I have been struggling to formulate the “official Menokin blog post” about the Menokin Sleepover Conference. We have heard from others: blog and facebook posts; tweets and instagram stories.
This morning it occurred to me that the trouble was that I was trying to write from Menokin’s perspective instead of my own. With that clarity, I decided that instead, I will share my personal journey through the process of understanding white privilege and how it led me to the truths of the weekend’s conversations.
Let me confess that until very recently, I had never really given the concept of white privilege a second thought. How very white privileged of me! So it will not come as a surprise that it had also never occurred to me, until Michelle Obama gave vocal credit, that enslaved people had built the White House.
Of course they did. The landed gentry of the 18th-century certainly weren’t out in the woods felling trees and turning them into construction timbers and beautifully carved panelling. They weren’t burning their hands baking bricks, or sweating over a hot fire forging nails and hinges.
This dentil molding has stood the test of time and the stress of several journeys.
The hidden work of the builders is exposed at Menokin. Here chisel marks tell the story of fitting the front door assembly into a stone opening.
Hand-carved molding exhibits the level of craftsmanship that was available at Menokin.
Hand-carved raised panel door and hand-wrought hinge.
Grain of the long-leaf pine used for the woodwork.
Their unpaid, enslaved laborers did that work. At the White House, and in Colonial Williamsburg, and at all the grand plantation homes that are so revered as part of our national history. Including Menokin.
Fingerprints captured forever in bricks still warm from baking.
Joe McGill places his hand in the indentations.
Joe McGill and Lauranett Lee search for more fingerprints in the chimney bricks.
This hat has more stories than I will ever get to hear.
Hand wrought nails.
The evidence is everywhere. These people were makers. They made houses and bricks. They made nails and hinges. They wove fabric and spun wool. They grew crops and cooked meals for their owners while their own families often went hungry.
I am a maker. I paint and draw. I knit and needle felt. I take pictures. I cook. And I love to share my accomplishments with my friends and family. I enjoy the appreciation of the work I have created with my own hands.
So when I started to really think about the Makers of Menokin and how their voices were silenced, their children sold, their lives and work unappreciated, their history UNTOLD — I got mad.
And the more I think about it, the more I understand today’s anger. We ALL want to be proud of our accomplishments. We all want to share a very personal part of ourselves and be told how beautiful our creations are. We all want to be valued.
When I lead visitors through Menokin now, I share my white-privileged revelation with them. Many of them are guilty of the same. And together we approach the story with an amended view, by thinking and talking about the enslaved people whose hands shaped and carved and constructed an infrastructure that allowed our “little experiment in democracy” a fighting chance at success.
Frank Vagnone and me shooting selfies at Menokin.
Joe McGill at the Menokin ruin.
The Menokin Sleepover Conference provided a safe place to have a difficult conversation during a tumultuous time. Frank Vagnone and Joe McGill help lead a diverse but eager group through the landmines.
I am proud of our foundation and its good work. And I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to work in a place and with people who are committed to shining a light into the darkness.
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.
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.
We have your day planned for you on Thursday, May 18th. Archaeology and stabilization work on the SE corner of the house will resume, and a Hard Hat Tour will start at 2:00.
Hang around after your tour for the Menokin Speaker Series from 4:00 to 6:00 in the Visitor’s Center. Scott Strickland will be speaking on the Indigenous Cultural Landscape survey that was completed in 2016.
After the lecture, head on over to Relish in Warsaw for dinner and a Glass House Special cocktail. Relish will donate $5 to Menokin for every one sold.
Originally prepared in October 2012 and revised in November of 2013, this research conducted and prepared by C. Allan Brown is part of the The Menokin Glass House Project.
The report will be shared in a serial fashion with the intention of a weekly post as time allows.
Immediately south of Stephens’ property, (see Part II) Thomas Beale II settled on 929 acres at Chestnut Hill about 1673. Like Fleete and Fauntleroy, Beale had true Cavalier origins which gave this neighborhood even at its earliest settlement an incongruous aristocratic air amid a near wilderness. His elegant tombstone (probably carved in England c. 1680) is emblazoned with the family’s coat-of-arms and was the oldest standing marker in the county until it was recently removed from Chestnut Hill for safekeeping. (Further research on Chestnut Hill plantation, especially deeds and plats, may provide clues for understanding Menokin better in relation to its roads, fields, etc.)
