southern white men owned more than fifty slaves and the aristocratic gentry, like George Washington who owned more than one hundred, made up less than one quarter of one percent of the population. The majority (80%) of the white population in the south didn't own any slaves and worked their subsistence family farms with their own hands much like their northern counterparts.

Field Hand Slave Labor
Slaves were more valuable than the land they worked, often accounting for 75 to 90 percent of a landowners worth.  Considered property and used as collateral to acquire business loans, slave labor was reserved for the wealthy who ran large corporate farming operations.  Most people could never afford the $500 to $1,500 market price for a single slave.  The majority of farming families created their own work force by having large families. Others supplemented their labor needs by buying the contracts of indentured servants who worked off the cost of their passage to the New World.  Indentured servants were cheaper to purchase but were temporary help, typically working for a period of two to seven years depending on their age and the details of the contents of their contract.

 Slave Cabin Exterior
Slave cabins were typically one-room structures with a loft in the attic, which was usually reserved for the older children.  The interior was practical and with log walls void of decoration, a few simple pieces of hand made furniture, and a hard packed dirt floor. The cabin housed an entire extended family or more, depending on living arrangements. People's entire lives were framed within the simple walls as birth, life, and death occurred with the passing of time.  Slaves were often given food rations once a week and a set of clothing once a year.  Many slave families had their own gardens near the cabin to supplement their diet and could sell any surplus vegetables at market.

 Slave Cabin Sleeping Quarters
The hearth provided a place to prepare food and heated the home during winter months.  Fieldwork was often carried out by women and children while men were often trained in a specific skill that would increase a slave's value.  Some slaves became craftsman performing multiple trades including carpenters, black smiths, coopers, and wheelwrights.  Often they were hired out to other farms in need of skilled labor.  As a slave increased his value, he could also increase his quality of life.  Often skilled slave craftsmen could keep and sell the products they produced for profit on a specified day, if their predetermined quotas were met beforehand.

 Slave Cabin Hearth
The slave coopers at Mount Vernon were required to make one barrel a day and if that quota was met, they could keep and sell any made on Sundays.  It was said a slave who struggled to make a single barrel a day during the week could sometimes find the energy to make three on Sunday.  Call it divine inspiration but this outcome revealed the reality of the slow pace of slave labor, as it was devoid of any personal incentives to work hard.  George Washington bought all the barrels made by his slave coopers on Sundays. Washington became a slave owner at age 11 when his father died and he inherited 500 acres and 10 slaves in 1743 and acquired more throughout his life. By the time he died in 1799, he owned a total of 316 slaves. 

 Plantation Mistress
It is worthwhile to visit a large grand estate like Mount Vernon and then tour a place like Great Hopes Plantation to compare and contrast the two properties.  Southern plantations have been highly romanticized in print and film over the years.  Visiting actual settings gives a more accurate interpretation of the historical reality of the past.

 The Gentleman Farmer
Note: George Washington's attitude toward slavery changed during the American Revolution when principles of liberty were being fought to be preserved.  He was not publicly outspoken on the issue but did lead by example by freeing all of his slaves in his will following the death of his wife Martha. (Picture Credit: The Farmer / Lithograph / The Granger Collection)

Please See All My Photo Albums of Williamsburg at...


Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 1

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 2
Jamestown Matters – Archeological Dig

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 3

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 4
Williamsburg / Duke of Gloucester Street

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 5
Williamsburg / Capitol and Gaol

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 6
Williamsburg / Governor’s Palace

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 7
Williamsburg / Great Hopes Plantation

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 8
Williamsburg / Market Square

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 9
Yorktown / Surrender Field

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 10
Parting Shots / Photography


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