This paper was presented on September 20, 2016 at the Slave Dwelling Conference in Columbia, South Carolina
by Deanna M. Knox
Distinguished Major in History
U.Va College of Arts & Sciences | Class of 2018
The story begins 1770, with a gentleman by the name of Patrick Hamrick selling his deed to an ambitious immigrant from New Jersey named Rutt Johnson. Johnson’s new land, which became known as Clover Hill Farm, remained in his family until 1987. Similar to other farms in the surrounding areas, Clover Hill was family-owned, but slave-operated. Rutt Johnson relied on slave labor to keep not only his business running successfully, but also he and his family’s daily lives. Enslaved folks at Clover Hill were cooks, blacksmiths, housemaids, coachmen, and more; they fulfilled every single role of regular day-to-day life. Without the use of forced labor, Clover Hill Farm would have remained an insignificant and unsuccessful dairy farm. Clearly there are many reasons why Clover Hill’s slave quarters are a fascinating subject to study, but a key reason is because it very well may be the oldest building still standing in Manassas, Virginia. While this is of course an impressive feat, the narrative surrounding Clover Hill should not simply be that it boasts of the oldest surviving structure of Manassas on its property. Instead, the discussion should include the stories and struggles of those people enslaved on the farm who spent their lives at the service of the Johnson family. It is vital to understand that these people were more than just slaves; enslaved blacks were engineers, artisans, musicians. They were chefs, dancers, singers. They were mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. They were human beings, with human instincts and desires. The goal of this research project is to spur forwards the discussion about the people, rather than just the architecture.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Virginia is marked by the integration of slavery into every aspect of society. Large plantation owners to small yeoman farmers utilized slave labor, just on different scales. While we do see in Rutt Johnson’s will that he owned slaves, according to one of his descendants Alice Johnson, the first documented knowledge of Johnson utilization of slave labor is in the estate of Joseph Johnson dated April 6, 1857 in family records. Sixteen names appeared on that document: Ben, Richard, an unnamed slave referred to as “a blacksmith,” Milly, Martha, “Old Frank,” Sarah, Rachel, Eliza, Tony, Peter, John, Bill, Ann, Isaac, Harriott, George, Sally, Amos, “little Frank,” and Matinoa.
Clover Hill Farm in 1857 was being managed by the widowed Eliza Wheatley Johnson. In 1854, Eliza Johnson was forced to raise four children alone and manage the family farm after her husband passed away. The dates of her takeover of Clover Hill and the documentation of slaves are incredibly significant considering the original documentation of enslaved laborers was not written until 1857, three years after Eliza Johnson’s husband departed her. Since this is the first time we see records of slaves on the farm, it suggests that formal record-keeping outside of finances may not have been something undertaken by her husband, or even by her relative Rutt Johnson. After not bothering to create formal records for almost 100 years, what happened that prompted Eliza to begin record keeping? Due to the two dates coinciding, we can hypothesize that a man called Dred Scott had something to do with her choice. Documentation of slaves by Eliza Johnson was on April 6th of 1857, exactly one month after the Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott decision essentially declared that the United States Constitution did not recognize slaves as citizens, therefore enslaved people did not have the same rights as free white men, including the right to sue for their own freedom. While this is an interesting connection, why would a small town slaveholder from Virginia care about what decisions were made in the United States Supreme Court? Well, it can be thought that as a widow raising four children and managing a farm, Eliza often sent one of her slaves to do her bidding, and a book mentioned later in this essay does indeed prove that some of her enslaved people were trusted with leaving the Johnson’s parcel of land. Every time a slave leaves their owner, there is a bit of risk on the owner’s behalf that the slave will not return. By maintaining the proper documentation of ownership, Eliza’s chances of one of her slaves attempting to escape to freedom using the law is much lessened.
