Exhibit 7

Oak Hill cemetery – Dilsy Washington is brought home

Oak Hill CemeteryCountless unmarked slave cemeteries dot the landscape of Charles City County. A very few still show evidence of stones marking graves. Some are distinguished by growing periwinkle. Only one slave cemetery in the county is graced with a headstone, and that headstone tells a remarkable tale. Photo courtesy Judy Ledbetter


Major Family at Oak HillDilsy Washington was born a slave at Oak Hill, a plantation owned by the Major family and located just to the north of President John Tyler’s plantation, Sherwood Forest. Dilsy’s family included her mother Sally White, her sister Minerva Hall, wife of President Tyler’s coachman Peter Hall, a husband named Prior Washington and two sons who predeceased her named Robert F. Washington and Eldridge A. Washington. Photo of Major family at Oak Hill ca 1901 courtesy Charles City County Center for Local History.


register of slave birthsDilsy was born March 25, 1838, and her birth was recorded in a Major family register of slave births. After the Civil War Dilsy continued to live in Charles City and was one of a small number of freedmen who purchased land. Her five-acre tract was located almost next door to Oak Hill. Sometime after 1880, however, Dilsy moved to Massachusetts, perhaps to work as a domestic or factory worker. Slave Birth Register, Major-Marable Family Papers, courtesy Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Hall letterWhen Dilsy’s sister Minerva died in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1883, her son carried her body back to Charles City for burial at Oak Hill. The son sent this letter in advance, saying, “Please tell all our friends of mothers death. She died Monday night at half past ten o’clock be sure to let them all know at Oak Hill. Tell Miss Elenore that Aunt Dilsie say she must go to the burying ground and pick out her sister grave as near mother’s as she can.” “Miss Elenore” was Eleanor Catherine Griffith Marable Major, wife of George B. Major, owner of Oak Hill. Interestingly, the letter contained an instruction for the former owner to pick out a burial spot for Minerva Hall in the Oak Hill slave cemetery – not a request for permission. Major-Marable Family Papers, courtesy Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.


Hall letterWhen Dilsy died ca 1911 her will directed that her body be sent back to Charles City for burial by the side of her mother or sister. She left money for a tombstone with the names Minerva Hall, Sally White, Prior Washington, Dilsy Washington and “my three children.” Apparently only two of Dilsy’s children were buried in the cemetery or the name of the third child was unknown, because only two children are named on the stone. Dilsy’s will also bequeathed a black silk dress to Maria E. Major of Charles City and directed that her clothing, bedding and furniture be shipped to Clarissa Brown for distribution among her Charles City relatives. Finally, she left $30 to Liberty Baptist Church. Dilsy’s story provides a powerful demonstration of the ties many freedmen felt to the graves of their ancestors. Photo courtesy Charles City County Richard M. Bowman Center for Local History.


next: Exhibit 8: Burlington, John William Dunjee, and the Underground Railroad