On July 3, 1855, a child named Wallace was born here at Tuckahoe. His mother was recorded as Ellen who was the cook. Ellen Smith (previously Ellen Anderson) had been enslaved under the Wight family and had five children prior to 1850 when Joseph Allen purchased both the land and the enslaved workers of Tuckahoe. Within a few years, it appears that Ellen started a family with a man named Ed Smith and her children were now listed with his last name. Several children, including Wallace, were born to Ellen during this decade.
We are not sure who Wallace’s father was as the records do not say. Ed Smith? One of the Allen men? Regardless of who his father was, slave code laws at the time stated that any child born would inherit the status of the mother, not the father. In this case, as Ellen was enslaved, any and all of her children would be born into slavery as well. The identity of the father was never mentioned in any record of enslaved children born at Tuckahoe. This lack of family records is one of the crueler and enduring legacies of slavery as many African American family histories end with a name and the word enslaved. Their stories were intentionally silenced.
As the cook, Ellen had a tremendous responsibility and amount of work at Tuckahoe. The reputation of the Allens and of the property would have rested, in many ways, in Ellen’s hands as the serving of elegant cuisine was one of the best ways to make a good impression at the time. In many cases, the enslaved chef would be on call at all hours of the day and night. Having a child would likely not have changed this much. Enslaved women were expected to work right up until they gave birth and were hardly allowed any chance to rest and recover afterwards. Depending on the situation, Ellen may have worked in the Old Kitchen building with Wallace strapped to her back or may have left him in the care of another older member of the enslaved community.
Although we do not know for certain, it is possible that young Wallace was named in honor of his uncle, Wallace Smith. Wallace and Ed Smith were brothers who, like most of the other enslaved workers on the property at the time, had belonged to the Wight family prior to the Allens. Shortly after Joseph Allen acquired Tuckahoe, Wallace ran away. A number of runaway ads were placed in the Richmond newspapers offering a reward for his return over the next several years. At this time, we do not know whether Wallace was recaptured (and consequently sold as punishment), whether he died while he was in hiding, or whether he was ultimately successful in achieving freedom in the north.
Sadly, we do know the fate of the child Wallace. In the next Allen account list, it was reported that the child had died when he was only about one year old. No cause of death was ever listed.
In 1915, a member of the Coolidge family (that owned Tuckahoe at the time) went to visit a woman named Harriet Smith at her home not far from the property. Harriet was Wallace’s sister and would have been about two years old when her brother was born. She said that she had a clear recollection of her time growing up at Tuckahoe in the second quarter from the kitchen building (the North Cabin which still stands along Plantation Street today) and that she had been among the last to be born into slavery on the property. No further details were recorded of Coolidge’s conversation with her. Did Harriet have any memories of her baby brother or was she too young to remember? Perhaps she would have grown up hearing stories of young Wallace and their uncle who ran away. Or perhaps the memory of this lost child would have been too painful to speak of and no mention was ever made. Many of these questions may never be answered. But we will continue to ask them as we share the stories of people, like Wallace, whose lives began and ended here at Tuckahoe.