Now that it is understood how that document came into being, exploration into who these 16 people were and how they lived can begin. The slave cabins that prompted this investigation into Clover Hill served as a home for those 16 slaves. The double slave quarters are constructed out of stone. It is referred to as a double slave cabin because of its dual entrances on the southern side of the cabin. There are two individual fireplaces inside of the building, and exterior chimneys on either end. A set of stairs leads to an upstairs loft area with small windows on both of the end walls. Because of the repetition of structures inside the cabin, it is thought that the quarters were meant to house two families. As you all can see in this picture, two entire families squeezed in here would become insufferable, especially during the heat of a Virginia summer. But size of the quarters did not matter, it only mattered to the Johnson family how close it was to the farm house. Due to the proximity of the slave quarters to the main family home, it is thought that the slaves who stayed in the slave quarters primarily worked as domestic laborers. A house servant or a cook would need to be close to the big house at all times in case their owners needed a task to be done quickly. We know where these slaves lived, but what did they do? There are no records from any enslaved person or any member of the Johnson of what their daily lives looked like, and as in any area of history, it is impossible to make a blanket assumption as to what their lives were like simply based on stories of others, but we do have an idea. At least one slave most likely served as a domestic servant; cooking, cleaning, or even acting as a nanny to the young Johnson children. An unnamed slave referred to as a blacksmith indicates that they did have a blacksmith on the premises as well to take care of any iron or metal needs. Farm hands would have also been essential to running Clover Hill, and perhaps a man-servant for the house for driving and serving any male guests. While we cannot make concrete conclusions about what day to day tasks included for Ben, Richard, “a blacksmith,” Milly, Martha, “Old Frank,” Sarah, Rachel, Eliza, Tony, Peter, John, Bill, Ann, Isaac, Harriott, George, Sally, Amos, “little Frank,” and Matinoa, we can determine how they were treated by Eliza Johnson and the rest of her family through their personal records, and the records of former slaves post-Emancipation.
At Clover Hill, the relationship between slave and slave owner was almost familial. There are documents that have been discovered that reveal how the enslaved were treated by the Johnson’s; In addition, there is a sort of silent evidence. What is missing from the records speaks just as loud, if not louder, than what was actually left behind. Both the written and unwritten evidence helps us to identify this rather amiable relationship that the Johnson’s had with their enslaved laborers. Because most slaves were illiterate due to laws restricting slaves from becoming literate, we cannot look to personal journals for information. But, Prince William County’s court records throughout the 19th century reveal a bit about enslaved people in Prince William County and what their lives were like. There is a profusion of cases about neighboring farms; reports of slaves being brought to court on charges of insubordination, general disobedience, and occasionally more dramatic cases. At this point I would like step away from Clover Hill for a moment, and talk about two enslaved people: Adaline and Abram. Adaline was owned by Sarah Cockrell, who, according to a book by the Virginia Writers’ Project titled Prince William: The Story of Its People and Its Places, was the matriarch of Bloom Hill Plantation, a neighbor of Clover Hill. On May 5th of 1845, Adaline was brought to court to be charged with setting fire to the house of Richard Stonnell Sr., which was occupied by his son at the time, Richard Stonnell Jr. Adaline swore upon God that she was innocent of the crime committed, but the Court did not agree. Young Adaline was found guilty and sentenced to receive fifteen lashes on her bare back. Another incident recorded in Prince William County’s court records describes a trial against an enslaved man named Abram. Abram was accused and eventually convicted of attempting to “assault and ravish” a woman named Mary Jane Hurdle. Abram also pleaded not guilty, but the court again, did not agree; he was sentenced to be executed by hanging in the coming months. Although this research presentation is not about Adaline or Abram, the stories of these two enslaved people provide important examples of how often slaves were brought to court in Prince William County. But, from 1752 to 1865, none of these court records directly involve the Johnson family or any of their enslaved people. What this suggests to us is that the Johnson family and their enslaved laborers formed amongst themselves a relationship of unequals, meaning that one party clearly had the upper hand, but it was a relationship nonetheless. The lack of court records on its own does not necessarily prove that Eliza Johnson treated her slaves well, but in conjunction with a personal letter from Mrs. Johnson, that claim becomes irrefutable. In a letter held by the Manassas Museum, it was revealed that Eliza fired a manager of hers. Now, there is nothing spectacular about a shift of staff, however, the reason Eliza decided to fire him is quite intriguing. The letter disclosed that Eliza fired her manager because it came to light that he had whipped one of her slaves, and she told the recipient of this letter that her slaves were never to be mistreated. This rather enlightened opinion remained at the forefront of every decision Emily made, even if it caused her to lose a manager, which could have led to severe trouble on the farm if she could not find a replacement quickly. But why did she not allow her slaves to be whipped? Did she truly care about their well-being, or was it more of a manipulation game on her behalf in hopes that her slaves would love her for sparing them from excessive pain? Information out of later records from former slaves seems to show that Eliza Johnson and her descendants, genuinely did not want to cause unnecessary physical harm to their slaves. The authentic bond the Johnson family shared with the slaves who labored at Clover Hill stayed true, even when the Civil War broke out.
