After the Civil War, many of the people who had been enslaved at Oatlands and the Carter’s plantation in western Loudoun, Bellefield, remained in the area. While this might seem odd to modern sensibilities – why wouldn’t everyone leave after they had their freedom? – it makes sense from a practical and humanitarian standpoint. Most could not read or write. Most did not have money. Most had family or friends whom they didn’t want to leave or couldn’t leave. This is evidenced in the 1870 federal census listings for Oatlands and Bellefield, the first federal census taken after the War.
Living in the Oatlands household with Kate and George Carter Jr. were Joshua Washington (70), house servant; Gerard Day (60); Elizabeth Grigg (35), cook; Heba Fisher (13), nurse; and Wesley Nelson (70), a farm laborer and his wife Jennie (70). Recorded nearby were Clara Gleed and her family; Gabriel and Dinah Day; Jeremiah and Amelia Mason; James Russ, Joseph Russ and Daniel Russ, and their families; Henry and Margaret Johnson; Basil and Hester Bryan [Bryant]; John and Lucinda Gleed. Many were probably still living in the dwellings that housed them during the time of slavery.
Elizabeth O. Carter was living at Bellefield along with Jacob (34) and Sophia Howard (35) and their children, Matilda (6), Paton [Peyton] (4), and Luticia (9 months). Also in the household were Eva Moten (50) and her daughter, Frances (9); Hannah Warner (62); and Hannah Fisher (16).[i]
By 1881, men who had once been enslaved at Oatlands began to buy small parcels of land to the northeast of the plantation.[ii] Most of the tracts came out of the larger Greenup tract, shown in the plat at right, which had been purchased by John F. Elgin from Christopher Greenup in 1878.[iii] The area would have been familiar to people who had been enslaved at Oatlands because it was close-by and connected by the Carolina Road, also known as Carter’s Mill Road below its intersection with Mt. Gap Road [present day Gap Road/Route 650]. In John Elgin, the formerly enslaved found a property owner willing to sell land and give them a start.
John “Jack” Gleed purchased 7 acres on the west side of the road (present day Gleedsville Road) from the Elgins in October 1881.[iv] Four months later, Emanuel Day bought 4 acres from the Elgins on the west side of the road in February 1882.[v] Thomas Day purchased 3 acres that same month, across from Jack Gleed on the east side of the road.
Others continued to purchase land and by the late 1880s, the small community of Gleedsville, named for Jack Gleed, had been formed. The earliest documented reference to the name was in an 1889 deed when Gleed sold 1 ½ acres in Gleedsville” to Murray Allen.[vi] A plat of the village from the early to mid 1880s is shown at right. Below it is a slightly later plat that shows the land owned by Robert Day.[vii] As these maps indicate, African Americans owned small parcels on which they built their homes and probably raised food for their own consumption. They never owned large tracts of land or large farms in the area.
Two and a half years after Thomas Day purchased his land, he put it in trust to secure a financial note of $100. Two years after that, in April 1886, the three acre parcel was sold to Washington Thornton for $300.[viii] Thornton didn’t retain it for long. In 1889, he and his wife, Margaret, sold half an acre to trustees Robert Day, George Bryant, James Serors, Thomas Washington, Bushrod Murray, Thomas Waters and Emanuel Day for use as a “place of divine worship” for the Methodist Episcopal Church. By this time, the village of Gleedsville had a general store, and Carter’s Mill was approximately one mile south.
It is believed that the men and women of Gleedsville often worked at night by the light of kerosene lamps to build their church. Stones for the foundation came from the fields on Jack Gleed’s and Martin Buchanan’s properties. The wooden, Late Gothic Revival-style church, known as Mt. Olive Methodist Episcopal, was dedicated on 12 October 1890.[ix] The little, white church is presently owned and used for worship by the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Loudoun.
The second generation of families, such as the Days, Smiths, and Buchanans, inherited or bought land in Gleedsville but in many ways, times got tougher rather than better for them. In the 1889 election, Virginia’s new governor ran on a platform of white supremacy. Fear of African American advancement led to the return of pre-Civil War attitudes in many parts of Virginia. In Loudoun, Reconstruction had accomplished very little and the Conservative Party (former secessionists) quickly returned to power in the county.[x]
By the early 20th century, farming jobs were fewer due to changes in crop production and mechanization. Many residents of Gleedsville moved out of the area, some to Arlington and Washington, D.C., and others to the North. Of those who stayed, several worked for the Eustis family at Oatlands. James Buchanan served as Mrs. Eustis’s chauffeur. Deborah Buchanan cared for Edith’s daughter, Helen. Bazil Turner worked on the farm and in the garden and later in life, he helped with household chores.[xi]
“The period of hope that was ushered in with the end of the Civil War was over. The town of Gleedsville and its church functioned until the 1980s when the local population was too small to support it. Its most prosperous years were from 1890 through the 1920s. It had reached its pinnacle in 1890 with the building of the church. The small frame building remains as the only evidence of the struggle of one group of African Americans as they made the transition from chattel to free, responsible citizens.”[xii]
[i] Federal census records for Loudoun County viewed on Ancestry.com.
[ii] Land Tax Records, Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia.
[iii] Deed Book 6L:324. Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia. The parcel was 146.5 acres.
[iv] Deed Book 6U:264. Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia.
[v] Deed Book 7O:262. Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia.
[vi] “Gleedsville Named After Ex-Slave” by Eugene Scheel. Loudoun Times Mirror, 7 April 1977. The property sale is recorded in Deed Book 7B:449.
[viii] Deed Book 6V:266. Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia. W.E. Garrett was the trustee for the $100 note from John F. Reeves to Thomas Day. Deed Book 7B:220 for the sale by Day, Garrett and Reeves to Washington Thornton.
[ix] National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Mt. Olive Methodist Episcopal Church, DHR file number 053-0994. Written by Leslie Wright in June 2004. http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Loudoun/053-0994_Mt.OliveMethodistEpiscopalChurch_2005_Final_Nomination.pdf
[x] It is interesting to note that land tax records in Loudoun County were not segregated by race prior to 1890, nor was race typically noted in the entry. Starting in 1891, property tax payers were segregated in the tax book by “whites” and “colored”.
[xi] Oral histories in the Oatlands archives.
[xii] National Register of Historic Places nomination.