Slavery at the Sanford Burgess Property

(434) 337-0110 #1

Jobie Hill, Historic Preservation Architect & Creator of the Slave House Database
Jobie Hill, Historic Preservation Architect & Creator of the Slave House Database

Audio Transcript

Hi. My name is Jobie Hill and I am a historic preservation architect and the creator of the Slave House Database. So the house we’re looking at now is the Sanford-Burgess House, which is in Stafford County, Virginia. It's a surviving piece of history that represents how life was lived by our ancestors and the challenges they had to deal with and face on a daily basis, not only in their work but just also in their private home life. We don't know exactly how many slave houses exist today—that's the big question I'm trying to answer. Compared to what the landscape looked like originally there are very few.

As you go into the house you'll notice many things. The doorway is small; it's only a little bit over five feet tall. The space itself has a very low ceiling, so if you're tall you can't stand up straight. To enter the loft there's a staircase, which in this case is actually a very nice-looking stair compared to just ladders, but it's hard to climb. The stairs are narrow and very steep. This house has some finishes that could be considered nicer. It has a wood floor, which is not always found in slave houses—a lot of the floors are just dirt. But one of the things that it’s lacking is a fireplace. So therefore it had no source of heat, which you may or may not have in slave houses. So the actual footprint is twelve feet by fourteen feet, but you're going to lose some of that space because the logs themselves—they’re large, so it's even a tighter space than the footprint that’s given. These dimensions are found elsewhere. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson specified that his slave houses on Mulberry Row were to be twelve feet by fourteen feet. The size and confinement of these spaces was meant to be a constant reminder to the inhabitants that lived there that in white society they were thought of as inferior and they were not worthy of equal human comforts or even human rights.