Tuckahoe Plantation, boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson, is a National Historic Landmark and is protected in perpetuity by a preservation easement donated by the owners. It is considered by architectural historians to be among the finest early 18th century plantation homes in America.
A guest at Tuckahoe in the late 1700s commented that the house seemed “to be built solely to answer the purpose of hospitality”. Built between 1730 and 1740, this unique Randolph family plantation home and its outbuildings have persisted through a rich American history. Almost three centuries have passed, and Tuckahoe still fits the description of southern hospitality.
The Randolphs of Tuckahoe
Tuckahoe was built by the Randolph family between 1730 and 1740. The Randolph family had an enormous influence in shaping the habits customs and politics of both the colony and the nation. Tuckahoe is the only early Randolph home still standing on its original site.
The mansion was built in the era of great plantations in Virginia, during the 17th and 18th centuries. There were few towns or cities in the colony, therefore, plantations developed as economically and geographically independent entities. At its height, Tuckahoe consisted of 25,000 acres that farmed tobacco, livestock, and wheat with three mills on the property.
The Tuckahoe house was constructed in two sections. The North end of the house was built first in 1733, and the center hall and south wing followed by about 1740 giving Tuckahoe its unique H-frame construction. Original outbuildings along Plantation Street make Tuckahoe one of the most complete early 18th century plantation layouts in North America.
“Thomas of Tuckahoe”, one of the sons of William and Mary Randolph of Turkey Island, first settled Tuckahoe’s site in 1714. It was Thomas’s son, William, who is credited with building the mansion as we know it today.
The Jeffersons’ time at Tuckahoe
William Randolph and Maria Judith Page started their family at Tuckahoe in the 1730’s. By 1745 their three children were orphaned at Tuckahoe after the untimely death of both parents.
Before his death in 1745 William ensured that his children would be cared for and educated at home should he die. In his will, he named his good friend, Peter Jefferson and cousin Jane Randolph Jefferson, guardians of his children.
After William Randolph’s death, Peter and Jane Jefferson moved to Tuckahoe with their children, including two-year-old Thomas, to care for the plantation and the Randolph children and stayed until 1752 when the young Thomas Mann Randolph came of age.
Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson spent his youth at Tuckahoe and received his first education in the small one-room school house that still stands today. It is interesting to note the architectural features of Tuckahoe, including elaborate cornices, alcoves, grand staircases, and domed ceilings that may have influenced Jefferson’s thoughts on architecture.
Slavery at Tuckahoe
In the 18th century, tobacco plantations became an economic staple in Virginia. Plantation owners were able to prosper off the fertile land, cultivated by exploiting unpaid labor. An effort is underway at Tuckahoe today to deal more candidly with the brutal institution of slavery that the Founding Fathers relied upon to build their homes and their wealth. The legal institution of human enslavement (primarily of Africans and African Americans) existed in the U.S. since before the birth of the nation in 1776 until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Even after Emancipation, the passage of “Jim Crow” and other discriminatory laws and practices worked to deny African Americans full participation in the great American experiment.
A note on terminology:
“Slave” is a noun, and as such is used to identify the person it refers to. “Enslaved” is an adjective that describes a condition, which is as a better way to talk about people who should be defined by more than their bondage.
As with many large plantations, The Randolph’s of Tuckahoe relied on enslaved African-Americans and indentured servants for labor in the fields and chores of the household. Unfortunately, little is known about the enslaved people who lived at Tuckahoe in the colonial era, as few Randolph documents have survived.
However, some Allen Family records from 1850-1860 paint a detailed picture of daily farm life before the Civil War. One document lists the names, ages, occupations, and shoe size of the 62 enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation in 1859. U.S. Census Bureau reports referenced in Tuckahoe’s updated Landmark Nomination Report offer glimpses of the tasks to which the Randolph’s enslaved persons were put.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, some of the freed families remained on the property as paid servants into the early 1900’s. Harriet (pictured here with her family) was the last person born into slavery on the property, and lived in some of the quarters on Plantation Street until her death sometime after 1920. These original quarters still stand on the property today.