Rappahannock County’s ‘stunning’ past

More than 3,500 slaves worked farms here prior to Civil War

One year before the start of the American Civil War, Rappahannock County’s white population barely outnumbered its tremendous number of slaves.

Historian (among other professional hats) T. Allan Comp, who owns a farm near Sperryville, tells of meeting a fellow historian at Appomattox Courthouse who had accumulated some intriguing census data on Rappahannock County from 1860.

“Rather stunning actually,” Comp observed, passing along the figures to Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan, among others in the county.

For the census, which was completed one year before the start of the American Civil War, Rappahannock County’s population was broken down as follows: White: 5,018; Slave: 3,520; Free Black: 312. Total population: 8,850.

In fact, the 1860 census was so in-depth when it came to slavery that there was a separate category for “slave ownership,” including the percentage of Rappahannock’s white households that owned slaves (43 percent).

The census found 199 of the county’s households had from 1 to 5 slaves; 78 households 6 to 9 slaves; 81 households 10 to 19 slaves; 37 households 20 to 49 slaves; and there were 3 households that had more than 50 slaves.

Perhaps it was due to Rappahannock County’s smaller geographic size and quality of land, but our neighbors had many more slaves. Culpeper County, the 1860 census found, had at least double the slaves of Rappahannock, while Fauquier County had “greater than 10,000” slaves. Madison County’s total slave population was more comparable to Rappahannock.

Turning to agriculture, the census counted 460 farms in Rappahannock in 1860 with a total dollar value of $2.86 million. It measured 103,880 improved acres in the county and 46,768 unimproved acres.

Of those 460 farms, 48 consisted of 1 to 49 acres; 114 had 50 to 99 acres, 248 had 100 to 499 acres; 38 had 500 to 999 acres, and 12 farms consisted of 1,000-plus acres.

Also living on these farms during the 1860 census were 10,623 hogs; 7,234 beef cattle; 6,679 sheep; 2,593 horses; 2,189 dairy cattle; 422 work oxen; and 117 mules.

The value of the county’s livestock was put at $407,815, while the dollar figure for farm implements was $66,023.

As for crops, get a load of these bountiful harvests — grown in Rappahannock’s rocky soil, no less, albeit in many instances with slave labor.

County farms produced 299,356 bushels of corn; 89,275 bushels of wheat; 77,665 pounds of butter; 48,669 bushels of oats; 38,280 pounds of tobacco; 28,049 bushels of rye; 23,338 pounds of wool; 15,817 bushels of Irish potatoes; 5,759 pounds of honey; 3,849 tons of hay; 2,062 bushels of sweet potatoes; 647 pounds of cheese; 320 pounds of flax; 231 pounds of beeswax; 99 bushels of peas/beans; 90 gallons of wine; and 53 gallons of sorghum molasses.

There must not have been many apple trees yet in Rappahannock, as the total value of “orchard products” totaled $6,386.

Finally, the total value of personal property (including slaves) in Rappahannock County was $3,720,086, for an  average value per household of $3,843.

About John McCaslin 400 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.