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Slave Quarter at Carter's Grove

Slave Quarter

Update: Carter's Grove will be closed for an assessment of the property, grounds, and programs beginning January 2, 2003. Interpretation of rural slave family life will relocate to the Historic Area.

Visitors confront chattel slavery and the black experience in rural 18th-century Virginia at a compound of four rough wooden cabins at Carter's Grove called the slave quarter.

Tidewater staple crop farming, especially the cultivation of tobacco, required intensive labor, and in Virginia hands were scarce. By the 1660s, slave ships were landing captive Africans in force to supply plantation needs.

The importation of slaves continued into the 1720s--especially from today's eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon. By 1765, most Virginia slaves had been born in the colony.

Tax records show Nathaniel Burwell, who came into possession of Carter's Grove and its 1,400 acres in 1771, kept 47 slaves there in 1783. Archaeological excavations in 1970 discovered evidence of slave housing--mainly cellar pits used for storage of food and personal items--between today's reception center and the mansion. Investigation the following year led to reconstruction.

Two double houses, a corn crib, a single-family dwelling, small garden plots, and chicken pens and runs all are arranged about a small courtyard. Roughly framed and fashioned of unhewn logs chinked with mud, the buildings are roofed with tarred clapboards. Stark contrasts to the stately mansion beyond, the dwellings are, nevertheless, much like those the vast majority of Virginians, white and black, slave or free, occupied in the 1700s.

Like most slave owners, Burwell allotted each adult slave a peck of corn each week, clothing, tools, and bedding as well as shelter. Hunting, fishing, gardening, chicken raising, and bartering supplemented the quarter's food supply. Slaves also might barter or sell items fashioned in their hours outside the fields. A black foreman seems to have lived among them and supervised them.

The exhibit opened with the goals of exploring black and white relations in the American colonies, the economic forces that encouraged the creation of the slave system and sustained it, the institutionalization of racism, daily slave life, African cultural backgrounds, the development of African American culture, and slavery's long-term effects.

Interpretation focuses on the last two decades before independence, stressing the richness and complexity of African American culture and discussing the slave's meager possessions. There is, as well, emphasis on the development of extended families and the sense of a slave community that embraced other quarters.