Check here for updated information about the fascinating people who have lived at Mahockney over the past three centuries, as ongoing historical research improves our knowledge of their lives.
- Thomas Waring (House of Burgesses);
- Early Revolutionary leader William Roane (also in House of Burgesses);
- William’s son Spencer Roane (the new post-revolutionary House of Delegates; State Senate; son-in-law of Patrick Henry; and two decades on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, where he soon became Chief Justice);
- Spencer’s son William H. Roane (elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and later to the U.S. Senate).
African-Americans at Mahockney
For nearly two hundred years (c. 1671 to 1865) African-Americans were enslaved at Mahockney. Historical research reveals only a spotty record of names, and even less about their lives – a shameful record which is all too common in Virginia and the rest of the South.
We do know that Robert Tomlin, the builder of Mahockney’s original house structure, was a slaveholder. His 1688 will left them to his wife, with the proviso that “if all or any of my said daughters shall attain to ye age of one & twenty years or marry before my said wife shall depart this life, then my will is that my Executr. shall equally divide the Negroes Cattel & horses which are upon my plantation as they come of age or marry respectively…” That callous attitude of considering black slaves as merely the property equivalent of livestock is repeated in wills and indentures for nearly the next two centuries.
That Tomlin’s family held slaves – and eventually a substantial number approaching two dozen – can be taken as evidence of the plantation’s outsized wealth in the context of the era. Princeton University historian Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, who was the early 20th century’s preeminent expert on colonial Virginia, wrote in his 1922 book The Planters of Colonial Virginia that “the popular conception of the Virginia plantation life of the Seventeenth century is erroneous. Instead of the wealthy planter who surrounded himself with scores of servants and slaves, investigation reveals hundreds of little farmers, many of them trusting entirely to their own exertions for the cultivation of the soil, others having but one or two servants, and a bare handful of well-to-do men each having from five to ten, or in rare cases twenty or thirty, servants and slaves.” Robert Tomlin’s daughter and heiress Martha, with her husband Edward Gouldman, held 21 slaves at Mahockney in 1709, making them among the largest slaveholders in the region.
The slave population of Virginia grew apace over the decades, particularly in the old counties of the Tidewater. Mahockney’s own Essex County, according to the 1860 Federal Census, was 67% slave in population, one of the highest proportions in the state; Essex had 6,696 slaves, and only 3,295 whites. Yet in the mid-nineteenth century, as attitudes on slavery hardened across the South, the official US Federal Census didn’t even require names for the enslaved being counted – just age, gender, and owner, recorded on a separate “Slave Schedule.” It is no surprise that genealogical and other historical research is a challenge.
The peak number of slaves at Mahockney appears to have been around 100, in the decades just before and after the American Revolution. Toward the 1757 death of the plantation’s owner William Roane Sr., he was “possessed of perhaps 100 Negroes” by the estimation of his grandson Spencer Roane. William Roane Jr., father to Spencer and a member of the House of Burgesses with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, kept some 92 slaves at his death in 1785, according to pre-death bequests (twenty apiece to each son), his will and his estate inventory. By contrast, as the Civil War approached the 1850 census counted 44 slaves at Mahockney under owner Dr. James H. Latane, and a decade later in 1860 down to 37 slaves. Dr. Latane’s primary occupation was not farming, he listed himself in the census as a physician.
[See more on Mahockney & the Civil War]
Given that many emancipated slaves took as their legal surname the name of their former slaveholder, one research effort (by Tom Blake, publishing on Ancestry.com) has cross-referenced surname matches for African-Americans on the 1870 Census (the first after the Civil War) with names of the largest slaveholders listed in the pre-war 1860 Census. His findings are available online here (or in pdf form here), and demonstrate that after the war there were 31 African-Americans in Essex County with the surname “Roane,” and another 5 with the surname Latane. Other former Roane or Latane slaves had certainly moved away from the Mahockney area – the 1870 Census also showed a national total of 173 African-Americans surnamed Roane, many of them tracing a lineage back to William Roane’s Mahockney.
One contextual note on slaveholding on the eve of the Civil War: the statement is often heard today that “Most Southerners never owned a slave.” That assertion fails for Mahockney’s context, in the old Tidewater county of Essex. Examining the 1860 Census for Essex County, one finds that Mahockney’s Dr. James Latane was one of 398 slaveholder heads of families. 99 of those families owned 20 slaves or more (Mahockney with 37), while the other 299 slaveholding families owned the bulk of the total 6,696 slaves in the county, in smaller numbers (many just one slave). Given that the total 1860 white population of the county was only 3,295, and that average household size in the South at the time was greater than 5.1 persons – excluding slaves – we can calculate that 398 of the total 646 white Essex households kept slaves. So just before the Civil War started, nearly 62% of white Essex households, or almost two out of every three, kept slaves. It’s no wonder that in the 1860 election balloting in Essex County, the winner was anti-abolition candidate John Bell (see post “John Bell plays the Slavery card“). Bell came in first, hardcore pro-slavery Breckinridge second, Stephen A. Douglas third, and Abraham Lincoln himself (who was barely on the ballot in Virginia, and not in any other Southern state) received zero votes in Essex.
Research continues in an effort to compile a more complete and accurate list of all who lived at Mahockney – not just the white slaveholders. Below is a database of slave names and information as compiled through 2016:
Chronology of Mahockney Ownership (Full or Partial)
Note: The farm has grown and contracted several times over the past few hundred years, ranging in size from 300 acres to 1,200 acres. During several periods cousins or associates owned “part” of historic Mahockney, as noted below.
The Tomlin Years
1671 – 1688 Robert Tomlin (Thomlin, Thomline, Tomlyn)
1688 – 1708 Rebecca Tomlin, widow of Robert (part)
1708 – 1721 Edward Rowzee (Rouzee, Rouzey) (part)
1714 – 1721 Martha Tomlin Gouldman Winston, daughter of Robert & Rebecca (part)
1721 – 1723 Francis Gouldman, Jr. (part)
1721 – 1751 William Winston (widower of Martha Tomlin Winston) (part)
The Scottish Rebels Era
1724 – 1727 Dr. Mark Bannerman (part)
1746 – 1751 John Seayres (Sayres) (part)
1751 – 1752 Torquil McLeod (part)
1751 – 1755 Thomas Waring
1755 – 1783 William Roane
1783 – 1794 Spencer Roane
The Latane Century
1794 – 1811 William Latane
1811 – 1812 Thomas S. Latane
1812 – 1847 William Catesby Latane
1847 – 1897 James Henry Latane
Four Decades with the Crutchfields
1897 – 1936 William and Clara Belle Crutchfield
The Taliaferro Half-Century
1937 – 1945 William Taliaferro
1945 – 1984 Trent Taliaferro
1984 – 1986 Trent Taliaferro, Jr. et al.
The Modern Era
1984 – 1995 Franklyn & Margaret Rixey
1995 – 2001 Ted & Shann Rice
2001 – 2003 Anthony & Marta Buzzelli
2003 – 2007 Bo & Robin Gorham
2009 – Lewis & Kathryn Shepherd