George Carter, the owner of Oatlands, was one of Loudoun County’s wealthiest men and largest slaveholders. He insisted that white tradesmen and laborers build his house and operate his mill, but he relied heavily on enslaved labor to operate his estate. Carter supported the institution of slavery despite his father Robert Carter’s opposition and manumission of more than five hundred slaves. Some of George Carter’s bondmen and women eloped to the North in search of freedom. By 1818, Carter complained of “struggling with the most enthusiastic and invincible opposition in the recovery of my property, from the Quakers and others … The sneers, the contempt, and scorn of the whole mass of aiders, advisors, and accomplices of runaway slaves, who are now triumphing at my shame.” In recognition of the freedom seekers, Oatlands is a site in the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.
After the Civil War and general emancipation, some African Americans in Loudoun County migrated north and west, but many of those who worked at Oatlands chose to remain and established the community of Gleedsville nearby.
Throughout its history under private ownership enslaved and free African American workers shaped and cultivated the gardens, tilled fields, and cared for livestock. They also tended the house and furnishings, cooked and served meals to the estate owners and their numerous guests, drove carriages and automobiles, and supported the socially-prominent owners from the Carters to the Eustises.
- National Park Service. National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom nomination. Nomination information online at http://www.balchfriends.org/Glimpse/URNOatlands.htm
- Claudia Jellet. “The Rise and Fall of the Carter Family at Oatlands, Loudoun County, Va.” M.A. Thesis, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, 1993. [Copy available at Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Va.]
William Jordan Augustus (c. 1779-?)
William Jordan Augustus—whom George Carter knew as his slave “Billy”—was a man of refinement and ambition, about thirty years old when he left Oatlands on February 1, 1809 to obtain his freedom. Raised in the manor house, Carter valued him as “a very good dining-room servant.” Tall, straight, and fair, with a thin face and high cheekbones, Augustus usually wore his hair “plaited and turned up behind with a comb.” He escaped with a forty-five year-old woman called Nelly. Carter felt humiliated and injured by Augustus’s elopement, and in another ad in May, offered $100 (the equivalent of more than $1,000 today) for his capture north of the Potomac River. Augustus was successful in his bid for freedom, although he was captured in Philadelphia in 1817 and jailed in Baltimore. Before Carter could retrieve him and sell him to a Georgia slave trader, Dr. John Arnest, the husband of Carter’s niece Anna Arnest, arranged for his release, claiming that Carter had given “Billy” to Anna. George Carter was incensed and denied any such gift, but Augustus remained free.
- (Leesburg, Va.) Genius of Liberty , February 8 and May 13, 1809.
- George Carter to Edmund McGinnis, May 11, 1814; to Thomas Maund, Sept. 25, 1817; and to John Arnest, Nov. 20[?], 1817. George Carter Letterbook. Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.
Basil Turner (c. 1843 to early 1930s)
Basil Turner first worked at Oatlands as a slave under George Carter’s widow Elizabeth Carter, but chose to remain and work for wages after general emancipation in 1865. He helped shepherd the estate through tenures by Elizabeth Carter; their son George and his wife Kate during and after the Civil War, when it was a summer boarding house; absentee owner Stilson Hutchins; and finally, William Corcoran and Edith Morton Eustis beginning in 1903.
It is a testament to his regard for Oatlands that Basil Turner married 21-year-old Frances Day there on April 27, 1871. A minister from First Mount Olive Baptist Church in Leesburg performed the ceremony. The couple lived nearby in the vicinity of Gleedsville, and they raised two sons and four daughters. In the years before his death in the early 1930s, Basil Turner lived with his son Oden.
Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. “Basil Turner.” In A Glimpse into the History of African Americans in Loudoun County . Available online at http://www.balchfriends.org/Glimpse/bturnerIM.htm.