Great Hopes Plantation

Great Hopes Plantation is a representation of an 18th century middling family plantation. What does it mean to be middling? If your family was middling then you were like today’s middle class.  Middling families were not as elevated as the aristocrats, but they were not considered tradesmen.  When you arrive at Great Hopes Plantation it is not what you envision when you think of plantation. Most people think of thousands of acres and grand homes with Greek columns greeting you at the entrance.  Of course visions of Gone With the Wind spring to mind, but what you see is entirely different. Here is the home of a family just starting out. 

tobacco storehouse

bricks outlining where main house will be


temporary house

slave quarters

The main house is not constructed yet but bricks are set out to show where the house will be built.  In the meantime, the family lives in a rustic wooden structure not unlike what most people think slaves resided in. Several buildings dot the landscape and you get a good picture of the difficult life a middling farmer and his family lived. Of those who lived in and around Williamsburg, only about 5% were considered aristocrats or well-born, and 33% were considered lower class.  The rest were middling.  Remember the home of Benjamin Powell? He would have fallen into the middling class too.

tobacco plant

tobacco worm on my thumb

see how tiny it is?

corn crib

A middling farmer owned slaves who were given a small garden of their own to farm in their spare time. They could sell their crops to raise money for themselves. Middling farmers borrowed money to purchase the land, but they did own their slaves which accounted for 75% of their wealth. Depending on the crop, slaves and the farmers could work the fields together. At Great Hopes Plantation, we got a chance to see tobacco growing in the fields and were given the task of removing the tobacco worms from the leaves.  This proved more difficult than we thought because the worms were quite small. As they eat the leaves, they will grow and swell in size, but the ones we found were very tiny.  The slaves would have walk through the fields under the hot sun and lift every leaf, searching for the bugs that could destroy their crops and livelihood.

slave garden


field workers

smoke house


On the plantation you will find several types of structures – a smokehouse, a corn crib, a barn, the slave quarters, the farmer’s house, a privy, a well, a storehouse, and a chicken coop.  The plantation would be home to many types of animals – cattle, pigs, sheep and goats.  Some might own oxen to help with the difficult task of plowing, and some might own horses.  Many did not own horses which were too expensive and unless they helped with the farming, horses were more of a luxury. The most important crop for many years was tobacco.  John Rolfe made it the cash crop of the area during the 1600s, and even in the mid 1700, tobacco was still important.  It was sold all over Europe. Many farmers began to change their crops because tobacco would strip the soil of nutrients and that particular section would need to lay dormant for some time before it could be worked again.  Because of this, many farmers learned to grow other crops as well.  Cotton, indigo, and wheat became staples of the small plantation.  In some low lying areas, even rice was grown where the soil was saturated with water.



plantation workers

The life of a middling farm was difficult.  As I mentioned above, many of them worked the fields beside their slaves. Everyone had a job on the plantation. 

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