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The Prestons Plantation, York County, Virginia

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Plantations Index

Virginia Plantations



"Prestons" was a plantation in York County, Virginia, which passed from father to son through several generations.

The first description of Prestons comes from the will of its first known owner, Robert Harris, who stated

"Item I give to my Son Mathew Harris all my Lands, Houses & Orchards, which I have already disposed of to him & his heirs for Ever"

The name of the property--"Prestons"--was revealed in the 1747 will of Edward Baptist.

Land Ownership

  1. The first known owner of "Prestons" was Robert Harris, who owned Prestons until his death in 1716. In his will, Robert left the plantation with its houses and orchards to his middle (and seemingly favored son, with a most generous inheritance), Matthew Harris.[1]
  2. Matthew Harris was already living at Prestons in 1716 at the time of his father's death, and lived there until his own death, about 1727.
  3. When Matthew died, about 1727, he left "Prestons" to his young first-born son, William Lee Harris.[2]
  4. When William came of age, he sold "Prestons" to his mother's second husband, Edward Baptist (likely before 1736). William moved west to Goochland County, acquiring significant land holdings in what is now present-day Albemarle County.[2]
  5. Edward Baptist died in 1747, and in his will he left "Prestons," along with another [unnamed and likely larger, as this was the primary Baptist residence] plantation, to his son, Edward Baptist Jr.[3][4]
  6. At this point, the ownership of "Prestons" grows uncertain. In the will of Edward Baptist, Jr.,[5][6] there are several bequests of property, but none are named and none match the 135 acres estimated for "Prestons." The plantation may have been sold. It is also possible that the land was later surveyed or estimated at a different number of acres and was still in his possession at his death. A property containing approximately 120 acres seems the most likely potential match; it was loaned to his son, Edward Baptist, III, for his lifetime, and if he had children, it was to pass to his eldest son, and if he had no sons, then to be equally divided between his daughters. If he had no children, the land was to pass to his brother, William Harwood Baptist and his heirs. William Harwood Baptist pre-deceased his brother, Edward Baptist, III. In his will, William gave to his brother Edward the land on which he was currently living. (Still researching Edward Baptist, III.)

Description and Agriculture

From the will of Edward Baptist, a later owner, we know that "Prestons" contained approximately 135 acres. The precise location of the property within the county of York is not known at the time of this writing.

Item: I give and bequeath to my Son Edward that Tract or Parcel of Land that I purchased from William Harris called and known by the name of "Prestons" containing by Estimation One hundred and thirty five acres be the same more or less to him and the Heirs of his Body lawfully begotten forever.

The late 1600s were too early for farm schedules, but from the wills of Edward Baptist, Sr, his wife, Elizabeth (Lee) Baptist[7][8] and his son, Edward Baptist, Jr, some of the potential agricultural activities of the plantation are known.   As mentioned above, from the will of the earliest known owner, Robert Harris, we also know that the Prestons plantation included orchards.

Timber: Edward Baptist Sr. left instructions in his will for his widow, Elizabeth, to sell 50 loads of wood each year until his son came of age, so some portion of the Baptist plantation lands must have been heavily wooded, and perhaps a portion of "Prestons" was covered in woods.  
Cider:  Elizabeth Baptist left instructions in her will that one hogshead [equivalent of 110 gallons[9]] of "Syder" she had in the house be sold to clothe her young children, so presumably some of the Baptist plantation land, perhaps "Prestons," had apple orchards. Elizabeth's grandson, William Harwood Baptist, who inherited Baptist land, had 240 gallons of cider in his estate when it was inventoried at his death in 1799, so cider continued to be something produced on Baptist lands, and perhaps on "Prestons."[10]
Livestock:  Edward Baptist Sr mentioned cattle in his will; his son, Edward Baptist Jr specified his "stock of black cattle" and made specific bequests of particular cows and a heifer to his children and grandchildren.  Edward Jr's son, William Harwood Baptist, mentioned "my whole stock of horned cattle" in his 1799 will (probably the same black cattle, as only two years had passed).  Edward Jr also mentioned his "stock of sheep" and a "Sorrell [sic] horse and mare." William Harwood Baptist's estate inventory lists sheep, hogs, pigs, horses, oxen, and cattle.[10]  It is likely that animals would have been kept close to the primary Baptist plantation, but if "Prestons" was nearby, some livestock may have been kept there.
Alcoholic Beverages: Passed carefully from father to son was a "Still, with all its appurtenances."  Edward Baptist Sr left the still to his son, Edward Baptist Jr. His widow, Elizabeth, was to "enjoy the use of the said Still during her natural Life" in the case of Edward Jr's death [and likely until he came of age].  Edward Baptist Jr in turn passed the still on to his son, William Harwood Baptist, who probably used it to make brandy, as 18 gallons of brandy were recorded in his estate inventory after his death in 1799.[10]  It is not known what type of beverage was being made with the still in earlier days, but it seems to have been valuable to the family and may have provided part of the family support.  Quite probably, the Baptist lands were growing some crops to support this endeavor--wheat, barley, corn, rye[11]--and some of these crops may have been grown at "Prestons."
Crops:  Corn was specifically mentioned in the will of Edward Jr, who left three barrels of corn to one of his daughters, along with other bequests.  Corn is mentioned again in the estate inventory of his son, William Harwood Baptist, as well as fodder.[10] Another crop that was not mentioned, but almost certainly was grown at "Prestons" and the rest of the Baptist plantations, at least prior to 1750, and that is tobacco.  Edward Baptist Sr mentions in his will "that my Crop now a growing" be used to clothe his family.  Mention of a singular crop likely references a cash crop, and research of the area points toward tobacco.  According to an article in the Daily Press, "In the first four decades of the 1700s, the York River plantations produced not only the highest quality but also the most tobacco in Virginia — and there were times when it shipped more to England than the rest of the colony combined."[12] However, William Harwood Baptist's estate inventory lists no tobacco, so perhaps the days of tobacco growing in this area were waning by 1799.


