Hairston Plantations

Historical Significance

The Hairston family was one of the largest slave owning families in colonial and pre-Civil War Virginia. Starting in 1730, when Peter Hairston and his four sons arrived from Scotland, the Hairstons amassed a vast tobacco farming empire that eventually encompassed 45 plantations and farms in four states. Eleven of those plantations were in southern Virginia. By the Civil War the Hairstons had substantial landholdings in the Virginia counties of Henry, Pittsylvania, Patrick, and Franklin, in the North Carolina counties of Stokes, Davie, and Davidson, and in Mississippi.

In more than a century of slave holding, the combined branches of the Hairston family probably owned some 10,000 enslaved blacks, who farmed tobacco, cotton, and food crops, raised livestock, and cared for the houses and their inhabitants. Enslaved blacks also produced the bricks, nails, and lumber used to build the plantation houses, and provided the manual labor required to construct them.

Two of the Hairston plantation houses built near what is now Martinsville are still standing. Marrowbone, built in 1749, is located south of Martinsville near Ridgeway, Virginia, west of town on a hill overlooking Marrowbone Creek. A frame house built for Robert Hairston and his bride, Ruth Stovall, it was the first Hairston residence in this part of Virginia and is believed to be the oldest frame building in Henry County. Since the early 1970s, descendants of enslaved blacks on the Marrowbone plantation —including family elders Henry Hairston of Martinsville and Earlie Hairston of Ridgeway— have held an annual reunion near Frederick, Maryland, on the second weekend of July.

Beaver Creek, located north of Martinsville at 1300 Kings Mountain Road, was built for George Hairston in 1776. The grand Classical Revival mansion now on the site was constructed in 1837 after a fire destroyed the original home. The home and gardens, now owned by Bank Services of Virginia, are sometimes open for tours during Historic Garden Week in Virginia, held annually in April. Two enslaved house servants who remained in service to the family after Emancipation, the husband and wife Surry and Esther Hairston, are buried in the adjacent family cemetery.

Hordsville, built in 1836 for George "Rusty" Hairston II, is located north of Martinsville in Stanleytown. (It is visible, across the street, from the entrance to Bassett High School at 85 Riverside Drive.) Said to be a copy of a house George Hairston admired in Richmond, Va., the two-story home has the side-gabled roof, single-story entry porch supported by columns, and elaborate front door typical of the Greek Revival houses that were popular in mid-nineteenth century Virginia. It was built of bricks manufactured onsite by enslaved blacks.

Another Hairston plantation house, Berry Hill, still stands in Pittsylvania County; nearby there remains the burned-out shell of the Oak Hill mansion. Both are located between Martinsville and Danville, on the Dan River near the Virginia-North Carolina border. Berry Hill, built in four sections beginning in 1745, was expanded in 1843 by Peter Hairston. Also nearby is Windsor, a 20-room mansion begun in 1850, built for Ruth Stovall Hairston when she married Samuel Pannill Wilson. Each room had a bell that rang with a different tone, so slaves living in quarters in the basement could tell which room to go to.

Several other Hairston plantations, their houses now demolished, live on in the names of towns, roads, and communities around Martinsville: Chatmoss, Leatherwood, Magna Vista, and Camp Branch. 

Physical Description

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Geographical and Contact Information

1300 Kings Mountain Road
Martinsville, Virginia
24112

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Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Hairston Plantations,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed November 24, 2017, http://www.aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/188.

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