Falmouth in Stafford County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Beyond the Big House
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
— National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior —
Slaves did virtually all the work that kept Chatham worthy of its widespread reputation for productivity, elegance, and hospitality. Before the Civil War, it’s unlikely that white residents ever amounted to more than 20 percent of Chatham’s population. At times as many as 100 slaves lived here. They worked fields, cooked meals, ran the mill, seined for shad and sturgeon, shod horses, slaughtered livestock, made barrels, did the laundry, picked fruit, and did a thousand other things that generated income, luxuries, and status for Chatham’s owners.
Those slaves formed a vibrant community beyond the “big house.” Some lived in the laundry or kitchen, but most lived in cabins removed from the owner’s view. There they sustained family units and cultural traditions as best they could, asserting at least some measure of control over their non-work hours. When not in their living quarters, slaves at Chatham functioned under the gaze of an overseer. He controlled their daily schedule, whom they could visit, and when they could rest.
Erected 2010 by National Park Service, U.S. Department
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: African Americans.
Location. 38° 18.544′ N, 77° 27.266′ W. Marker is in Falmouth, Virginia, in Stafford County. Marker can be reached from Chatham Drive near Chatham Heights Road. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 120 Chatham Lane, Fredericksburg VA 22405, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Chatham (here, next to this marker); Chatham and the Civil War (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Chatham (here, next to this marker); Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (here, next to this marker); A Changed Landscape (within shouting distance of this marker); Sow...Tend...Harvest (within shouting distance of this marker); A “Picture of Desolation” (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Bombardment (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Falmouth.
More about this marker. On the lower left is a photo of one of Chatham’s outbuildings with the caption, “The laundry (shown here) and kitchen served as both workplace and living space for slaves. They are the only two of probably a dozen outbuildings that survive from before the Civil War.”
On the lower left is a photo of a typical slaves’ quarters with the caption, “The simple architecture of slave cabins contrasted hugely with the elegance of the “big house.” Chatham’s slave cabins do not survive, but perhaps looked something like this.”
On the lower right is a 1805 advertisement with the caption, “We know the names of a few Chatham slaves. We have no portraits. We cannot even say where on the grounds their cabins stood. From documents lie this advertisement for the sale of Chatham slaves, we know only their occupations, nicknames, and occasionally their value on the open market.”
Also see . . . Old Marker at this Location. This marker replaced an older one at this location titled “Chatham and the Civil War” (Submitted on September 7, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Credits. This page was last revised on April 21, 2020. It was originally submitted on September 6, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 726 times since then and 13 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on September 6, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.