The three similar cabins along Plantation Street were some of the original quarters for enslaved or indentured people who worked in the main house, kitchen or trades. Each cabin was designed to accommodate two family units. They were divided into two halves, separated by a dividing wall and a center chimney that was open on each side. Each side had a single room with an attic space above it which may have provided an additional sleeping area. Fireplaces provided heat during the winter and cooking space.
Housing enslaved people in separate quarters seems to have become regular practice near the end of the 17th century, when the population of enslaved people in Virginia began growing rapidly. These that you see before you were built around the mid 1730’s.
Only a handful of original slave quarters still stand in Virginia, and most of those that DO still stand are not from so far back as the colonial era. This is because most of these quarters were built cheaply of perishable materials, and decayed quickly after the Civil War, once slavery died as an institution. These that you see before you however, were built in the same manner as the Main House, as clapboard paneling atop a brick foundation, rather than post-in-the-ground structures, and have stood the test of time along with many other outbuildings at Tuckahoe. There were surely many more quarters for those people forced to work in the fields, which were of lesser quality. Research has shown that some of these quarters may have been around the vicinity of the current parking lot. But these, like so many other original quarters, have disappeared from the landscape.
Though slave quarters were structures created by the plantation owner to meet his own needs, it was the enslaved people themselves who made their quarters a functioning living space. Particularly during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when many enslaved people had only recently arrived from Africa, these quarters must have been the center of a very complex set of cultural interactions. Bringing with them their own deep cultural perceptions, and then responding to the challenges of life in enslavement, these Africans became African-Americans, forging a new way of living from elements of their past and their present experiences.
On Thursday November 4th 1915 one of the Coolidges (who owned Tuckahoe at the time), visited a woman named Harriet at her house on the Grayson Road near what they called “the Negro Church”. They noted that Harriet, pictured here with her family, was the wife of Wesley the ditcher. Other records have surfaced which indicate that Wesley’s full name was: Dabney W. (likely William) Wesley. Harriet said that she was the last enslaved person, or at least one of the last, born on the Tuckahoe place before the war, and that she was born in the second quarter from the kitchen, which we now call the North Cabin. She had a clear recollection of her life there as a child. She said she belonged to Mr. Richard Allen but that her mother had been bought by Mr. White, that she was married from Tuckahoe 49 years ago (in 1866) and was the last enslaved person on the place. Census reports list her name as “Harriet Wesley” however on her death certificate it is clear that her maiden name was Smith.
We have a record from the Allen Family that list the Names, ages, occupation and shoe sizes of all the enslaved people living on the plantation in January of 1859. Harriet is on this list, and was 6 years old at the time.
Dabney Wesley died on June 29, 1919 at the age of 72. Harriet passed on April 7, 1926 at the age of 70. The couple had 9 children including Willie E (aka Ella W.), William Price, General D, Lucy G, and Charles. Dabney was listed as having been buried close to Tuckahoe at St. James Baptist Church and at least 2 of their children (Charles and William Price) are buried there as well. Harriet’s death certificate simply says she was buried in Goochland County but it is possible she is buried in the family plot at St. James as well. Likely she is in the family plot at St. James though not confirmed at this point since only the markers of their children are currently visible.