The letters of Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson, two enslaved women who belonged to a Virginia governor…(from the Washington Post)

SHARED IN FULL FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

The forced absence of slavery: Rare letters to a Virginia governor give voice to the faceless and forgotten

The letters of Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson, two enslaved women who belonged to a Virginia governor, have been memorialized at Virginia’s Executive Mansion. (Gregory S. Schneider/The Washington Post)

Hannah Valentine was 300 miles away from her family in 1838 when she wrote to say how much she missed them.

“My dear husband I begin to feel so anxious to hear from you and my children,” she wrote.

This wasn’t just any separation; this was the forced absence of slavery. Hannah Valentine had been left behind in Abingdon while her husband, Michael, and others went to Richmond with the Campbells, the white family who owned them.

David Campbell had been elected governor of Virginia. For three years, Michael Valentine and several of his children lived and worked for Campbell at the Executive Mansion, which stands today as the oldest continuously used governor’s residence in the country.

While all of the men who have spent a term as governor in that house are meticulously remembered in the history-obsessed state, the black families who served them — who actually helped build the house in 1813 — are largely forgotten. Every new governor brought his own staff, and they were anonymous property. Even the furniture is better recorded.

So when current Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy, decided to honor the contributions of enslaved workers, they faced a problem: Nobody knew who they were. Eventually, historians working with a group of citizen advisers and students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs managed to unearth a couple of names — among them, Hannah Valentine.

Not only is Valentine an extraordinary character, but her story might have been forgotten if not for the work of historian Norma Taylor Mitchell, who defied her own odds to tell it.

As a graduate student at Duke University in the 1960s, Mitchell was casting around for a dissertation topic when her adviser suggested she look at Campbell’s papers, which had been recently acquired by the university. She quickly discovered something unusual about those papers: They included the letters of a number of women, including the enslaved.

Her adviser was not impressed.

“He said a few antiquarians in Virginia might find that interesting, but that’s not real history,” said Mitchell, 81, now retired from a long career at Troy University. She did her dissertation on Campbell, but came back to those papers years later to write about the women.

And the strongest voice she found was Hannah Valentine’s.

She first turns up simply as Hannah in the records of the Campbell family — in 1811, when she was 17 and pregnant.

David Campbell, governor of Virginia from 1837 to 1840. (Library of Virginia.)

David and Mary Campbell were local royalty. One relative had led troops in the Revolution, another served as treasurer of the United States under presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. David Campbell had wealth and land.

The one thing missing from David and Mary’s life was children. Their niece, Virginia, lived with them for long stretches and became a surrogate daughter, but Mary Campbell desperately wanted a baby and was apparently unable to have one.

In 1827, the family built a brick home called Montcalm. Rather than house their enslaved servants in separate quarters, the Campbells — who seemed to crave social interaction — took the unusual step of housing them in the basement of the main home.

Hannah, Mary Campbell’s personal maid, had at least three children by the time they moved into Montcalm. Mitchell notes that her youngest, David, was named after his master and was mulatto. Hannah herself may have been mulatto, Mitchell says.

While it wouldn’t have been uncommon for the white head of the household to have impregnated a young enslaved girl, Mitchell said she doesn’t believe Campbell was the father of Hannah’s children. Living together so closely, she said, the wife would know, and in most cases would shun the enslaved woman. But that was far from the case here: Mary Campbell and Hannah had a tight relationship their whole lives.

The children were part of a thriving extended family taking shape in that basement. An older woman, Lethe Jackson, who had a daughter of her own, had been owned by Mary Campbell’s family and became a de facto sister to Hannah. Michael Valentine, purchased from Richmond as a carriage driver, married Hannah, who was 10 years his senior. They had three children together, including twins, though one died of scarlet fever as an infant.

Hannah managed the house servants and was the center of family life in the basement, where, according to Mitchell, the population numbered between 12 and 20 at various times.

The children of the enslaved women “provided daily drama and entertainment for the Campbells,” Mitchell writes in her essay, “A Slave Woman and Her Family in Abingdon, Virginia.

“The children even galloped down the hill each day to greet David Campbell as he returned from his work at the courthouse. The Campbells doted on the black infants and toddlers.”

