On January 22, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Richard S. Allen married Virginia E. Mitchell at St. Paul’s Church in downtown Richmond. Richard, now the owner of Tuckahoe after his father, Joseph Allen, had passed away the previous year, also owned approximately 60 enslaved workers at the time. Just a few short weeks before Richard’s marriage, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves in Confederate states free. This, of course, would have applied to the enslaved workers at Tuckahoe whose occupations included cooking, gardening, blacksmithing, tending the fields and working inside the main house.
Many questions arise as we consider the circumstances surrounding these events. When Richard returned to Tuckahoe with his new bride to settle in and start a family, how much did their enslaved workers know at that point? Had they heard about Lincoln’s proclamation at all? Perhaps the news had not yet reached them or Richard had deliberately tried to keep such information from them. And if they did know, how did it affect them?
We also wonder what Virginia Mitchell would have thought about her new situation as mistress of a large plantation. A plantation whose enslaved labor force had just been declared free. Born in New Hampshire, Virginia likely had many friends and family connections in the northern states. Did she have any feelings of sympathy for the Union even though she had just married into a family with strong roots in the south and its practices? Was she opposed to slavery even though she would continue to benefit from it for several years? Or had she embraced the idea of slavery with no qualms?
Mahala Boyd was one of the few enslaved workers who worked inside the main house at this time. This meant that she likely worked quite closely with Virginia and developed a personal relationship with her. We do have an image of Mahala (believed to have been taken after the Civil War) which tells us perhaps the Allens did have some regard and affection for her if they made the effort of having her picture taken. But exactly what kind of relationship they had and what Mahala’s true thoughts and feelings were, we are not certain.
Virginia and Richard Allen remained at Tuckahoe until 1898. The couple had two children: Mary (who died in infancy) and Richard Allen, Jr. Though it has been over a hundred years since the family has lived at Tuckahoe, their presence is still visible in the house today through a number of etchings in the windows. In several bedrooms upstairs, we can see the signatures of Virginia, Richard, and their son, all painstakingly etched into the glass at some point during their residency. We also see ‘Florence Lyle’ who was the sister of Richard Sr. Her signature bears the date of 1863. It is quite possible that Florence would have been at Tuckahoe around the time of her brother’s wedding and she signed her name in the “guestbook” to commemorate the occasion. Though many of the etchings are upstairs in private bedrooms, there are several that are visible on the main floor as part of the tour. Next time you visit Tuckahoe, take a moment to look through the windows and think about all those who have looked through those same panes and who left their marks upon the glass.