At it’s most successful, Liberia was home to around 90 slaves. Research has been done into the lineages of some of those slaves, and at least one has been traced down to the present day. On the day I toured the house we heard a presentation by LaNelle Naylor, a direct descendent of the Nelly whose name apprears in the lower right corner of the chart in this image.
Nelly was the wife of Samuel Naylor, a bricklayer who helped build Liberia for his master, William J. Weir. Sometime in the 1850’s Samuel was able to buy his freedom, and later freedom for Nelly and their children. He also bought a piece of the plantation land from his former master and started his own farm. When the Weir family fled to Richmond to escape advancing Union troops in 1862, Samuel and Nelly remained as caretakers of the property. This story, along with some other ancedotal evidence, suggests that the Weir family treated their slaves well, more like employees than property.
See the other Liberia images here.
Back to Liberia Plantation today. When William Weir built Liberia in 1825 there wasn’t much else around, but he had a vision of a thriving community growing up around his new home. To attract settlers he had postal service extended to the area, serving as postmaster himself. He also struck a deal with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad that brought train service almost literally into his backyard, thus assuring quick transport to market for the plantation’s crops and livestock. His efforts paid off as the plantation thrived prior to the American Civil War and the community that would eventually become Manassas, VA took root and started to grow.
A man wearing so many hats needed a place to conduct business, and this hutch with fold-down writing surface might have been just the place. It had a space for everything, and was portable enough for a quick escape from advancing Yankee troops.
See the other images in the Liberia Plantation series here.
I had the chance recently to tour one of the oldest houses in my town, Manassas, VA. The house is undergoing restoration and is not generally open to the public, so this was a rare treat.
Built in 1825 by William James Weir and his wife, Harriett Bladen Mitchell Weir, the house eventually became known as Liberia Plantation and was situated on about 1600 acres of land that is now the eastern half of town. At its completion, the house was valued at the then princely sum of $2,876.
By the early 1860s the plantation had become an extremely successful enterprise. With the aid of some 90 slaves, the Weir family produced grain and vegetable crops that were sold in nearby Washington, DC, and also raised livestock including cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep. After the outbreak of the Civil War, the house was used at different times as field headquarters for General P. G. T Beauregard, CSA, and General Irwin McDowell, USA. The house also served as a field hospital and death house after the Battle of First Manassas.
Forced to flee advancing Union troops in the spring of 1862, the Weirs left their home under the supervision of trusted slaves and moved south to Richmond, VA. Shortly after, President Abraham Lincoln visited the house to meet with General McDowell. By war’s end, it was one of the few structures still standing in the area, but despite the Weir family’s efforts, they were not able to recover the plantation’s former prosperity, and William Weir’s son Robert sold the property in 1888.
The house was occupied on and off until the mid 1980s, when it was purchased by the City of Manassas and incorporated into the Manassas Museum System. The structural restoration has been completed, and further work is underway to restore the house to an authentic mid-19th century state.
This former tavern served as a field hospital during both battles of Manassas in the American Civil War. Today, it has been restored and furnished to represent its wartime appearance.
Here I have tried to reproduce a Matthew Brady sort of look by toning and aging the photo and simulating a period mounting.
This Confederate Napoleon 12lb gun sits on the remains of the Mayfield Earthwork Fort, one of a series of earth and log fortifications that surrounded Manassas during the Civil War. The spot was held by both Union and Confederate forces at various times during the war.