By Jennifer Hurst-Wender
Just over two miles from the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry sits Smith’s Fort, a story-and-a-half, brick merchant’s home, built for Jacob Faulcon and his family in the mid-18th century. In 1609, Captain John Smith began construction of a fort site on the property. The fort was abandoned a few months later due to what would be known as the “Starving Time” in Jamestowne. The earthworks dug 411 years ago in 1609 can still be seen to this day. Five years later, the land is recorded as being part of the land tract given to John Rolfe by Wahunsenacawh, the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, upon the marriage of his daughter, known as Pocahontas in 1614. John Rolfe is credited with being the first man to commercially cultivate tobacco as a cash crop. It was for these reasons that John D. Rockefeller was inspired to purchase and restore the property on behalf of the Williamsburg Holding Company in 1928.
But, Smith’s Fort tells an American story that continues well after the colonial period. In 1886 Smith’s Fort was purchased by a collective group of Black families including Bolling Morris, John and Carter Hardy and Robertson Simmons. This 521-acre farm on Grey’s Creek sold for $2,500. U.S. Census data shows that between 1870 and 1890, black owner-occupancy rose from 7.7% to 19.3%. During this time period, most plantations in Surry, a highly agricultural county even into the 21st century, had turned to some form of share-cropping system, with the laborers giving ¼ to ½ of harvested crops back to the land owner. It was from this system that the Morris, Hardy and Simmons’ families were able to save enough money to purchase Smith’s Fort Plantation from Stith and Maime Spratley, in 1886.
By 1915, the Morris family was the sole owner of Smith’s Fort. In 1928, their ownership passed to the Williamsburg Holding Company (Colonial Williamsburg) for the sum of $9,000. Preservation Virginia (then known as APVA) received the deed to the house and 20 acres in 1933. The Morris family moved to Richmond, VA and in the 1930 census, Bolling Morris Jr. is listed as proprietor of a tobacco store, along with his household, located in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, on the same block as Maggie L. Walker’s home, which is now a National Park site.
From John Rolfe planting the first commercially viable tobacco plants in the new world, to a black-family-owned tobacco store and so much in-between, the unassuming merchant’s house and land has many stories to tell. We hope to learn more about the descendants of the Morris, Hardy, and Simmons families and all the other families connected to this historic place. If you or someone you know may be a descendant, please reach out to us. We would love to talk to you to share what we know and listen to your stories to help us tell a more complete version of our history. As an aside, next time you get a chance to visit Smith’s Fort, ask about the butter stain in the cupboard!
We hope that if you are not already a member of Preservation Virginia, that you will join to support this and other places that define our American story.