Video Courtesy of The JXN Project
Video Courtesy of WTVR CBS 6
Jackson Ward is often celebrated during its height as the “Harlem of the South” and “Black Wall Street”. Yet, while its a community steeped in culture and rich in history – it’s a history whose multiple layers have yet to be unearthed as very little extant research focuses on the ward’s origins dating back to William Byrd’s lottery in circa 1768 for the land that would become the gerrymandered political district in circa 1871. This research includes the even lesser-known story of Abraham Peyton Skipwith who became the ward’s first known Black homeowner in circa 1793, as well as one of the first, if not the first Black Richmonders and|or Virginians with a fully executed will in circa 1797.
As a result of JXN’s partnership with the Richmond-Times Dispatch and Michael Paul Williams, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, JXN uncovered a more holistic and honest history of the house and subsequent highway, also known as the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, that caused the condemnation of the property, which essentially divested its Black homeowners as the cottage transitioned to private ownership on the former plantation of the Secretary of War of the Confederacy in a nearby county – and shepherded generations of Black families into nearby public housing facilities.
At the core of JXN is a fundamental belief that the preservation of Black American history is worthy of more than mere markers as of our respective “monuments” have been disproportionately dilapidated, dismantled, destroyed, and|or displaced, such as the home of Abraham Peyton Skipwith, also known as the Skipwith-Roper Cottage. With hindsight in hand, the “monumental” year of 2020 helped to illuminate the stark historic injustices that still plague our country, and indeed, our beloved city, which at one point laid the blueprint for hate and harm – but is equally as positioned to provide a path forward for hope and healing for the city, commonwealth, and country.
On the heels of the removal of the dismantled monuments, JXN is proud to announce “The Skipwith-Roper Homecoming” as an effort to reconstruct an environmentally sustainable recreation of the Skipwith-Roper Cottage as a historic site with the same historical significance and standing as Monticello and|or Mount Vernon – becoming a premiere destination to understanding the Black American experience as its said that 1 in 4 Black Americans can retrace their roots to the Richmond region. This particular initiative in partnership with community partners like the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust presents a unique opportunity not only because of the rarity with being able to leverage one of the city's oldest documented dwellings to interpret the life, lineage, and legacy of a Black American from the eighteenth century, but its also rooted in leveraging research to uncover monuments that have been overlooked while lying in plain sight for centuries.
As the country approaches the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the United States of America, JXN endeavors to excavate, elevate, and educate others on Skipwith, who in addition to being directly connected to several of the traditionally recognized forefathers, should be acknowledged as "The Founding Father of Jackson Ward" in his own right as the project's anchoring ancestor. Moreover, JXN’s work is quite timely as the role of infrastructure projects, like the turnpike, in disconnecting communities of color, like the ward, is currently being discussed in public discourse.
As JXN continues to leverage reparative historic preservation to drive restorative truth-telling and redemptive storytelling, the endeavors to utilize the story of Abraham Peyton Skipwith as a means of capturing the multidimensional experience of what it means to be Black in America by continuing to tell the origin story of the nation's first officially registered historic Black urban neighborhood.
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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.
As The JXN Project continues to examine the life, lineage, and legacy of Abraham Peyton Skipwith, the project is in the process of trying to locate his genealogical heirs, also known as the Skipwith-Ropers, as well as members of the Coleman-Deviney family who were the last known Black homeowners of the Skipwith-Roper Cottage located at the non-surviving 400 W. Duval Street in Jackson Ward. If you are familiar with any of the below names, we would ask that you please contact JXN as it could aid in the project's descendant re·search.
JXN is searching for the descendants of Abraham [Abram] Peyton Skipwith, Chloe [Cloe] Skipwith, Louisa Skipwith, Betsy Skipwith, Benjamin Skipwith, Samuel James, Maria [Mariah] Skipwith-Roper, Peter Roper, Alpheus Roper, Fannie Lou Roper, Ebenezer Roper, Elizabeth Roper, and|or Marietta [Mary Etta] Roper. The project has also learned that members of the Dunlop family of Williamsburg may also be of relation to the Skipwith-Ropers.
JXN is searching for the descendants of Abraham [Abram] Coleman, Melinda Coleman, Minor Coleman, Landon Coleman, Gloucester Deviney, and|or James Deviney.
JXN is searching for descendants of those connected to Skipwith's enslavement journey, to include John Carter of Corotoman Plantation in Lancaster, VA, Jaquelin Ambler, Rebecca Lewis Burwell and Eliza Jaquelin Ambler Brent Carrington of Henrico, VA, Thomas Bentley of Williamsburg, VA and Kaskaskia, IL, and Thomas James of Gloucester County, VA – with possible connections to the Shirley Plantation in Charles City, VA and Nomini Hall in Westmoreland County, VA.
Research Note | Despite the similarities in nomenclature, Abraham Peyton Skipwith is separate and apart from Peyton Skipwith who had ties to the University of Virginia and was enslaved by John Hartwell Cocke of the Bremo Plantation in Fluvanna County, VA – before being emancipated and relocating to Monrovia, Liberia.
*CAPITAL CAMPAIGN UPDATE*
The JXN Project has been awarded a $1.5M grant for capacity building from the Mellon Foundation to support "The Skipwith-Roper Homecoming". Additionally, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust recently donated 10 parcels of land, which will serve as the reconstruction site for the Skipwith-Roper Cottage. With the latest support from the Mellon Foundation and Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, JXN has raised approximately $2.25M of its fundraising goal.
JXN recently a fundraising campaign to crowdsource $5.68M by 2024 to help finance the reconstruction of the Skipwith-Roper Cottage back in its rightful home in Jackson Ward. The reconstructed cottage will serve as historical, architectural, and cultural attraction consisting of an environmentally sustainable structure with onsite parking, operational offices, and outdoor greenspace for community programming and placemaking – emerging as a destination of choice to commemorate the life, lineage, and legacy of Abraham Peyton Skipwith as part of the United States Semiquincentennial in 2026.
JXN invites institutions to support the project through in-kind support and sponsorship packages that range from $1M to less than $5K. For more information, please contact email@example.com. JXN also invites individuals to contribute by clicking the below "DONATE NOW" button.
JXN [86-3846854] is a tax-exempt 501[c] organization and contributions to JXN are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Photos Courtesy of the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Valentine Museum, Commonwealth Architects, and Sandra Sellars
Commissions and Graphic Designs Courtesy of Barry O'Keefe and Meredith Carrington