Slavery at Rock Spring Plantation
Like many tobacco farmers and manufacturers before the Civil War, the Reynolds family heavily relied on slave labor to produce their crop. At its highest in 1863, there were 88 men, women and children enslaved at the plantation. Unfortunately, little is known about most of these people, as many of those that died on the plantation were buried in graves marked with field stones without names. However, two slaves from the plantation are definitely known by name: Letty Reynolds, who may have been a gift to Nancy Jane Reynolds upon her marriage to Hardin Reynolds, and Kitty Reynolds, a woman that played a significant role in the Reynolds’ and US history.
Kitty Reynolds was born as a slave on October 15th, 1838 at Rock Spring Plantation. After the emancipation of all enslaved people, she served as a nanny to the local community and kept close ties with the Reynolds family.
In 1878, Burwell and Lee Reynolds, two of Kitty’s sons, were charged with the murder of a white man after a fight broke out over a local school that had been established for African-Americans. The two men were defended by Andrew Lybrook, son-in-law of Hardin Reynolds, and the trial ended with the passing of Supreme Court ruling Ex Parte Virginia, which states that candidates for jury duty cannot be rejected on account of their race. This was an important step in ensuring a fair trial for any American charged with a crime, regardless of race.