African-American History Month at Sully

Artist Grace Kettell’s Rendition of Godfrey, a runaway slave from Sully

Artist Grace Kettell’s Rendition of Godfrey, a runaway slave from Sully

When Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, he wanted schools and other organizations to study black history.  Since then, this week of recognition has grown to a month. Woodson selected February because within it are the birthdays of two significant Americans associated with black history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Woodson believed that blacks should know their past to be able to intelligently participate in the affairs of our country. [1]

During an interview on 60 Minutes in 2005, actor Morgan Freeman said, “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

At Sully Historic Site, we agree with Mr. Freeman. Sully’s history is not just about the Richard Bland Lee family that lived here from 1794 to 1811. It is very much the history of all the land’s occupants. Why should the history of the white owner be considered more important than that of the black slave? When you look back at the very beginnings of the land that would eventually be called Sully, there were nine slaves cultivating tobacco as far back as 1746.  Richard, born in 1761, would inherit 29 slaves upon the death of his father in 1787. Two of those slaves had been at Sully even before Richard was born, such as Eve, as she is listed on an inventory in 1746, who became Old Eave in 1787.

During February and March, our case and house exhibits and tours focus on what the lives of the slaves were like, and they ask, “Who were they?”  What work did they do in the house, the outbuildings or on the farm? What did they wear and eat? Thanks to archaeology that started in the 1980s along the South Road, the remains of three cabins were discovered and remnants of the lives lived in those cabins were found. Animal bones, china shards, redware and even an 1806 coin turned up to help us tell the story of the people that lived in those cabins.

Slaves would have cleaned up after dinners.

Slaves would have cleaned up after the Lee’s dinners.

We could always talk about the slave owner and then mention that, yes, he had slaves, but that is incomplete history. It is often necessary to talk about slaves as a group instead of as individuals because, unfortunately, the same information is not available about them that is available for slave owners. But at Sully, we know their names. From letters, we can learn something about their personalities.  While not having freedom in the way they lived their lives, the slaves had children. They had families. They felt love for one another. Traditions were passed down from one generation to another through activities and stories.  Early African American foodways were passed down and many of the recipes used so many years ago continue to be used today. Religious ceremonies, parties and marriages were a large part of their community activities and were shared between the young and old. Perhaps “Old Dave” or “Prue,” considered too old to work in the fields, were the slaves who tended to the younger children and shared oral traditions and stories so the tales could then be passed down to a younger generation.  The slave community was made up of proud people who lived their lives being owned by others, but somehow, someway, managed to carve out families and personal experiences to enhance their lives.

So Sully is not Richard Bland Lee and his slaves. It is Lee and Thornton, the cook. It is Madam Juba, a laundress. And it is Ludwell, who ran away and, according to Mrs. Lee, showed the “true proof of the ingratitude of Slavery” because he was “too much indulged.”  Ludwell was returned to Sully, unable to gain his freedom as did Godfrey, another runaway slave from the site.

We tell the story of all the people, remembering their names, families and sharing whatever we know about the person so others will remember they were not just a group of slaves, but individual human beings.  There were more enslaved people living here at Sully than the numbers that comprised the Lee family, and we work very hard to acknowledge them, to remember them and to honor their legacy.

See the “African-American Past at Sully” case exhibit and house changes through March.  Take home a “Remembering Card” that has the name of a slave and something about them and their important history.

Author Tammy Higgs is a Historian at Sully Historic Site.

Sully Historic Site is open for tours Thursday – Sunday, with tours at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

[1] Carter Godwin Woodson. (2013). NAACP Organization website.  Retrieved 11:30, February 8, 2013 from

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s