Genealogy Trails



An Opulent Slaveholder

Original Source:
"American Slavery  and Colour"
by William Chambers, 1857

In the summer of 1854 there appeared a communication in a Richmond newspaper, giving an account of a Mr. Samuel Hairston, a planter, who is described as the wealthiest man in Virginia, if not in the United States. The account, which we copy, will be read with interest.
'I have thought for some time I would write for your paper something in relation to the richest man in Virginia, and the largest slaveholder in the Union, and perhaps in the world, unless the serfs of Russia be considered slaves; and the wish expressed in your paper, a few days ago, to know who was so wealthy in Virginia, induces me to write this now. Samuel Hairston, of Pittsylvania, is the gentleman. When I was in his section a year or two ago, he was the owner of between 1600 and 1700 slaves, in his own right, having but a little while before taken a census. He also has a prospective right to about 1003 slaves more, which are now owned by his mother-in-law, Mrs. R. Hairston, he having married her only child. He now has the management of them, which makes the number of his slaves reach near 3000. They increase at the rate of nearly 100 every year; he has to purchase a large plantation every year to settle them on. A large number of his plantations are in Henry and Patrick counties, Virginia. He has large estates in North Carolina. His landed property in Stokes alone is assessed at 600,000 dollars. His wealth is differently estimated at 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 dollars; and I should think it nearer the latter. You think he has a hard lot, but I assure you, Mr. Hairston manages all his matters as easy as most would an estate of 10,000 dollars. He has overseers who are compelled to give him a written statement of what has been made and spent on each plantation, and his negroes are all clothed and fed from his own domestic manufacture; and raising his own tobacco-crop, which is immensely large, as so much clear gain every year besides his increase in negroes, which is a fortune  of itself. And now for his residence. I have travelled over fifteen states of this Union, and have never seen anything comparable to his yard and garden, except some of those in the Mississippi delta, and none of them equal to it. Mrs. Hairston has been beautifying it for years; and a good old minister, in preaching near the place, and describing paradise, said "it was as beautiful as Mrs. Hairston's;" or, as a friend who visited Washington city for the first time, remarked that "the public grounds were nearly as handsome as Samuel Hairston's."
He is a plain, unassuming gentleman, and has never made any noise in the world, though he could vie with the Bruces, the M'Donoughs, and Astors; and it is strange, that while their wealth is co-extensive with the Union, he is not known 100 miles from his home. I believe he is now the wealthiest man in the Union, as William B. Astor is only worth about 4,000,000 dollars, and the estates of city people are vastly overrated, while Mr. Hairston can show the property that will bring the cash at any moment. Mr. Hairston was raised within a few miles of where he now lives, in Henry county. He has several brothers, who are pretty well to do in the world. One of them, Marshall Hairston, of Henry, owns more than 700 negroes; Robert Hairston, who now lives in Mississippi, near 1000; and Harden Hairston, who has also moved to Mississippi, about 600 slaves. George Hairston, of Henry, has given almost all of his property to his children, reserving only about 150 slaves for his own use. This, I believe, is a correct statement of the circumstances of the Hairston family.'
- Transcribed by C. Anthony



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