In 1738 the slave trading ship, the Liverpool Merchant, arrived on the Potomac, and sold 70 enslaved Africans, from Senegambia, Gold Coast, and St. Helena Island to Thomas Lee. These enslaved laborers were tasked to build Stratford’s Great House and its dependencies. They cooked meals, dug and fired clay for bricks, worked as launderers, blacksmiths, plasterers, carpenters, and masons. They helped build the mansion and the surrounding buildings; a process that took several years and countless hours.
At the time Stratford was built in 1738, an estimated 200 enslaved Africans and African Americans were living at Stratford and other Lee properties.
The enslaved Africans brought their culture and skills to Stratford Hall. Many of them would have known the art of blacksmithing and masonry, as well as sophisticated farming techniques. This knowledge was essential in the success of a working plantation. Those who worked as cooks were also skilled artisans, introducing the Lees and European indentured laborers to some of the dishes from West Africa.
Enslaved Africans and African Americans lived and worked throughout the plantation grounds. The field laborers slept in crowded quarters, and worked sun-up to sun-down. Those laboring in the domestic area resided in the house itself, as well as in the adjacent stone quarters, kitchen, laundry, and other outbuildings, and they were on-call 24 hours a day.
The enslaved community at Stratford Hall was essential to the Lee family. They worked the fields, served as domestics in the Great House, as positilians, maids, waiters, footmen, and cooks. Their labor allowed the Lees a lavish lifestyle, both economically and through domestic labor. Some of their names are recorded in the archives, which allows us to interpret their lives more vividly, while the names and details of others have been lost in history. Through continual archival and archaeological research and oral history, we are learning more about the lives of the enslaved community at Stratford Hall, and are continually updating the tours and interpretation of their history and legacy.