The Civil War overran the South, especially in Virginia. The war broke families apart, it caused people to flee for safety away from their homes, and eventually, it brought freedom to all people regardless of race. The Johnson’s were one of many families who decided to evacuate their homes in fear of the coming armies. When they returned to Clover Hill after the war, the Johnson’s found that their home and crops had been burned by Union soldiers. The only structures to survive were the stone weaving house and the slave quarters. Eliza Johnson and her family had no house, no crops, and no slaves. Despite having no enslaved laborers due to the Union triumph over the Confederacy and the subsequent emancipation, The Johnson’s still had Emma Chapman, and she is how the Clover Hill story is continued. Emma Chapman was born a slave on June 7th in 1857, and she had the opportunity to flee to the North during the war. Instead, along with approximately 2,000 other enslaved persons in Prince William County, Emma decided to remain with the Johnson family. She continued to work for them after the Civil War ended, and up until her passing. Emma Chapman sparks a very important question: if she had the opportunity to flee towards guaranteed freedom in the Union, why did she stay with the people who enslaved her? As difficult as it can be to understand and accept, for some people it was easier to remain a slave than to risk escaping to freedom. In Emma’s case, her owners were most likely the best she could have been with. According to Manassas Museum sources, the Johnson family treated Emma and the other slaves like people, and not property. They were allowed to marry, to raise their own food, to garden and produce fresh produce for themselves, they could work extra and keep any money they earned, and what is most significant, they were not to be subjected to abuse. If any enslaved person of Clover Hill suffered any abuse, they could leave with their freedom. Emma’s description of the permissions that they were allowed lines up perfectly with how historical records portray Eliza Johnson; although Emma and her fellow slaves were allowed these freedoms, it is important to note that everything they had to get permission for are basic, human rights and desires. It is not necessarily impressive on the Johnson’s behalf that they allowed their slaves a taste of human rights; it is instead indicative of how far the dehumanization of slavery in America had gone. If Ms. Chapman had attempted to escape to the Union, any number of disastrous situations could have been inflicted upon her. She could have gotten caught by the Confederate forces and been relegated back to a slave. Or, if she had gotten to a northern state, Emma may have found herself free with zero options; no connections, no home, and no way to create a living for herself. Considering the odds stacked against Emma and the 2,000 other slaves who remained with their owners, it is easier to understand the choices enslaved people during the Civil War had to make. The Chapman family very clearly had a strong relationship with the Johnson’s, but it did not stop Emma and her family from moving away from Clover Hill and creating their own legacy in their own town, once they had obtained their freedom.
After Emancipation, Emma Chapman and her family settled in the town of Lucasville. The few families of Lucasville formed a tight-knit community so small that their town did not warrant the construction of a United States Post Office, or even a local general store. Lucasville locals Alvin and Carroll Conner compiled a book of anecdotes about their neighbors, including stories about former slave Emma Chapman. Emma was born enslaved to the Johnson family to her father Henry Chapman, and her mother, who is unnamed in the Conner’s tale. Henry Chapman is described to have been a well-built, loyal, determined man. The Johnson family trusted him immensely; they even allowed him to drive them to Texas to flee the war. When he returned to Clover Hill after safely delivering members of the Johnson family to Texas, Mr. Chapman was allowed to purchase the freedom of his family for $600. Despite being newly freed blacks with presumably no connections outside of the Johnson family, the Chapman family built a sturdy house and multiple farm buildings over the years. With a strong man like Henry Chapman as her father, it seems inevitable that Emma Chapman became a well-respected member of the Lucasville community.
