Descendant Community Outreach

Dinwiddie County Census from June 3 1880. Highlighted is Amy Green who was enslaved at the Whitehill Plantation. Dinwiddie County Census from June 3 1880. Highlighted is Amy Green who was enslaved at the Whitehill Plantation.

Looking through historic documents, like census documents, we can learn small details about individuals who were enslaved.

 

In the years leading up to the Civil War, a substantial community of enslaved African Americans lived on the grounds of the Whitehill Plantation. Many of them made their homes in quarters distributed around the property. The Whitehill Enslaved Laborers Project is an ongoing effort by NPS Archeologists that have located some of these homes. Research continues into the lives of those who lived here. The Civil Rights Initiative of the National Park Service supports park efforts to expand the understanding and public interpretation of African American histories and heritage within the United States.

 

Whitehill Plantation on The Eastern Front

Diaries of Charles Friend (1841-1860), the plantation's last owner, a narrative of life at the plantation, written by Charles' daughter Jennie (Friend) Stephenson, and the 1850 and 1857 slave inventories, document the enslaved population at the Whitehill Plantation. Charles kept diaries from 1841-1860 that reported the daily agricultural activities of the enslaved field hands. His records occasionally referenced his reflections on the institution of slavery or mentioned some characteristics of a few of the enslaved people. However, he used his diary as a scientific record to compare agricultural practices such as the use of Guano in particular fields or variable weather conditions from year to year.    

 The 1850 inventory indicates that Charles Friend owned 71 enslaved people, the majority of them being adults, but there were at least five children under the age of 10 years. Unlike the 1857 inventory, the 1850 personal property list had additional information aside from their names.  For a few of them, their year of death, age, and updated status (i.e., sold) was likely added after 1850, when Charles Friend originally wrote his inventory of enslaved people. The 1857 inventory indicates that 63 enslaved people lived at White Hill. 

Whitehill Plantation Personal Property Records 1850 (pdf 54KB) 

Charles Friend Personal Property Records 1857 (pdf 42KB) 

When was a time that you felt like you had no power to change your life or situation?

Before the siege, the Civil War had disrupted the landscape of White Hill. In 1862, Confederate engineer, Charles Dimmock, oversaw enslaved and free black laborers as they constructed a ten-mile stretch of earthworks to protect Petersburg from a Federal attack. Confederate Battery 8 and the earthworks connected to Confederate Battery 7 were on the Friend property east of the main house. It is unknown if the Confederate defenses were altered before the siege. Both sides constructed earthworks on the property during the initial assault in June 1864 and afterward.  There are no known records of enslaved people from Whitehill working to build the Dimmock Line. Friend did hire a few enslaved workers to assist the Confederate Army. Moses, Henry, William, and John worked with the Confederate Army as teamsters and built earthworks in Yorktown and Williamsburg.   

 In 1862, the Friend family fled to their city home in Petersburg. However, Charles occasionally returned to the farm to oversee the work of the field hands. On June 9th, 1864, Friend was unprepared for his once fruitful fields to devolve into lots of desolation, conflict, and death. While managing the field hands as they tended to the last plowing of corn, gunfire announced the Federal Army's silent approach. Friend ordered the field hands to "cut loose the horses and escape as best they could." Friend and some of the field hands concealed themselves behind earthworks until dark.      

 Just six days later, the Federal army would engage in a four-day battle that would conclude with the entrenchment of both armies over the next ten months. The Federal Army captured the prominent hilltop, where the main house at White Hill was. It transformed the area into the Federal Army headquarters. In time, the signal station from the rooftop of the family home, the servants' quarters, and outbuildings were demolished. Jennie mentions, "Betty, the old cook had remained, also Peter, the driver. The outhouses they occupied had been spared." Behind the home was the infrastructure for the Federal encampments, including tents, winter huts, and military paths and roads.  

How might it feel to live through a conflict that disrupts your way of life?

Unlike the other plantation estates that existed within what is now the park, White Hill withstood the siege.  However, the structures associated with the enslaved field hands' quarters were destroyed. Some of the formerly enslaved house servants returned to White Hill. In contrast, others never left the plantation after the Federal Armies' occupation. In Jennie's account, she mentions that Richard, also known as Dick, stayed and maintained the farm.   

"The farm supplies became very insufficient and uncertain. Faithful old Dick, the gardener, would send messages to Mistress that, "The soldiers wouldn't let nothing grow." (Jennie Stephenson, 1897 Pg. 31)  

The Friends seem to have better knowledge of the whereabouts and potentially the livelihood of the house servants rather than the field laborers. Jennie states, "All the house servants did well where they settled, whether North of South. The always come to see us when we are near, and seem to take an affectionate interest in us, as we do in them." Regarding the field laborers, Jennie mentions, "Most of the field hands are lost to our knowledge." Friend's lack of want to pay freed blacks may have influenced the incentive for many enslaved to remain to work the farm. However, this was not the case for at least one formerly enslaved person. "Our own servants were never in our employ after the surrender, save one, who rented a house of my Father's in Blandford and paid the rent in family laundrying" (Jennie Stephenson, 1897, Pg. 48). 

 

Charles Friend hired John in November of 1864. (Slave Roll 1244-NARA)

Day Roll of Slaves employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, November 1861. Charles Friend hired John. Day Roll of Slaves employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, November 1861. Charles Friend hired John.
 

Charles Friend hired Moses and Henry in April-May 1862. (Slave Roll 1099-NARA)

Day Roll of Slaves employed in April and May of 1862 in the Williamsburg area. Charles Friend hired Moses and Henry. Day Roll of Slaves employed in April and May of 1862 in the Williamsburg area. Charles Friend hired Moses and Henry.
 

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How do we form and shape our identity?

Records of the African Americans at Whitehill Plantation are lacking in detail. Their lives withhold essential stories about the slave system, of those enslaved and forced to perform labor throughout the United States before the Civil War. If you think you have a connection to those African Americans enslaved by the Friend family and the Whitehill Plantation, join the Descendant Community and share your stories.

Several workshops or meetings are currently being planned to help strengthen and build community engagement with Petersburg National Battlefield.

If you are interested in participating in a workshop or have family stories you would like to share, please contact Alexis Morris at Petersburg National Battlefield.

 
A black, female archeologist shows visitors artifacts from a recent dig at the Park. There are at a table under a shade tent.

Family history can be difficult to trace for many communities. The Descendant Community Outreach program is for anybody who feels a connection to the history of Petersburg National Battlefield and the area around Petersburg.

Last updated: May 21, 2022

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