Prospect hill plantation
The Prospect Hill Plantation was a 5,000-acre plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi owned by Isaac Ross, Revolutionary War veteran from South Carolina. He developed it for cotton culture in the antebellum era. Worried about slavery, in 1830 he was a co-founder with other major planters of the Mississippi Colonization Society, a chapter that planned to relocate freed slaves from the state to the new colony in West Africa.
- Prospect hill plantation
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- Family history
- 20th century to present
In 1836 Ross died; his will freed those slaves who agreed to relocate to the colony in Africa established by the American Colonization Society, and provided for sale of his plantation to fund their move. His will was contested and litigated by a grandson and heir who occupied the plantation while the court case and appeals were litigated. The will was finally upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1845. That year the mansion had burned down and a girl died in the fire. About a dozen slaves suspected as responsible were lynched.
The plantation was finally sold and approximately 300 slaves were freed and transported by 1848 to what was called Mississippi-in-Africa on the coast of what became Liberia. They and their descendants were among the Americo-Liberian elite that held power into the late 20th century.
In the 1850s Ross' grandson Isaac Ross Wade reacquired the Prospect Hill property, building a second plantation great house in 1854. Wade/Ross descendants occupied the house until 1956, and it was occupied by others until 1968. This mansion still stands today. In 2011 the plantation and house were acquired by the Archeological Conservancy for preservation of the total property. It is expected to yield artifacts that will contribute to the story of slavery in the United States, as well as to African-American culture and the diaspora.
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The plantation is located in a rural area near Lorman in Jefferson County, Mississippi. By car, it is located 15 minutes East of Lorman, 20 minutes away from Port Gibson, and 45 away from Natchez.
The plantation was built for Isaac Ross, a South Carolina veteran of the Revolutionary War. He migrated with an older brother to Mississippi in 1808, taking a contingent of slaves, as well as some free blacks who had served with him in the war. He developed the property as a cotton plantation, and acquired many more slaves to develop and work it. He eventually nearly 300 slaves and other plantations as well.
The plantation had a cemetery, where Isaac Ross and some of his family were buried. After his grandson Isaac Ross Wade reacquired the plantation, this area became known as the Wade Family Cemetery. The mansion and cemetery property acquired by the Conservancy span 23 acres.
Isaac Ross died in 1836 and was buried in the cemetery on his plantation. The Mississippi Colonization Society (of which he was a co-founder) commissioned a monument to him for US$25,000 two years later. They had it installed at his gravesite in 1838.
Ross' grandson Isaac Ross Wade, contested the will, but it was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1845. There were additional legal delays, but during this period, the slaves stayed on the plantation and worked for Wade. They were technically considered free, under the terms of the will, and were supposed to receive pay.
On an April night in 1845, a fire in the mansion burned it down. A Wade descendant attributed it to a slave uprising. Meanwhile, a six-year-old white girl died in the fire, and 12 suspects among the slaves were quickly captured and lynched.
In the settlement of the court case, the slaves gained their freedom and the plantation was sold to fund their migration to the colony in West Africa, which the final group reached in 1848. They never received any of the pay owed for their three years of working for Wade. The area near Monrovia where freed slaves from Mississippi were settled became known as Mississippi-in-Africa. It later became part of the country of Liberia.
Wade ultimately reacquired the plantation property and had a new great house built in 1854. He and his descendants lived there, with family ownership extending into the 20th century.
20th century to present
The last Ross/Wade descendants left in 1956, by which time the outbuildings had collapsed: the kitchen, slave quarters, smokehouse and barns. The mansion at Prospect Hill Plantation is still standing, although it has deteriorated due to being vacant for decades and receiving little maintenance. The roof was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2011, it was purchased by the Archeological Conservancy, a non-profit organization, to preserve it and the property. It has received $50,000 from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as well as private donations for preservation purposes.
Planned archeological excavation of the grounds is expected to yield important evidence about the African-American culture of the slaves and their relation to the diaspora. In 2014 the Archeological Conservancy held a reunion at the plantation for descendants of its residents: "descendants of the divided slave-holding family, the slaves who remained in the area, and the slaves who emigrated to Liberia."
The Prospect Hill Plantation Collection papers, from the period 1873-1917, are kept at the library on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. They are primarily copies of tenant and other contracts, as well as family correspondence.