Abraham Peyton Skipwith, who JXN considers as "The Founding Father of Jackson Ward", was a mixed-race Black man who was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson’s [Jefferson] Council of State Jaquelin Ambler [Ambler] and Rebecca Lewis Burwell as early as circa 1767. During the Industrial Revolution, Richmond, alongside a handful of sister cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, Charleston, South Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland, pivoted towards urbanized enslavement as enslaved people migrated from county plantations to city plants, which positioned enslaved laborers like Skipwith to work as a store clerk.
In circa 1782, Skipwith was sold by Ambler to Thomas Bentley, who is said to have contributed to the Revolutionary Ward in Illinois, and he filed a legislative petition for his freedom in or around 1785 – eventually manumitting himself circa 1789 from two local merchants. In addition to confirming his mixed-raced ancestry, the petition revealed his connections to several founding fathers. In addition to Ambler, his legislative petition included a witness statement by Jefferson's Senior Advisor Thomas Walker and Benjamin Harrison V who was a signer of the declaration of independence.
In circa 1793, Skipwith purchased parcels of land on the northern edge of the City of Richmond for 15 pounds and 5 shillings in what would become present-day Jackson Ward – building a gambrel-roofed cottage known as the Skipwith-Roper Cottage, which is one of the city's oldest documented dwellings. The cottage was a 1.5-story, wood-frame, weather-board-clad, gambrel-roofed house with a raised basement and single-bay Greek revival porch with Doric columns.
In circa 1797, Skipwith became one of the first, if not the first known Black Richmonder and|or Virginian, with a fully executed will, where he left family members, to include his wife, Cloe, and granddaughter, Maria, both of which he manumitted in circa 1794, the cottage, as well as several personal possessions, such as a gun, gold, silver, cash, furniture, livestock, and a horse and buggy.
In circa 1905, the cottage was sold by Skipwith’s last known descendant, Marietta Roper, to Abraham Coleman, whose family was forcibly condemned from the property by the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike Authority in circa 1954. In circa 1957, the cottage was sold by the authority for approximately $25 and soon thereafter was dismantled and displaced for private use on an unconscionable site like the Sabot Hill Plantation in a nearby county – which was the former plantation of the Secretary of War for the Confederacy James Seddon.
Unfortunately, despite being moved in the name of historic preservation, during its relocation, as well as a recent renovation, most of the cottage's original fabric wasn't preserved. Considering, JXN endeavors to reconstruct the cottage for interpretative purposes in the heart of Jackson Ward, which will serve as an opportunity to re-erect the structure with greater historical, architectural, cultural, and geographical accuracy – ultimately reestablishing it as a national historic landmark that honors the life, lineage, and legacy of Abraham Peyton Skipwith.