Grain production, milling, and transportation were long staples of the Shenandoah Valley. Across Clarke and other valley counties grist mills of varying states of preservation can be found. CCHA, of course, owns and operates the Burwell-Morgan Mill, located in Millwood. It was built by Nathaniel Burwell of Carter Hall, and has remained in near-constant operation since 1785. While countless histories have been written about Nathaniel Burwell and his associate, Daniel Morgan, an entire group of people have been left out of the narrative: the enslaved. It's easy to forget the black faces that powered the milling operation when you walk into the Burwell-Morgan Mill. While the location is original, much of the landscape around it has changed over the past two centuries. Foliage has grown back, roads have been added, houses built, etc. To those who visit for the first time, the building and water wheel are awe-inspiring. But we cannot forget about the countless, nameless human beings who worked day in and day out at a thankless job: agriculture.
CCHA is working to revamp our interpretation of the mill and those peoples associated with it. Our goal is to bring to light voices that have been traditionally left out: the enslaved. This post is a brief look at what we know so far.
In order for the mill to function, there needs to be a supply of grain. That, of course, does not appear naturally without help (I guess technically it does but go with me, here). In order to create enough flour and grits to actually feed a population, there needs to be an extensive agricultural background to support the milling effort. That grain was grown by enslaved peoples. Nathaniel Burwell and Daniel Morgan both owned extensive tracts of land, in addition to several mills, and they had a sizeable enslaved force to work them (in 1810, Nathaniel Burwell is the largest slaveholder in the county). The enslaved population grew the grain, harvested the grain, and transported it to and from the mills.
But we knew that, right? Enslaved agricultural workers are widely known about by now. But what about the milling itself? This is where our current research comes in.
When Nathaniel Burwell died in 1814, his estate was inventoried and appraised. We have one name, George - he was an enslaved man listed as belonging to the Carter Hall tract. He's listed as being a miller. We know from looking through Burwell's disbursement ledger from the same time period, that a "negro" man named George is being paid to do some milling. He's also being paid for sawmilling jobs and various other labor jobs around the mill complex.
But there are others, too. We can read about Wagoner Phil, Wagon Maker Tom, Wagoner Charles, Cook Betsy, and so many others. Although we can't specify what they were doing, they were listed in the ledgers as receiving pay for tasks accomplished. Wagons were necessary for milling, because the raw grains and flours needed to be transported somehow. We can speculate the wagons were made by enslaved hands.
There are other names we know about too, it's not limited to just George and the wagon makers. Their stories are being fleshed out, and hopefully soon we'll have a more complete picture. All of this is to say that the Burwell-Morgan Mill (Morgan's Mill, as it was more commonly known as), would not have functioned were it not for the scores of enslaved bodies providing the background work.
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.