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Wessyngton Plantation: America's Largest Tobacco Plantation and provider of Dark-Fired Tobacco

Photo by Jack Boucher, U.S. Park Service

Wessyngton was one of the trio of grand mansions built by the Washington family in the early 1800s.

Wessyngton House was built in 1819 as a brick Federal style mansion along the Sulphur Fork in Cedar Hill. It was built by Joseph Edwin Washington (1770-1848) and Mary Cheatham “Polly” Washington (1796-1865). Joseph came from Virginia in 1796. He was second-cousin to President George Washington. When he married Mary Cheatham (daughter of Archer Cheatham of Robertson Co. and sister to Richard Cheatham of Mansfield-Cheatham House) in 1812, he increased his holdings. He was a prosperous planter of dark-fired tobacco.

When Joseph died in 1864, his son, Col. George Augustine Washington (1815-1892) got the property in 1848 and vastly increased his fortune. George married Margaret Adelaide Lewis (1823-1844) in 1842. Margaret was the daughter of Maj. William Berkeley Lewis of Fairfield. After Adelaide’s death, in 1849, George married Jane Smith (1830-1894). From 1850-1860, he increased his holdings from 3,700 acres to 15,000 acres, and in 1861, Wessyngton was the largest dark-fired tobacco plantation in the United States and the second largest in the world at about 30,000 acres. In 1871, George became president and receiver of the Edgefield and KY Railroad, and then in 1874, was elected director of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

His son, George A. Washington, Jr. built Washington Hall; sister Jane Washington Ewing built Glen Raven. Son Joseph Edwin Washington (1851-1915) ran the estate from 1892-1915. He received the 799-acre tract including the mansion.

Other siblings built houses on their respective portions. Joseph got a law degree from Vanderbilt Law and served in the Tennessee General Assembly in 1876. In 1879, he married Mary Bolling Kemp (1861-1946). After his term, Washington was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served 10 years. After serving in Congress, Washington returned to Tennessee and was appointed county road commissioner and selected a director of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis and the Nashville and Decatur Railroads. He also served as a member of the Board of Trust of Vanderbilt University. The Washingtons never sold slaves and kept slave families intact. After the Civil War, many former slaves returned to the plantation and agreed to sharecropper deals through which the plantation continued to prosper.

In 1915, Joseph E.’s wife Mary Bolling Kemp Washington inherited the property and lived until 1938. Then the three children got the place and formed Wessyngton Company in 1956 to manage the operation.

It remained in the family until 1983 when Glen Lee Roberts (1930-2021) and Donna Roberts (?-2017) purchased the property from 42 members of the family with its remaining 3,000 acres and remain the current owners. When purchased, Wessyngton was the largest farm in America that was still owned by the original family. Glen was an entrepreneur businessman especially in the automotive and mobile home industries.

The author, John F. Baker, has researched his family descendants and tracked numerous others through Wessyngton plantation records. His book, The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom, chronicles his results. A rarity, the owners of Wessyngton rarely sold their slaves so families remained intact and could be tracked. Joseph Washington named the mansion from the Old English spelling of the Washington surname, which was Wessyngton and dates back to the reign of Charlemagne. NRHP 1971 See Fairfield, Glen Raven, Mansfield-Cheatham House, Washington Hall

[Side note: Joe Washington’s nephew Joseph George Washington (1806-1836) was killed at the Alamo. The family referred to him as Alamo Joe. He sold his interests and traveled to Texas in Dec. 1835 - and was dead by the next year. No particular reason why he left his fortunate lifestyle.]


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