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How one family owned and ran the largest Black-owned farm in Albemarle County — for generations

by PHILIP COBBS | Photos by Kori Price

This is the second of a series about Buck Island, by Philip Cobbs for First Person Charlottesville. Read the first story here, and then join the author in a conversation on April 23.

My brother and I were born at home in the 1950s because my mother said she felt safer there than at the University of Virginia’s hospital. It was a tradition on the Garland Farm in Albemarle County that had been carried on for generations.

Family folklore was that Black women for generations often came to the farm — then the largest, Black-owned farm in the area, which my family now calls Buck Island — from Richmond to deliver their babies. Because Buck Island was perceived to be a safe space, it probably started early. Giving birth in safe spaces is a very old Black tradition that dates from slavery. Traveling to those places was common after Emancipation.

In the fall of 2017, a cousin gave me a clue as to why. She told me that an ancestor was part of a monument being built in Richmond. I attended the groundbreaking ceremony and discovered a new piece of my family’s history.

Sarah Garland Boyd Jones (represented in the statue on the left) and Maggie Lena Walker (right) met as students. Both forged new paths at the turn of the century in Virginia, Jones in medicine and Walker in banking. They are commemorated at the Virginia Women’s Monument in Richmond. Philip Cobbs/Charlottesville Tomorrow

The women’s monument on the capitol grounds in Richmond is called “Voices from the Garden,” and it commemorates 12 remarkable Virginia women in life-size bronze statues. Among them is Sarah Garland Boyd Jones. The Encyclopedia Virginia says she was the first African American woman to pass the state’s medical boards examination in 1893. And while it says she was born in Albemarle County in 1866, it does not say that she was born on the Garland Plantation.

After her birth, the family moved to Henrico County and soon to Richmond. There, she trained as a teacher with a classmate named Maggie Lena Mitchell, who later became Maggie Lena Walker, also commemorated in the garden. Walker later became  the first Black woman to own a bank in the United States and they remained lifelong friends. After graduating Sarah taught at Baker School, where she met another teacher named Miles Jones; they were married on July 4, 1888. She had to give up her job because married women were prohibited from the profession. Later, her husband lost his job too when Richmond passed an ordinance limiting the number of Black male teachers.

Continue Reading on the Charlottesville Tomorrow Website

This story was published as a part of Charlottesville Inclusive Media’s First Person Charlottesville project. Have a story to tell? Here’s how.

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