Robert Harris named six slaves in his will and a seventh in a codicil added a few months later. It is not certain if Prestons was the primary Harris residence, but in any case, it is likely that the enslaved people Harris held all may have labored at Prestons. When Matthew Harris inherited Prestons from his father, Robert Harris, he also inherited three slaves, Dick, Betty, and Tom. It seems almost certain they would have labored on the Prestons plantation as it was his primary residence. According to a Daily Press article on the area and that time period, the use of slave labor was very common.[12] Matthew's son, William Harris, primarily owned the Prestons plantation only in his infancy, and it is unknown how his guardian may have utilized labor on the plantation. [Matthew's will has not yet been found by this researcher, so it is not certain if William also inherited slaves, but it seems likely that he did.] However, William Harris was a slaveholder later in his life, and bequeathed slaves in his will to his heirs in 1788 (in Albemarle County, Virginia). The Baptist family, later owners of "Prestons," were clearly slaveholders, and no doubt utilized slave labor at the "Prestons" plantation. Slaves named in the wills of Edward Baptist, Sr. and Edward Baptist, Jr. likely worked on the "Prestons" plantation and other Baptist owned [unnamed] plantations. Those who are known are:

Slaves Named in the 1712 Will of Robert Harris

Slaves Named in the 1747 Will of Edward Baptist, Sr

Slaves Named in the 1797 Will of Edward Baptist, Jr.

Research Notes

1865 and beyond: Although no Baptist entry was found by this writer on the York 1860 census (via FamilySearch), there was still land in the area thought of as "Baptist Land," as shown in this Freedmen's record for one quarter of the crop on "Baptist Land."[13]


  1. Probate: "Virginia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1900"
    Deeds, Orders, Wills, 1633-1710; Orders, Wills, 1709-1732; Wills and Inventories, 1732-1811; Author: Virginia. County Court (York County)
    Ancestry Sharing Link - Ancestry Record 62347 #2096550 (accessed 11 June 2022)
    Robert Harris probate.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Seaman, Catherine H.C. “Tuckahoes and Cohees: The Settlers and Cultures of Amherst and Nelson Counties, 1607-1807 : Seaman, Catherine H.C. : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming, Pg. 104 & others.” Internet Archive. Sweet Briar College, January 1, 1992. https://archive.org/details/tuckahoescoheess00seam/page/104/mode/2up
  3. Transcribed will of Edward Baptist Sr, from his profile, 1747
  4. Probate: "Virginia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1900"
    Deeds, Orders, Wills, 1633-1710; Orders, Wills, 1709-1732; Wills and Inventories, 1732-1811; Author: Virginia. County Court (York County); Probate Place: York, Virginia
    Ancestry Sharing Link - Ancestry Record 62347 #2017926 (accessed 30 December 2021)
    Edward Baptist probate on 18 Aug 1747.
  5. Transcribed will of Edward Baptist Jr, from his profile, 1797
  6. Probate: "Virginia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1900"
    Deeds, Orders, Wills, 1633-1710; Orders, Wills, 1709-1732; Wills and Inventories, 1732-1811; Author: Virginia. County Court (York County); Probate Place: York, Virginia
    Ancestry Sharing Link - Ancestry Record 62347 #627234 (accessed 12 January 2022)
    Edward Baptist probate on 1 May 1797.
  7. Transcribed will of Elizabeth (Lee) Baptist, from her profile, 1748
  8. Probate: "Virginia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1900"
    Deeds, Orders, Wills, 1633-1710; Orders, Wills, 1709-1732; Wills and Inventories, 1732-1811; Author: Virginia. County Court (York County); Probate Place: York, Virginia
    Ancestry Sharing Link - Ancestry Record 62347 #2017929 (accessed 29 December 2021)
    Elizabeth Baptist probate on 16 Dec 1747.
  9. To make cyder. Jane Austen's World. (2018, November 22). Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://janeaustensworld.com/2018/11/22/to-make-cyder/
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library. Inventory of estate of William H. Baptist, 1800, September 15th | Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://research.colonialwilliamsburg.org/DigitalLibrary/view/index.cfm?doc=Probates%5CPB00554.xml&highlight=
  11. Tobey, A. (2020, September 22). Virginia spirits history: Colonial days & prohibition. Boomer Magazine. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.boomermagazine.com/virginia-spirits-history-from-colonial-days-to-prohibition/
  12. 12.0 12.1 Erickson, M. S. J., & 757-247-4783, merickson@dailypress.com |. (2019, August 14). A cradle of slavery on the York. dailypress.com. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.dailypress.com/life/dp-nws-york-river-slavery-0526-20130525-story.html
  13. "United States, Freedmen's Bureau Labor Contracts, Indenture and Apprenticeship Records, 1865-1872," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2W3-9K4J : accessed 13 June 2022), Baptist, 1865-1872; citing Employment, Yorktown, York, Virginia, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1913, Records of the field offices for the state of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 203; FHL microfilm 2,414,681.

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