J. Horace Lacy’s Chatham Quarters? Part 2

From Mink :

J. Horace Lacy’s Chatham Quarters?

Part 2

Are Outbuildings Nos. 1 and 2 slave houses? Features that suggest that they could be include their location and architectural style. Both structures appear to be wood-framed and whitewashed structures, one and a half stories in height with central chimneys. Although we can’t look inside the buildings, to view their floor plans, their outward appearance is similar to a style often called a “saddlebag” or “double pen” cabin. This style consisted of two one-room dwelling spaces, under one roof, frequently joined by a single central chimney. They may also have included a loft above one or both of the rooms. The depictions of Chatham’s Outbuildings Nos. 1 and 2 appear to possibly follow this construction style. Image number six is a recent photo of a surviving antebellum structure at neighboring Sherwood Forest in Stafford County. Although it was occupied well into the 20th century and has been altered and somewhat modernized, it is thought to have been a slave house and is quite similar in appearance to both Chatham’s Outbuilding Nos. 1 and 2.


If these Chatham buildings are slave houses, the finished appearance of the two structures may have something to do with their location and proximity to the main house. Architectural historian Dell Upton has surmised that if slave houses were visible from the house, which these structures certainly were, they might be “treated on their exteriors with an eye to the visual effect from the main house.” In other words, they would have a more finished appearance than might be the case if located out of view from the plantation home. Just as Chatham was, and is, plainly visible from the town of Fredericksburg, so too were these structures, as evident in photo number five. This also might have been intentional.

Historian John Michael Vlach states that owners may have intentionally made slave quarters visible to impress their visitors. Ownership of slaves was a sign of wealth, and slave quarters may have been purposely put on display “in order to enhance the visitor’s perception of the planter and his estate.” Since Lacy apparently had 39 slaves at Chatham in 1860 (he also owned eight slaves that he hired out in Fredericksburg and another 49 quartered at his Ellwood plantation in Spotsylvania and Orange counties), he was certainly at the top of the local class structure and may have chosen, or perhaps a previous owner of Chatham, to present that to the community through the layout of his plantation.

Outbuilding No. 1 sat directly behind the kitchen, and if it was a slave structure it may have housed those slaves that worked in the kitchen and/or main house. Outbuilding No. 2, however, was separated from the main plantation by the south ravine. On November 25, 1862, the 8th Connecticut Infantry moved onto the ridge to the south of the ravine. It occupied this ground prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg and constructed the artillery lunettes. Interestingly, the regiment had camped on that same ground earlier that summer as part of the occupation force under General Ambrose E. Burnside. On November 30, an officer in the 8th Connecticut wrote his wife from Chatham:

“Our business here is to support a battery planted on the hill just left of [the] house (looking toward the river from our old camp) why it is on the same ground that Corny Wells tent was near that house where we spoke to the darkys one evening when we were walking.”

Alone, this quote is not much to go on, but coupled with the images of structures on that portion of the Lacy estate it may indicate an area once occupied by slaves.

In 1867, the United States Army mapped the Fredericksburg area battlefields. Image number seven is the sketch created for Chatham. Note the surviving structures and lunettes, but as seen in the 1864 photo, Outbuilding No. 2 is no longer standing. Outbuilding No. 1 has also since disappeared from the landscape.

This final image is a modern aerial view of Chatham, looking northwest. Possible locations for both Outbuildings Nos. 1 and 2 are indicated.

More documentation is needed, and archaeological testing may provide additional clues. An archaeological survey of NPS holdings at Chatham was conducted during the winter of 1978-1979. In the area of Outbuilding No. 1, a midden (concentration of artifacts) was discovered. It yielded artifacts ranging from just prior to the Civil War through the late 19th century. The soil’s stratigraphy suggested they may have been deposited there during the construction of an adjacent 20th century farm office, carport and parking lot. Unfortunately, the ground was too disturbed to make an accurate deduction about its use as a possible structure site. The site of Outbuilding No. 2 and the lunettes is on private land today and is therefore not accessible.

The keen eyes and input of the following individuals contributed to this discussion: Noel Harrison, Don Pfanz, Doug Sanford, and Russ Smith.

Eric J. Mink

5 thoughts on “J. Horace Lacy’s Chatham Quarters? Part 2

  1. Just to echo what Eric wrote but also comparative analysis of the buildings in the Chatham photos with HABS photographs and surviving slave quarters, it certainly seems very possible that these buildings in the photographs are slave quarters.

    I must also agree with Mr. Cummings, I’d love to see Chatham brought back to its antebellum appearance. Guess I’ll have to live with Lacy’s other house being brought back to its wartime appearance.

  2. Your work is good and I agree. In the piedmont, an antebellum site, Pharsalia in Nelson County, had a double pen log slave cabin beside the kitchen in the near yard and beyond that are two additional slave cabins. One of the cabins is now a dwelling but a frame cabin behind it remains. William Massie drew plans in his notes for slave cabin construction at his plantations.

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