By Mary M. Root, CFFC Board Member
For too long, American history has been told from the European point of view, without crediting all the people who created our diverse nation. There are untold stories of lives worth remembering, yet neglected in our historical and cultural record. The Fauquier County Architectural Review Board has embarked upon a 2019 research project that intends to magnify lost voices in Fauquier’s history, beginning with enslaved craftsmen. Their skills built the earliest homes, churches, mills and factories in our community, and their work was not personally compensated; money paid or barter rendered went to their owners. Today their names and individual contributions are often missing in our historical record.
This research is a challenge that involves poring through census records, plantation ledgers, circuit court files, WPA reports, diaries, newspaper reports and more. Fortunately for the ARB, our mentor through this process has been the indefatigable Karen Hughes White, along with directors Angela Hughes Davidson and Norma Logan of the African American Historical Association in The Plains, Virginia.
“There are stories worth telling and lives worth remembering.”
– Michael Guasco, Professor of History, Davidson College
One life worth remembering is that of Hannibal. We don’t know his last name or the date of his birth yet, but his first name is indelibly inscribed in two stone buildings in Southern Fauquier: Chestnut Lawn near Remington, and Grove Baptist Church in Goldvein. Both structures were built of stone, and both were signed by his hand. We know that Hannibal was a master mason. He was owned first by the Keith family, then by Thomas Skinker, who married Harriet Keith.
Chestnut Lawn was built for Captain James Payne, a War of 1812 veteran, and his wife, Mary Isham Keith Payne. The imposing Federal-style structure is two-and-a-half stories high flanked by two massive chimneys. The walls are of local granite and are three feet, four inches thick at the foundation, tapering to two feet eight inches thick at the top. Mantal and floors are of heart pine and black walnut, cut and shaped onsite. Completed in 1832, Chestnut Lawn’s date was carved into a large stone between upper-story windows by Hannibal, where his signature read, simply, “Han 1832.” The enslaved master mason was in charge of a group of artisan slaves who belonged to the Skinker family. Chestnut Lawn survived the Civil War, although its outbuildings were burned. A cannonball remains embedded in the upper story of the house.
Grove Baptist Church is located in Goldvein, Virginia, across Route 17 from the Goldvein Mining Museum. Its congregation held Sunday worship services in a nearby grove beginning in 1799, hence the name. In 1833 the fieldstone sanctuary with vestibule was erected upon land donated by Thomas Skinker. Thirty years on, the church was used as a Confederate hospital and later, a Union stable. Grove Baptist Church’s doorway lintels are each a massive stone, and one of them, over the east door, is inscribed “Hannibal 1833.”
There is a lot more work to be done. The Fauquier County Architectural Review Board will search for more information on Hannibal and his masterpieces, and about other enslaved artisans whose stories should be told and lives remembered.