The Governor’s Mansion, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence, in Richmond, two years ago. (Steve Helber/AP)

It was still slavery, though. In some of his letters, Campbell worries that his wife is becoming too indulgent. Later in life, Campbell will sell one of Hannah’s sons when the young man gets into trouble with the law.

But for a time, the Campbells and their slaves achieved a rare degree of — for lack of a better word — integration. The women, white and black, sometimes worshiped together at a Methodist church, and they attended weddings and funerals together. The Campbells purchased an enslaved woman named Mary Burwell who was literate, and she and their niece, Virginia Campbell, taught the rest of the slaves to read and write — despite such education being illegal.

Years later, when Lethe Jackson died, the enslaved families held a wake in the basement, mourning and singing spirituals. Mary and Virginia Campbell opened a trap door in the upstairs kitchen and sat around it, listening, for hours.

The white women appreciated “the beautiful singing,” Mitchell said, but knew enough to enjoy it from a distance. “They respected it,” she said. “They knew it wasn’t theirs, but they respected it.”

In 1837, the family’s unusual togetherness was disrupted when David Campbell was elected governor. He, Mary and niece Virginia moved the 300 miles to Richmond, and they took some of their black servants with them.

Michael Valentine and several older children — including David — made the trip, while Hannah, Lethe and other children were left at Montcalm.

For three years, the families were kept apart. As harsh as that was, here again the Campbells showed an unusual measure of permissiveness: They and their slaves stayed in touch through letters.

The letters of Hannah and Lethe apparently were dictated to white friends in the Abingdon community (it was after Richmond that the women learned to write for themselves). But they are rare glimpses into life under enslavement.

They show, as Mitchell writes, that “despite the limitations and restrictions of the system, domestic slavery could become the setting for the development of slave culture and slave power.”

For humor and sheer poetry of expression, it’s hard to beat Lethe Jackson’s letter to Virginia Campbell on April 18, 1838. Her report on life at the farm could stand as free verse, with a soothing rhythm that merits reading aloud: “Everything is going on finely and prosper in my hands — The flowers in the garden are putting out and it begins to look like a little paradise and the Calves and the Chickens and the children are all fine and lively — just waiting your return to complete their happiness — ”

Then she flashes wit: “I am sorry that Masters cow has so little manners as to eat Onions — in the City of Richmond too — well what a disgrace! I wish you to tell her that our Mountain Cows are better trained than that — and that if she will come up here we will learn her to be more genteel and not spoil the Governers milk.”

By the end of the letter Lethe has become philosophical, reflecting on religion and the nature of happiness. It’s easy to forget that this is an enslaved woman writing to a privileged young white girl, but all the more moving to remember when she counsels Virginia to find contentment in “Divine Love & Wisdom” and to aspire to “that heavenly place where all our sorrows will terminate.”

Hannah’s letters are more practical. She’s dealing in news — the business of the household, the comings and goings around town.

But in between best wishes to “Master & Mistress” and updates about who has received letters from whom, Hannah makes it plain that she misses her family. Writing to her daughter Eliza, Hannah asks her to give “My Love to … My Good Husband Michel tell him he can form no Idea how much I Have thought of him since he Left this place and how much I have missed him.”

A few weeks later she writes to her husband, mentioning several times that “I begin to feel anxious to see you all. I am afraid my patience will be quite worn out if you do not come back soon.”

In a long letter to Mary Campbell detailing all the activities of the farm and garden, Hannah asks her to pass along word to Eliza that her daughter Mary (her own granddaughter) is doing better. “I have not found Mary eating dirt since she got her mothers letter,” she says. Eating dirt is a practice that can come from malnourishment or grief.

And on the news that the Campbells might be making a trip to Philadelphia, Hannah says she is “anxious” — that word again — to know which servants will go along. “I hope you will not leave them in Richmond, particularly David,” she says, referring to her cherished youngest son.

It may be a little bold to make demands of the lady of the house, but Hannah Valentine will only grow more assertive over time. Years later, as Mary Campbell becomes feeble, “old Hannah” will virtually run Montcalm, provoking fear even in the former governor.

Near the end of Mary’s life, according to Mitchell, “David Campbell wrote that his wife’s only enjoyment was ‘to get Hannah into the wing and talk old times over with her. This she does every day.’”

