In Robertson County, Tennessee, there is a great and rich tapestry of history, from the fertile soil to the rivers and woods, and the people themselves. At the heart of history is agriculture, and most notably, tobacco. You would be hard pressed to find someone who grew up in this part of Tennessee that has not spent at least a part of their life in the fields of barns, doing some of the hardest work out there. One of the most interesting locations in Robertson County is The Wessyngton Estate.

Washington Farm, also known as Wessyngton, has been known as the largest antebellum plantation in America. Owned by a cousin of our first president, George Washington, it is a beautiful and haunting place. Sadly, it was also a slave plantation, the very soil full of memories of those times.

The name Wessyngton, an old English name that later was changed to Washington, became known far and wide. Joseph Washingtom, born in South Hampton County, Virginia in July of 1770. He first came to Robertson County, Tennessee in 1796, and visited his cousin, Colonel Cheatham. He married a sixteen year old daughter of one of the wealthiest men around, when he was the age of forty-two. By 1812, Wessyngton had grown from a sixty acre purchase to over 1,000 acres. Tobacco was one of the main exports which established our economy, along with the fury and hemp trade, respectively. Washington became a well known name, and largely due to George Augustine Washington, Joseph’s son. He took over the operation in the late 1830’s, and their land holdings had increased to over 4,300 acres. Eventually, it grew to more than 13,000 acres. George soon gained the title of largest slaveholder in Tennessee. Exports from the plantation included produce, brandy, and hams, as well as tobacco.

Wessyngton was undeniably a large part of that history. The plantation records were donated to the Tennessee State Library and Archives toward the end of the twentieth century, and are public record.

In 1860, there were something like two hundred and seventy-four slaves that lived and worked the plantation. They were housed in log cabins, and lived a very humbling and difficult life. Once the Civil War began, Wessyngton was naturally affected, and would never be the same. In September of 1863, federal troops first came to Wessyngton and took approximately twenty-four men and boys to work on military fortifications, as well as the railroad. Some of those men enlisted in the Union Army. When the war brought freedom, some of the free men remained at Wessyngton. There is actually a slave cemetery located on the property where even their children and grandchildren were buried up into the 1920’s. It is estimated that over one thousand of their descendants still reside in the surrounding areas. History can be very ugly, but it is necessary for us to understand the mistakes and sins of the past, so that we may move forward into a brighter future. At the heart of this heartbreaking history is a story of so many families who were affected in numerous ways by slavery, and a beautiful land that once thrived due to the nonstop hard labor of people who worked under the real threat of violence. Their prayer meetings were held in secret by necessity, and the threat of violence did not quell the faith and those strong and hard-working people, men and women who did so much to build this great nation.

These days, Wessyngton is a beautiful and quiet place, and a shadow of its former glory, a glory that came at far too great a cost. It is a story that needed to be told, and although the sadness of the telling may be too much for some, I feel that we owe it to those slaves and their descendants to not only remember this history, but to share it with others. Tennessee is a lovely land and place of great significance, and Robertson County holds much of that in the hearts and minds of its people. Conceived of a nation of freedom that was hard bought, Tenneseans are a people like no other. We have grown stronger together, as part of a nation that was once divided.

Now, more than ever, we should learn from the past, finding the hidden beauty in the strength and faith of those unsung heroes who truly built Wessyngton and had such a large part in the building of America we know and love today.

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