When I was in the seventh grade, I spotted a photograph of four former slaves in my social studies textbook. Although the photograph was entitled Black Tennesseans, I noticed a strong family resemblance between them and my family members. When my grandmother told me that two of them were actually her grandparents, I began the lifelong research project that became The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Familys Journey to Freedom.
I tell the story of my ancestors Emanuel and Henny Washington, who were enslaved on Wessyngton Plantation owned by the Washington family. This is also the story of the hundreds of other African Americans connected with the plantation for more than two hundred years. It is a story of family, faith, and community.
Founded in 1796 by Joseph Washington, a distant cousin of Americas first president, Wessyngton Plantation covered 15,000 acres in Robertson County and held an enslaved population of 274 African Americans. They comprised the largest enslaved population on a single plantation in the state of Tennessee and they worked on the largest tobacco plantation in the United States and the second largest in the world.
During the Civil War many African American men from the plantation enlisted in the Union Army, others ran away and worked on the military fortification, Fort Negley, in Nashville. After the emancipation in 1865 many of the freedpeople returned to Wessyngton as sharecroppers. Others purchased their own farms including several who bought land on which they had previously been enslaved. Some of this land remains in their descendants possession.
Only two slaves were ever sold from Wessyngton Plantation so the African Americans there formed family groups that remained intact for generations. Many of their descendants still remain in the area close to the plantation, others now numbering in the tens of thousands live throughout the United States. Some of the African Americans on Wessyngton also retained true African names, which was very rare for that