The letters of Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson are excerpted on bronze plaques mounted inside the brick wall around Virginia’s Executive Mansion, and the kitchen in the old slave quarters has been restored. (Gregory S. Schneider/The Washington Post)

Dorothy McAuliffe, who unveiled the plaques just over a year ago, said the letters are especially powerful in the wake of the recent violence in Charlottesville and the debate about Confederate monuments.

For architectural historian Bryan Green, who helped a group of VCU students plan the memorial, the letters were an elegant solution to a difficult assignment.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about slavery as an institution,” Green said. But the letters “gave us a chance to talk about it as people — they were a family and they had names.”

The group discussed commissioning sculptures of Valentine and Jackson, “but we didn’t know what they looked like. Anything would’ve been made up,” Green said. “But we do have their words. We have their own words to tell us how they felt. In a sense, the words become the monument.”


Menokin Sleepover Conference

Frank Vagnone (One Night Stand) &
Joseph McGill (The Slave Dwelling Project)

These two innovative and well-known historians and speakers will converge at Menokin for an extraordinary weekend of historical reflection, discourse and lessons on new ways to explore and experience historic places and the people who inhabited them.

The weekend is broken up into four sections – a walk through our historic landscape; a rustic dinner at the ruin; the sleepover itself, which involves a guided conversation through new ways of thinking about old topics; and a time of Reflection and Fellowship on Sunday morning. You are invited to select as many of the sections that you’d like to attend. Please use our registration form below to submit your information.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

If you plan to camp out overnight, you must provide all of your own camping gear, including tent, sleeping bag, flashlight, etc. These items will not be supplied for you.

If you plan to enjoy one or both of the meals planned for the weekend — or if you can’t come at all but just think this is a really great program — please consider making a donation to offset the cost of the food and supplies. There is limited space available for these events. Once the sections are full, the registration option will be taken down.

Registration form and donation link can be found here.

The program is made possible, in part, by the Signers Society of Menokin.

Menokin Water|Ways Quiz #1

You’d be surprised how much water is used to produce and consume some of the most ordinary foods that we eat frequently.

Think you know the answers? Test your knowledge and take the Menokin Water|Ways Quiz.

http://www.menokin.org/amenities/waterways/

What do Cape Charles, Fredericksburg, Newport News, Staunton, Warsaw, and Winchester have in common?

They’re all in Virginia. And they’re all hosting the Smithsonian Institution’s Water/Ways Exhibition.

Exhibitions to Be Hosted in Cape Charles, Fredericksburg, Newport News, Staunton, Warsaw, and Winchester
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH), in cooperation with the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) and six organizations across the state, will help Virginians examine water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element through “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program.

From above, Earth appears as a water planet with more than 71 percent of its surface covered with this vital resource for life. Water impacts climate, agriculture, transportation, industry, and more. It inspires art and music. With VFH funding, the “Water/Ways” exhibition will explore this essential topic in six Virginia communities from May 2017 through May 2018.


Menokin WaterWays Exhibit

July 15, 2017 / August 27, 2017

 


That’s right! The Menokin Foundation in Warsaw, VA is one of six sites across the state to host this traveling exhibit which will criss cross the state over the next 11 months.

This massive, colorful, informative and interactive exhibit will wind and curve its way through the Menokin Visitor’s Center (we measured; it’ll fit!), provoking contemplation, conversation and  community awareness.  Admission is free.

Check out the Water/Ways page on the Menokin website to learn about Community Paddles and a grand opening festival where the community is invited to paint Warsaw’s sidewalks to look like a river. And the Warsaw/Richmond County Main Street Program will be providing free popsicles and watermelon!

 

What will your next Menokin Experience be?

Girls Rockin’ Science at Menokin

Last week, the 6th grade class of Westmoreland County Middle School visited Menokin as part of the TOTS (Think Outside The Sink) program. TOTS is one of several programs that make up the Meaningful Watershed Experience Program that is a joint venture between several natural resource conservation projects in the Northern Neck.

The class divided itself along the gender line, so while the boys started over at the house, the girls took place in an interactive math and graphing experiment design to measure the volume of water in a riverbed.

This involved….MATH. And…..SCIENCE.  And……CRITICAL THINKING.  And, to be fair, a good amount of GIGGLING (these were 6th grade girls, remember).

