Slate Hill Plantation

Nathaniel Venable owned Slate Hill Plantation, where Hampden-Sydney’s founders held their first meeting.  His office, now known as “The Birthplace,” sits on campus today, behind Atkinson Hall.  Venable’s will shows that he owned eleven slaves at the time of his death in the early 1800s, including “Betsey, Frank, John, Old Will, Billy Hand, Garden Dick, and Yellow Dick.”  Because Venable had several sons, brothers, and grandsons, tracing slave names and ownership through the family becomes confusing.  However, an African American family by the name Venable still lives in the Mercy Seat Community near Worsham, Virginia, which neighbors Hampden-Sydney’s campus, and Mr. Clem Venable III recently retired from a long career with Hampden-Sydney’s Buildings and Grounds crew.  An interview with Mr. Venable revealed that he knew little of his family’s origins, but when asked about any relation to the Venables of Slate Hill or of Venable Hall fame, he mentioned that there could be a connection there “from the slave days.” 

Research into early trustee meeting minutes showed that Samuel W. and Richard N. Venable, Nathaniel’s sons, were placed on a committee to draw a plan for a new library, and to engage “workmen” to build it.  Richard N. Venable and his wife Mary Morton had several children.  Their son Richard (1806-1844) married Magdelena McCampbell and the two named their son Richard Morton Venable (1839-1910).  Richard M. Venable graduated from Hampden-Sydney in 1857, became a Major in the Confederate Army and a trustee of the college, and the dormitory called Venable Hall is named in his honor. 1855 birth records at the local courthouse list Richard M. Venable’s slave, Sukey, giving birth to a boy named Clem.  The 1870 census lists a free fourteen-year-old Clem Venable, living in Prince Edward County with his parents, Robert and Susan (perhaps “Sukey” for short), and working as a domestic servant.  Because early and accurate records on African Americans are few and far between, after this record it is difficult concretely to trace this Clem Venable to Clem Venable III, who lives in the area today; however, it seems highly unlikely that the names and location would be a simple coincidence.  There is little doubt that Clem Venable III is indeed connected to the Venables of Slate Hill, and very directly related to the Venable for whom Venable Hall is named.  Notably, on Mother’s Day of 2009, Clem Venable IV walked across a stage in front of Venable Hall during his graduation from Hampden-Sydney, likely the first graduate of the college who is descended from a slave family affiliated with its earliest days.

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