In their history of Lucasville, Alvin and Carroll Conner reminisce about growing up in Lucasville, and “Aunt Emma” Chapman makes it onto almost every page. The fact that the boys loved Emma while growing up also indicates that Alvin and Carroll’s parents trusted the Chapman’s; they allowed their white children to spend what seemed to be a decent amount of time with a black family that was formerly enslaved by the Conner’s own neighbors. The reason the Conner family seemed to trust Emma most likely stems from the Chapman’s being a genuinely hard-working family with high standards. Though assumed by most white Americans of the time to be of a lower class due to their race, Emma made it very clear to her Lucasville natives that she would not be relegated to just the status of “negro,” and she worked very hard to maintain her respected reputation. Emma’s family members all had reputable positions for blacks at the time as well; Fannie Chapman worked as a maid, but she would only work for wealthy clients. Fannie is documented to have said that her clients had to have plush carpet, and if she could hear herself walk, she would not work there. For Fannie, working with wealthy people distinguished her as having certain standards. Though she was a maid, she was not working for just anyone. Pride and dignity are two descriptors of the Chapman family that integrated every aspect of their lives after the Civil War, even when speaking with white folks. The period following the Civil War was a tumultuous time, especially in the South. Former slaves were now free to build a life for themselves, and some white southerners simply did not understand that their behavior towards blacks during slavery would not be tolerated after Emancipation. Emma Chapman of course was not one to bite her tongue around anyone. There are a couple of stories about Emma that perfectly describe what a bold woman she was. The first story depicts a conversation between Emma and a white Lucasville resident. Apparently, the woman asked Emma if slaves were ever worried about their children being sold away from them, as was known to happen. Emma simply answered with a question: she asked the woman, “would you?” The innocent ignorance of the question prompted Emma to force the woman to think about what she would have done had she been a slave. What’s funny about this story is that it almost seems like the white woman was genuinely questioning whether or not slaves would care enough about their own children to be worried; as if this woman did not think slaves felt the same as any other mother would; like they were not human and did not experience those natural, human emotions. Luckily, Emma set her straight very quickly. The second story happened during Emma’s teenage years after the end of the Civil War. A white man sexually propositioned her, and her response to him was that before Emancipation, she would have had no choice but to comply with his desires, but now that she was free, she would not be taken advantage of. She told him that she would be treated with respect, the same way he would treat his wife or daughter. Just imagine, Emma was only a teenager, and to have the strength to stand up for herself to a grown, white man is incredible. She was a free person, but racism still ran rampant. She could have been in serious danger for so blatantly rejecting a white man, but she did not care. Emma wanted to be treated with respect, the same respect that white women received from men. Emma Chapman died just about a week after her 87th birthday on June 18th, 1944. But the story does not stop with Emma. Because she was so well-known to the Johnson family, Bill and Joe Johnson recalled a bit of her story after she died. Bill has passed, and Joe’s memory is failing, so these are not official records, simply family narratives. They told of two sons of Emma Chapman, who remained very close with the Johnson’s. One of Emma’s sons became a sea merchant, and he regaled the Johnson boys with tales of his sea travels whenever he was able to visit. He also provided them with fruit from other countries like coconuts and pineapples, things Bill and Joe had never seen before. The Chapman boys clearly felt the same love and devotion toward the Johnson family that their mother Emma had for them for her entire life. What is so inspiring about the Chapman’s is that they held no malice towards the family that previously enslaved them, but they were not simply satisfied with remaining on Clover Hill and working for the Johnson’s. They worked diligently to create their own legacy, and to ensure that everyone viewed them as equals.
From 1770 to 1865 and beyond, the enslaved people of Clover Hill Farm proved their resiliency and courage time and time again. Whether it was earning the trust of the enslaver, or standing up to entitled white men. The slaves of Clover Hill, and later the freed people of Lucasville, proved they were hardworking, and equal to their fellow man in every sense of the word, and they did not give anyone a platform to treat them as anything less.
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“Dred Scott’s Fight for Freedom.” Public Broadcasting Services. Accessed Aug. 24, 2016.
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