Rock Spring Plantation Enslaved Community

The Cemetery for African Americans

The Cemetery for African Americans at the Reynolds Homestead is a visual reminder that the Reynolds family relied on the labor of enslaved Africans at Rock Spring Plantation. In stark contrast to the Reynolds family cemetery with its stately monuments, graves for enslaved men, women, and children are mostly marked with large field stones.

In 2001, after surveying the cemetery, Radford University faculty member Michael Barber created a map indicating 61 potential graves. Since 2015, the Reynolds Homestead has been working with historian John Whitfield to gather more information on the enslaved community. The goal of the project is to share the stories of the many men, women, and children who served as enslaved laborers on the plantation.

According to tax and census records, by 1840, when Hardin Reynolds inherited his father’s estate, 18 Africans were enslaved at Reynolds Homestead. In 1850, with the addition of those individuals Nancy Jane Cox Reynolds brought with her as part of her dowry, the enslaved community increased to 48. By 1863, the number of enslaved men, women, and children was 88.

A woman named Letty, may have been a wedding gift to Nancy, since a deposition noted “Letty’s name was Cox before she was married she having been raised by father Joshua Cox” Another record indicates Letty married Jacob “Jack” Reynolds in 1850. The couple had at least three children, Mary, Adeline and Henry.

Kitty Penn Reynolds, A Remarkable Woman

Kitty Reynolds is the most well-known member of the Rock Spring Plantation Enslaved Community.

A portrait of Kitty Penn Reynolds hangs in the Reynolds Homestead plantation kitchen. The most well-known member of the enslaved community, she is credited with saving her master, Hardin Reynolds, from a charging bull. She was also responsible for providing daily care for the Reynolds’s children. After emancipation, she maintained a close relationship with at least one of the children. R. J. Reynolds, founder of Reynolds Tobacco Company would provide transportation for Kitty and other members of her family to visit his family in Winston-Salem, NC.

Kitty was born on the nearby Penn Plantation, and was married to Anthony Reynolds, an enslaved man at Rock Spring Plantation. Besides rearing the Reynolds’s children she served as a midwife on the plantation, and bore 18 children of her own.

Kitty Penn Reynolds should also be remembered as a “mother” of civil rights. Two of her children, Burwell and Lee, were arrested after a scuffle they were involved in resulted in the death of a white man, Aaron Shewell. The brothers were defended by Andrew Lybrook (who was married to Mary Reynolds – one of the children Kitty had cared for) and William Martin. The case eventually resulted in the 1879 Supreme Court act Ex Parte Virginia, which upheld the federal government’s right to enforce Civil Rights legislation in the states. The case gained national media attention.

Kimble Reynolds, an attorney who is a descendant of the Kitty Reynolds, has studied the case and provides a brief overview of the impact of this Supreme Court decision, as well as the complex relationship Kitty had with her master’s family.

 

Do You Have A Story To Share?

The Reynolds Homestead is committed to gathering and sharing information about the men, women and children who were enslaved on the plantation. If you have a story to share, please email jws@vt.edu