The exercise worked like this. The girls formed two rows (representing flowing water sources) that converged at a few points and eventually narrowed into one end point. The flowing water was made up of dried beans, which were passed from person to person, heading downstream at a quick pace.  The people at the convergence points had the toughest job – receiving beans from two directions and then trying to get them on their way downstream at the same time. Naturally, a lot of beans got dropped at these points, which represented the tendency of water to overflow or flood at these points when the volume is greater than the channel.

What thrilled me beyond all measure was that they were ALL participating. No one was hanging back. No one whining about being bad at math or science.

I wished out load that the beans were magic and would grow a beanstalk so we could steal the golden goose and fund our building project. This daydream led to the naming of their project as The Menokin Magic Bean Stream.

The beans that made it all the way downstream were counted and subtracted from the original starting number. This information was calculated by season and other variables. That data was then plotted on a bar graph to visually represent the information gathered.

I was so thrilled to watch our STEAM program at work and targeting the demographic of students that is traditionally left behind in this kind of study. I would like to thank these girls and their mentors and teachers for taking advantage of our education programs at Menokin, and for making my day!


  • Find out more about our education programs and initiatives on our website.
  • Be sure to check out the best deal around in summer camps: Junior Duck Stamp Camp!
  • The Smithsonian Institution’s Water|Ways Exhibit is coming to Menokin for six weeks starting on July 15th. Details here.

 

 

Meet Juliana Grassia

The Board and Staff of the Menokin Foundation are pleased to introduce our newest  team member.

Juliana has joined the Menokin staff as Development Coordinator and hit the ground running on Monday.

I moved to the Northern Neck from the mountains of western North Carolina, and although the landscape is different, I’ve found the same commitment to history, culture, and conservation here that I did in Appalachia. I’m excited to explore the region and get more involved in the community.”

JULIANA’S BIO

Prior to Menokin, Juliana was with the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she served in the Division of University Advancement. Her work at UNC Asheville centered on engaging alumni, donors, and community members to help them feel connected to the mission and vision of the university. In addition, she previously worked on two local political campaigns where she gained valuable experience in community outreach, relationship building, and advocacy.

Originally from New Jersey, Juliana graduated from UNC Asheville in 2015 with degrees in political science and French. Her undergraduate studies focused primarily on American government and comparative political theory. She is an avid New York Mets baseball fan and enjoys good books, long hikes, and exploring new places. A young non-profit professional and lifelong lover of history, Juliana is honored to be a part of the team working to preserve Menokin.

The Marking of Menokin

Menokin Marker 2017
Menokin Marker

The Menokin Foundation is honored to be commemorated with a marking by our local DAR and SAR chapters. This marker now graces the front entrance of Menokin, honoring the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe. The marker was placed by the Henricopolis Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Rappahannock Chapter, National Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

Menokin’s Martin Kirwan King Visitor’s Center was filled with guests from neighboring DAR and SAR chapters, and from the Children of the American Revolution (CAR) Virginia Chapter, for the marking ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Opening remarks were made by the Rappahannock Chapter of the SAR’s President, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, and

Carl Strock 2017
Carl Strock

the Henricopolis Chapter of the DAR’s President, Barbara Sethmann, welcoming guests and recognizing visitors around the room who made this event a reality. Menokin’s Executive Director, Sam McKelvey, thanked the CAR, DAR and SAR chapters on behalf of the Foundation for their commitment to forwarding patriotic causes and commemorating the contributions of Francis Lightfoot Lee.

The room was filled with excitement and readied cameras as the marker was revealed by DAR member, Anita Harrower. Following the revealing of the marker and dedication,

Wreath Laying
Wreath Laying

wreaths were laid in commemoration from various CAR, DAR and SAR organizations. Remarks were made on the histories of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Menokin by the Virginia Society SAR President, Michael Elston. Elston was then joined by the Society’s Secretary and Assistant Treasurer, Wayne Rouse, for award recognition of military service to two members of the Rappahannock Chapter. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock was honored with the War Service Medal and Gregory Burkett was honored with the Military Service Medal. At the event’s conclusion, guests enjoyed a reception followed by hard hat tours of the Menokin house.

Thank you to all who visited for this ceremony and made this marking possible.

%d bloggers like this: