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Slate Hill Plantation

SLATE HILL PLANTATION (F-66) - To the west is the estate of Nathaniel Venable (1733-1804), Slate Hill Plantation. He was a prominent citizen of Prince Edward County, serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1766 to 1768. During the Revolutionary War, he was a member of the Prince Edward County Committee of Safety and represented his community in the Senate of Virginia from 1780 to 1782. Members od the Hanover Presbytery met at Slate Hill on 1-2 Feb. 1775 and formed the Prince Edward Academy, which in 1776 was named Hampden-Sydney College. Venable became one of the charter trustees of the institution. (Historical Marker Information)

Slate Hill Plantation was a typical Virginia working tobacco plantation. A cluster of buildings around the Venable home served the economic and household needs of the plantation: a detached kitchen, blacksmith shop, ice house, pigeon house, privies, stables, carriage house, and barns and storage buildings.

The Slate Hill kitchen was separated from the main residence, a common practice on southern plantations. Kitchens contained open fireplaces and hearths, so a separate kitchen building decreased the danger of fire in the main residence—as well as separating slaves, who did most of the cooking and kitchen work, from the residents in the main house, reinforcing the social mores of the times.

Early 19th-century insurance policies show that the Slate Hill kitchen was forty feet long and sixteen feet wide—exactly the dimensions of the brick foundation discovered in the archæological field work. Larger than most Virginia plantation kitchens, the building may also have contained storerooms, quarters for household slaves, and possibly other facilities, such as a laundry. No evidence of the kitchen hearth has been found at the ends of the building; a fire insurance policy issued to Nathaniel Venable in 1803 contains a sketch of the kitchen with the chimney near the middle of the building.

It is unknown when the Slate Hill kitchen was built. It may have been constructed as early as 1756, the year Nathaniel Venable built his home. It was standing in 1803, when it was depicted on the earliest fire insurance policy for Slate Hill Plantation. The kitchen was still standing in the 1930s, according to Mrs. Annie Harkleroad, who remembered it from when she was a young girl.”

Not only is Venable family life recorded in the debris from excavation sites around the plantation grounds, but also that of their slaves. “Nathaniel Venable, Sr., writes Dr. Pearson, “was a slave owner, as were all of his descendants who owned Slate Hill through the Civil War. Slaves were used to work tobacco, the principal crop on the plantation. In fact, slaves normally composed the largest population living at Slate Hill for the first 125 years of its existence… Tax records in the Prince Edward County Courthouse reveal that Nathaniel Venable owned forty-three slaves in 1783, making him the third largest slave holder in the county. “

Today, Hampden-Sydney College owns the land where Nathaniel Venable built his home in 1756, as well as that of the 1730s house of Joseph Morton, Jr., the original settler of the property. Further ties to the College exist through the descendants of Richard Venable.

Richard N. Venable, son of Nathaniel Venable attended Hampden-Sydney before going to Princeton, where he graduated in 1782. Richard N. Venable was a committed supporter of the College; he served on the Board of Trustees for more than forty years and, along with his father and brothers, provided much financial support to the College during its early years.