Smithfield Plantation

Last week, family business took us to Blacksburg, Virginia. We had time for a little sightseeing, and decided Smithfield Plantation would be a good option in these COVID times, since the tour is mostly outside.

Once I arrived, I realized that this plantation could be comparable to those of the Virginia ancestors I’ve recently been researching. OK, maybe a notch above on the socio-economic ladder, but probably as close as I am likely to see. So, that was a new perspective on a house tour.

William Preston and his wife Susanna Smith Preston moved to Smithfield in 1774. Just three years later, William Hamner purchased his large tract on Totier Creek in Albemarle County where he established his plantation, possibly named Glendower. So these plantations were contemporaneous.

Information placards at Smithfield state that around 42 enslaved people lived there at its peak. This would be a few more than William Hamner likely held, but is in the same general ballpark as both him and Terisha Turner of nearby Amherst County. Both these men were large landowners, and were wealthy enough to be called “planters.” They were considered to be above “yeoman” farmers on the social ladder, but below elite “gentry” families such as the Jeffersons and Custises.

While I have quite a few estate inventories on file, I’ve never actually seen anything left behind by my early ancestors. As I looked around Smithfield, I thought of these Virginia planter families and wondered if the lovely 18th century furnishings are similar to what might have been in their homes.

My wealthier ancestors may have lived in homes similar to Smithfield.
Dining tables, sideboards, and “setting chairs” are often mentioned on inventories (I’ve never seen any mention of a painting, however.)
When daughters inherited the customary “feather bed and furniture” did it look like this one in the front parlor at Smithfield?
Or (more likely) this simple bed with a beautiful handmade quilt?
“Clothes presses” and spinning wheels are often mentioned on inventories.
The winter kitchen, located in the basement of the big house. Now that is a fireplace.
Stephen Reuben Turner made specific mention of his blacksmith’s tools in his will. He likely had a small forge like this one on his plantation, manned by an enslaved blacksmith. (The giant bellows particularly impressed me!)
Each room in the plantation house included information about an enslaved person who worked there.
191 known enslaved workers who lived at Smithfield over the years.
This is one of the nicest slave cabins you’ll ever see. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I expect conditions did vary depending on the plantation.
The kitchen in the slave quarters.
Stepping back, this could easily be the frontier home of one of my much more proletarian Scots-Irish Tennessee ancestors.


One thought on “Smithfield Plantation

  1. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to envision how your ancestors lived based on your research combined with historical sites? I enjoyed all the photographs and descriptions.


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