It seems likely that the earliest “road” to Menokin entered from what became the Chestnut Hill property to the south and originally may have been an Indian path linking the sites of the so-called “ Mt. Airy burials” and the “Town of the Great Rappahannocks,” both identified on Figure 7. Keep in mind that in the mid-seventeenth century most travel in the vicinity was by water routes. Even so, the open character of the understory did not impede travel through the virgin forests. Robert Beverley in 1705 described the “Oaks, Poplars, Pines, Cedars, Cypress and Sweet-Gums; the trunks of which are often Thirty, Forty, Fifty, some Sixty or Seventy foot high, without a branch or limb.” Using GIS technology, the Virginia Department of Forestry has located
a trace (which it judged to be “over 250 years old”) that “extends from the high ground at Menokin . . . south, southeasterly and today terminates in Muddy Run marshlands” (see Fig. 11). In the 17th century, that track likely crossed Menokin “swamp” below a beaver dam that had accumulated there.
The initial “opening” (i.e., clearing and cultivating) of land at Menokin occurred perhaps as early as the late 1650s, following John Stephens’ 1657/58 patent of the original 1,000 acres. Of course, the Rappahannocks, if indeed they were resident there, may have cleared and cultivated part of the land prior to Stephens’ patent. Stephens returned to England for a brief period (c. 1662-1664?) and after his death in 1678, his heirs sold the property to John Grymes of Gloucester County in 1685.Grymes eventually owned sizable acreage in Middlesex, King and Queen, and Richmond counties, as well as his home plantation in Gloucester. At his death in 1709, Menokin passed to his second son Charles Grymes along with another plantation, Morattico, lower down the Rappahannock River. Charles Grymes was among the foremost gentry planters in early eighteenth-century Virginia and erected an imposing residence at Morattico (but like Fauntleroy’s, too near the river!).Grymes operated Menokin as an outlying “quarter” with 17 slaves, 36 cattle, 32 sheep, and 56 hogs, according to a 1743 inventory.
Grymes’ son-in-law and daughter, Philip and Frances (Grymes) Ludwell inherited Menokin about 1750, after a protracted settlement of Charles Grymes’ substantial estate; yet they soon sold the property to John Tayloe II who already owned much land nearby. In 1751 when he acquired Menokin, Tayloe was one of the wealthiest gentlemen in Virginia. However he had not yet begun to build his impressive new house at Mount Airy (constructed c. 1761-1765) and it seems noteworthy that he passed over the opportunity to establish his seat at Menokin. (For the location of Tayloe’s earlier house, see Fig. 10.) Indeed, he continued to operate Menokin as but one of a number of outlying quarters until he gave the property to his daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, Francis Lightfoot Lee. Thus, by the early 1770s when Menokin at last became a principal residence, its lands had been in the process of being cleared and cultivated, to some unknown degree, for more than a century.
That circumstance surely influenced the site-planning decisions made by the Lees and their generous benefactor, her father, John Tayloe II. It seems logical to assume that the approximate 1,000 acres of Menokin were first “entered” and “opened” from the south; with sequential clearing of the several, adjacent plateaus proceeding generally northward over time. A chronicler of agricultural practices in late colonial America explained why large tracts were required for tobacco cultivation, in the constant search for “fresh” fields as old ones were exhausted of their fertility: “This want of land is such, that they reckon a planter should have 50 acres of land for every working hand.” A field typically was considered “worn out” after 3-4 years of tobacco cropping; and required about 20 years lying fallow to regain its fertility. Selective felling of the most useful hardwood trees within the surrounding ravines (yet with care not to denude the “highly erodible soil”) had likely also been ongoing for some decades. The extensive canebrakes of the adjacent tidal marshlands may have been left largely intact until the nineteenth century. Most significantly, an existing pattern of fields, fences, and (at least rudimentary) roads no doubt was already in place by 1769 when Menokin house was begun. And, of course, the resident laborers long had known it as their home (some for perhaps more than one generation).
Virginia Land Office Patent Book 6, p. 24. The plantation remained in the Beale family through the early nineteenth century.
 Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia ed. Louis B. Wright (Chapel Hill, 1947), pp. 123-124.
Virginia Department of Forestry, “Forest Stewardship Plan for Menokin” (July 2002), p. 28.
Wells, “Menokin in Time,” p. 8.
 For native American agricultural practices, see Michael Williams, Americans and Their Forests: A Historical Geography (Cambridge, U.K., 1989), pp. 35-43.
 Wells, “Menokin in Time,”., pp. 8-9.
 Ibid., pp. 10-12.
 Ibid., pp. 12-13.
 For information on the elegance of Morattico, see Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Mansions of Virginia, 1706-1776 (Chapel Hill, 1945), pp. 62-67, 409-410.
