A Brief History of the Rich Neck Plantation
Rich Neck was first patented by George Menefie on July 2, 1635 (Jester and Hiden 1987; Nugent 1979). Like Menefie, subsequent owners were all politically influential and wealthy colonists. Unlike Menefie, Richard Kemp, the Lunsfords, and brothers Thomas and Philip Ludwell did reside at Rich Neck from c. 1636-1700 (Table 1). Plantation production focused on tobacco monoculture using enslaved African labor.
|Name of Owner||Years of Ownership|
|Elizabeth Kemp Lunsford and Thomas Lunsford||1650-1653|
|Elizabeth Kemp Lunsford||1653-1665|
|Philip Ludwell (brother of Thomas Ludwell)||1678-1700|
|Philip Ludwell II||c. 1700-1726/27|
|Philip Ludwell III||1727-1767|
|Trustees control Ludwell’s property||1767-1770|
|Lucy Ludwell (Ludwell’s daughter) and John Paradise||1770-1814|
Philip Ludwell inherited Rich Neck from his brother, Thomas, and lived there with his first wife Lucy Higginson with whom he had two children, Philip and Jane. After Higginson’s death, Ludwell married Lady Frances Berkeley (c. 1677), the widow of Governor William Berkeley. The couple probably lived at Rich Neck since archaeological evidence indicated that the plantation complex was occupied until circa 1700 (McFaden et al. 1999). Lady Berkeley died in the 1690s, and in 1700, Ludwell left Virginia for England where he died in 1711 (Ludwell Family 1911:211). His son, Philip Ludwell II, may have been the last of the family to occupy Rich Neck when his father departed for England (see Table 1). The birth records of Ludwell II and wife Hannah Harrison’s children indicate that their third child was born at Rich Neck in 1704, while the fourth was born at Greenspring in 1706 (Ludwell Family 1911:212-213). Greenspring plantation was the famed country estate of Governor Berkeley, which became one of the Ludwell family holdings with Ludwell’s marriage to Lady Berkeley. It was located roughly five miles from Rich Neck, and with Ludwell II’s departure, the latter became an outlying, or “satellite” plantation.
Ludwell II and Hannah’s fifth child, Philip Ludwell III, was born at Greenspring in 1716 (Ludwell Family 1911: 212-213; Shepperson 1942). As their sole surviving son, he was heir to a sizable fortune when his father died in 1726/27. Ludwell III followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great uncle, and served as a member of the Council of Virginia and the House of Burgesses (Estate of Philip Ludwell 1913:395). He married Frances Grymes and had three daughters. Shortly after the birth of his daughter Lucy in 1751, Frances died. Ludwell III eventually left Virginia for England with his daughters in 1760, where he died in 1767. His business affairs in Virginia, including the management of his plantations, were left to a plantation manager by the name of Cary Wilkinson during his absence (Shepperson 1942:47).
Ludwell III’s 1767 probate inventory listed nine working plantations, including Rich Neck and Greenspring, and 235 enslaved blacks (Estate of Philip Ludwell 1913:395-415; Virginia Gleanings in England 1911:288-89). The majority of the inheritance was split between two of his three surviving daughters. Amongst the properties, Hannah Philipa Ludwell (and husband William Lee) received Greenspring and 1100 wooded acres near Williamsburg (a portion of Rich Neck), and Lucy Ludwell (and husband John Paradise) inherited the bulk of Rich Neck, including the enslaved work force.
Since the Rich Neck Slave Quarter (RNSQ) site was occupied during the third quarter of the 18th century, some of the individuals listed on the 1767 probate at Rich Neck likely resided within the dwelling. Altogether, the enslaved community of Rich Neck consisted of 21 people: ten men, five women, three boys, and three girls (Franklin 1997; Estate of Philip Ludwell 1913:401). This number of combined partial and full field hands was consistent with the average enslaved labor force of most outlying tobacco plantations in the Chesapeake (Walsh 1993). The mixed gender and age statuses indicated the presence of families (Franklin 1997).
The Ludwell probate also included tell-tale evidence of the work conducted at Rich Neck, including crop production. Barrels of corn, harvested tobacco leaves, and mill pecks (wheat) point to crop diversification at Rich Neck, a popular trend during the second half of the 18th century after tobacco prices waned and tobacco monoculture depleted soils. The presence of mill pecks and a grind stone suggested that members of Rich Neck’s community may have been involved with one of Ludwell’s mill operations (Shepperson 1942:15-16).
Wealthy 18th-century planters also attempted to establish a high degree of self-sufficiency on their plantations. Ludwell III’s son-in-law William Lee inherited Greenspring through his marriage to Hannah Philipa. Like his father-in-law, Lee was an absentee planter as he and his wife resided in England. His letters home are instructive, however, in illustrating his concern for efficiency. He instructed the caretakers of his estate to plant mulberry trees in the hopes of producing silk. He also demanded that enslaved boys be taken as apprentices in carpentry, blacksmithing, and other trades useful to plantation operations. Lee gave counsel on the raising of livestock, the care of orchard trees, as well as the caretaking of enslaved children (Ford 1968). This style of plantation management was already in place during Ludwell III’s lifetime. His probate inventory (Estate of Philip Ludwell 1913:395-415) listed cattle, calves, sheep, and hogs on nearly all of his plantations. Much of the livestock was likely used for food rations. Woodworking tools, such as axes and wedges, along with the archaeological evidence from RNSQ of hammers, chisels, etc., demonstrate that the enslaved inhabitants were at least responsible for the maintenance of structures and fences.
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