Hydraulic Plantation: background information

Hydraulic was a house, plantation, and a millworks about five miles north of Charlottesville, at the junction of Ivy Creek and the South Fork of the Rivanna River (Fig. 1). From 1829 to 1860 Hydraulic was owned by Nathaniel Burnley (1786-1860), who was a saddler and tavernkeeper at Stony Point for some years before purchasing the Hydraulic Mills. By the time of his death, Burnley owned more than 800 acres, including the Rio Mills further down the Rivanna. At the Hydraulic and Rio sites were grain and lumber mills, blacksmith and cooper’s shops, and stores.

In the following pages we will demonstrate how to uncover information about African Americans who were enslaved at the Hydraulic Mills. To view a digitized map of property values for this neighborhood (and black land ownership), click here.

The first example - Thornton Tyler - will start with antebellum records (specifically a Slave List) and move forward in time ("The Path Towards Freedom"). To explore the opposite approach ("Searching for Enslaved Ancestors"): researching someone from a known family and trying to trace their ancestry backwards, visit the Becks Family example. Scroll through the following pages to learn more.....

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Figure 1: An excerpt from the "Map of Albemarle County" drawn by Lieut. C.S. Dwight, 1864.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click here for the entire image.


Figure 2: A plat of the Hydraulic Mills Neighborhood (note the Rivanna River), indicating
property lines and acreage. Courtesy of Jean Cooper, from a lawsuit, Vest et ux v. Executers
of N. Burnley.