“I’m more than what they called me”: Loudoun woman traces her family tree to Oatlands Plantation

Black History Month

Mount Olive Methodist Church was built by freed slaves. It’s rumored they named it Mount Olive for Israel’s one mile long ridge east of Jerusalem, which they likened to the town they would later call Gleedsville.

Named for Jack Gleed, born a slave of George and Elizabeth Carter of Oatlands Plantation, Gleedsville was an African American settlement in Loudoun County following emancipation. 

Despite primary documents like Elizabeth’s diary and a slave schedule in the 1850 and 1860 census, Oatlands Plantation estimates it has only identified 50 to 60 percent of the slaves that lived and worked there. By 1860, Elizabeth Carter enslaved 133 people.

Through research of her own, Loudoun County resident Ellen Thaxton has discovered several of her family lines take root at Oatlands Plantation. She’s been climbing the roots of her family tree since the fourth grade.

“I walked miles to school. I was spit on and called the n-word,” said Thaxton. “And that, I think, made me figure out…what was it about me that was different? That made people want to call me names?”

To help identify the rest of the unknown slaves that lived and worked at Oatlands, the museum has opened a new exhibit dedicated to them. The exhibit encourages visitors to research their family’s history.

Thaxton says she often gets frustrated when she’s researching, as she often hits dead ends. As the Jim Crow laws descended upon Gleedsville, many of its residents were forced out. Thaxton’s family moved away from the area and didn’t return until she was in elementary school.

“I think people who still have their grandparents here that are 100…they’re blessed,” said Thaxton. “And I say to everyone that I talk to: if you still have your grandparents living, go talk to them. Interview them. Videotape them. Find out all you can about your history. It’s fascinating.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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