The Fairfield Foundation is conducting a long-term archaeological study of the Burwell plantation in Gloucester County, Virginia. Fairfield, or Carter's Creek Farm, as it was often known, was the ancestral plantation of the Burwell family. A substantial brick home, known from surviving photographs, was constructed there in 1694 for Lewis Burwell II. The Burwells owned hundreds of enslaved Africans who were responsible for much of the extensive landscape alterations that created this plantation, including building and maintaining roads, fences, slave quarters and formal gardens. Robert Thruston purchased Fairfield from the Burwell family in 1787. A well-connected and successful family, the Thrustons owned many properties in lower Gloucester County.
The land changed hands several times in the second half of the 19th century and subsequent owners rented the decaying house for many years before its destruction by fire in 1897. At that time, an African-American woman lived in the house; her name is not known. Excavations continue to recover many of her belongings, illuminating her life where surviving documents fall short.
Enslaved individuals lived and worked at Fairfield from the granting of the initial patent in 1648. The plantation's population reached its peak in 1782 with 140 enslaved men, women, and children in addition to the Burwell family. Beginning in the 1850s, subsequent landowners leased the property to both black and white tenants.
Following the Civil War, a thriving African-American community developed on portions of the former plantation, one of many that formed in the county. These communities relied on farming, but supplemented their income as watermen, craftspeople, laundresses, and grain mill operators. Individuals in the communities pooled resources to build churches such as First Baptist and Antioch Baptist. They also built schools, including Piney Swamp, Woodville, and Smithfield.
The Fairfield Foundation conducts archaeological investigations, historical research and public outreach in order to help understand and share the history of the property and the lives of its many residents, free and enslaved.
The core of Fairfield Plantation exists today as a large, flat agricultural field fringed by forest. Two small groves of trees surround the remains of a cemetery and the ruins of the house. Largely dismantled after the disastrous fire of 1897, the remains of the house consist of the wall foundations and rubble-filled cellar. Ongoing excavations are uncovering the remains of the many structures and features that once dominated the plantation landscape.
Geographical and Contact Information
David Brown and Thane Harpole, Co-Directors
The Fairfield Foundation
White Marsh, Virginia