Our research effort to illuminate the whole history of Tuckahoe over the last year and a half has led us from microfilm at local libraries to historical society records to online newspaper ads. Surprisingly, some of the most interesting documents have been found right here in our collection at Tuckahoe, just waiting to be read and shared. (We have digitized much of our research, contact us at HistoricTuckahoe@gmail.com if you wish to dig deeper yourself).
Recently, we came across an indenture document from 1790 which concerned the marriage of Thomas Mann Randolph and Gabriella Harvie. Within a list of assets of Tuckahoe are the names of at least eighty-seven enslaved people and their specific roles on the plantation. Through this list, we get a glimpse into life at Tuckahoe during that time. We see blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, cooks, drivers, gardeners and washers, just to name a few. Interestingly, one of the blacksmiths appears to have been a woman named Corah. Female blacksmiths were rare, but not unheard of in the colonial era. Corah and Matt (the other blacksmith) were highly skilled artisans and would likely have worked in the Old Stable building on Plantation Street where we believe the forge once stood.
As one of the most prominent and influential families in early Virginia society, the Randolphs would have entertained many guests at Tuckahoe and would have dined on the fine cuisine prepared by George, Patty and Betty. Laboring in the Old Kitchen building along Plantation Street, these three chefs, like many enslaved cooks across colonial America, laid the foundation for American cuisine as they cooked over wood fires and combined their culinary knowledge with the ingredients grown by their fellow enslaved workers to produce the elaborate meals that the Randolphs and their guests expected.
The Randolphs’ taste for luxury extended to their clothing as evidenced by the four enslaved women listed as seamstresses: Milly, Edy, Polly and Nancy. Washing these fine clothes over a wood fire required the labor of an additional four people- Hannah, Annaky, Frank and Old Tomson. In our era of washing machines and dryers, it is easy to forget how much time, work, and care went into washing and drying clothes by hand.
Within the mansion house, day in and day out, would have been Shadwick, James, David, Johnny Watkins, Lucy, Abe, Sally and Priscilla. They would have tended to the family’s daily needs with tasks like stoking fires, cleaning, dressing, bathing, and tending to any children. In such close proximity to the family, they could not have avoided the drama that certainly surrounded the Randolphs at times. When the 18 year old Gabriella came to Tuckahoe as the new mistress of the house, she was taking over from her stepdaughter, Nancy (who was only one year younger than the new bride). Tension quickly rose between the two and Lucy, Sally, Abe, and Priscilla would have been caught right in the middle of it and likely would have been scapegoats for their tempers. These enslaved women also would have been among those who would have supported Gabriella when one of her children died in infancy. While we do not know if any of these women had a similar experience, there is no doubt that enslaved women understood how it was to have their children in pain or taken from them and would have had to bear the Randolph’s grief on top of their own.
Beyond giving us a broader view of life on the plantation during this time, this indenture document also helped us learn more about the story of an enslaved worker named Gabriel. Some time ago, we had found a runaway ad put out by Thomas Mann Randolph in the newspaper. Gabriel, who was listed as a carpenter by trade, had fled Tuckahoe with the overseer’s horse in 1779. He had successfully avoided capture for some years as re-runs of this ad were found in 1784 but beyond that we had no further clues as to his fate. However, the 1790 document may have given us an answer. Here we see a man named Gabriel listed as one of the carpenters. In all probability, it is the same man indicating that he had been caught and returned to a life of slavery at Tuckahoe.
We believe that learning and telling our whole American history can help bring our country closer to living up to our shared ideals of equality and freedom for all. Our research has uncovered a great deal about the enslaved here but there is still more to learn. If you know of stories or information that can help us tell a more complete picture of the history of the people here, please contact us at HistoricTuckahoe@gmail.com. The voices of the enslaved who built and shaped Tuckahoe can illuminate details of our American history that have too long been kept in the shadows. For our part in not telling a whole history, we apologize and commit ourselves to learning and telling a whole history of all the people of this place.