Wells, “Menokin in Time,” p. 14.
Ibid., pp. 14-15.
See Laura Croghan Kamoie, Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia’s Gentry (Charlottesville, 2007), p. 33.
 See William M. S. Rasmussen, “Palladio in Tidewater Virginia: Mount Airy and Blandfield,” in Building By the Book ed. Mario di Valmarana (Charlottesville, 1984); Camille Wells, “Dower Play/Power Play: Menokin and the Ordeal of Elite House Building in Colonial Virginia,” in Constructing Image, Identity and Place ed. Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch (Knoxville, 2003), pp. 2-21. William Tayloe, the original settler, had built a house nearer to the Rappahannock River, about 1682; it reputedly burned in the early eighteenth century.
Wells, “Menokin in Time,” pp. 18, 28.
 Harry J. Carman, ed., American Husbandry (London, 1775; reprint, New York, 1939), p. 165. See also Lois Green Carr and Russell R. Menard, “Land, Labor, and Economies of Scale in Early Maryland: Some Limits to Growth in the Chesapeake System of Husbandry,” Journal of Economic History v. 49 (1989), pp. 407-418; Paul G. E. Clemens, “The Operation of an Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Tobacco Plantation,” Agricultural History v. 49 (1975), pp. 517-531. At Menokin, the most productive soil has been considered to be the Kempsville Sandy Loam found as the topsoil of the upper plateaus. For an interesting account of period clearing practices, see Carville V. Earle, The Evolution of a Tidewater Settlement System: All Hallow’s Parish, Maryland, 1650-1783 (Chicago, 1975), pp. 30-34.
 Earle, Evolution, p. 25.
Wildlife Service, “Rappahannock River,” section 3-2. This is the Rumford soils of the slopes.
Camille Wells has noted that listings of slaves by their given names “suggest that when [John] Tayloe arranged to buy Menokin in 1751, he agreed to buy its inhabitants as well,” idem, “Menokin in Time,” p. 18. (See also Ligon Brooks’ research notes in Menokin Foundation files.)
Friday, September 22 – Sunday 24, 2017 Sleepover Conference
Education Coordinator, Alice French and Menokin Trustee, Dudley Olsson, have organized a Sleepover Conference, which will include Frank Vagnone, international thought leader in innovative and entrepreneurial non-profit management and his blog series, One Night Stand, and Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project.
Franklin Vagnone co-wrote the book: Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums. This book is a groundbreaking manifesto that calls for the establishment of a more inclusive, visitor-centered paradigm based on the shared experience of human habitation. He is the President & CEO of Old Salem as well as President of Twisted Preservation.
Image courtesy of Frank Vagnone, One-Night Stand
Image courtesy of Joseph McGill, The Slave Dwelling Project
Bringing together these two important historians and their unique ways of exploring and interpreting American history is a huge win for Menokin. Through this collaboration, we will be able to construct and provide authentic programming experiences in line with our goal to continue to explore ways of interpreting the lives of all the people who once inhabited the site.
More details about programs will be released as they are confirmed.
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it’s grown to 26 exciting categories. As in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you.
2016 Best of Design Award for Unbuilt > On the Boards: The Menokin Project
Central to a comprehensive master plan for a 500-acre historic Virginian tobacco plantation, the Menokin Project seeks to offer a new way to present and celebrate the complex history of the region through its designs to preserve the 1769 house.Built by a signer of the Declaration of Independence and designated a National Historic Landmark, the ruins of the house are stabilized and preserved using glass to highlight the history’s wear and tear. By delicately marrying old with new, the project seeks to reinterpret the house, while allowing researchers, archaeologists, and visitors to gain a unique understanding of the irreplaceable portions of the site, its ancillary buildings, and the landscape.
Glass Engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan
Preservation Technologist John Fidler Preservation Technology
Now that I have the attention of the public by sleeping in extant slave dwellings, it is time to wake up and deliver the message that the people who lived in these structures were not a footnote in American history.
The Menokin Foundation is pleased to announce that Joseph McGill will be coming to Menokin on September 22, 2017.
Education Coordinator, Alice French, has organized a Sleepover Conference, which will also include Frank Vagnone, international thought leader in innovative and entrepreneurial non-profit management and his blog series, One Night Stand.
Make sure to follow us for details of the Sleepover Conference as programming and events are developed.
In the meantime, read about Joseph McGill’s visit to Belle Grove Plantation on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog.
Programs such as the Sleepover Conference are made possible, in part, by the56 Signers Societyof Menokin.