An Air Force veteran now owns the former plantation in his birthplace Virginia where his relatives were enslaved. 56-year-old Frederick Miller purchased the fully-furnished house plus 10 and a half acres of land two years ago from a family called the Thompsons, who had owned it since 1917. As a child, Miller had admired the property from the window of a bus on his way to school without knowing it was linked to his family’s past.
He got to know more about the property recently thanks to his sister and cousins who did research and discovered that the home known as Sharswood was once a plantation owned by slaveholders Charles Edwin Miller and Nathaniel Crenshaw Miller. He also found out that it was the place his great-grandmother, Sarah Miller, who passed away in 1949, was born into slavery.
“I was a little bit– a little shocked by that, I would say. Because I just wanted somewhere to have family gatherings,” Miller told CBS News. Miller’s sister and cousins, with the help of a genealogist, further found evidence that their great, great grandparents, Violet and David Miller, were enslaved on the plantation.
“Once I realized that it was actually my blood that was here, it took on a whole new meaning for me,” said Miller. “It really saddens me sometimes when I– you know? And I’m up– a lotta times, I’m up wee hours of the night now, just thinking about what happened here.”
Miller grew up not too far from the gothic revival style home that was designed by New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis and built in the middle of the 19th century. The property was the center of one of the largest tobacco plantations in Virginia’s Pittsylvania County, where about half the population was enslaved, according to The Washington Post. Census figures from the 1860s cited by the outlet show that there were 58 enslaved people living in 12 houses on the Sharswood plantation.
Before the 1870 census, African Americans were not listed by name but by figures. Still, researchers were able to locate Sarah’s residence in an entry from the Virginia Slave Births Index, concluding that the property Miller bought for $225,000 was actually his ancestral home. There is a dilapidated building with a tin roof behind the building that architects believe served as slave quarters or a kitchen and laundry for the main house.
“When I walk around here, I imagine my ancestors walking on the same ground, the same dirt,” said Miller’s cousin Sonya Womack-Miranda. “As an African American, you feel like you have reached the point where you can say, ‘I’m connected to my ancestors, to my roots, to the very plantation [where] my ancestors were enslaved.’ It makes me feel whole as an African American.”
As for Miller, he is hoping that his ancestors would be proud of him and his family for buying the property. “…I think they would be. They endured a lot. I mean, I can’t even imagine what they went through. Looking down on us now, they must be smiling at us.” He bought a large house to host gatherings, only to find that his ancestors had once been enslaved there