A remarkable architectural structure, the Parker Sydnor historic site resembles a type of regional dwelling that initially housed resilient, enslaved African American families during Virginia’s antebellum period.
What is known in historical detail about the historic site occurred from 1798 to 1865 when Prestwould Plantation had “quarters” that housed enslaved African Americans. They were women, men, and children who labored for Sir Peyton Skipwith (1740-1805) and his heirs, Humberston Skipwith (1791-1863) and Fulwar Skipwith (1836-1900)—Virginia planters whose generational wealth was built on enslaved labor. Fulwar Skipwith, the last enslaver at Prestwould, is still a living memory among some African Americans in the descendant community.
Oral history tells us that Patrick Robert “Parker” Sydnor (1854-1950), a literate stonemason, preacher, and farmer, repurposed the original log cabin materials and crafted the American bond pattern for the chimney stones. Sydnor reconstructed the chimney with stones from the same quarry as those used throughout Prestwould Manor and its original stone wall.
The historic site represents the long journey of freedom and civil rights for African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the Civil War and well into the 20th century, the site became a homeplace of refuge, resilience, and empowerment for African American descendant families. In the 21st century, members of the descendant communities continue to tell stories and share their memories about the Sydnor log cabin site and the people who once lived there.
African American history is America's history. The Parker Sydnor site will become a heritage center and gathering place open to the public. Everyone will be welcome to learn about communities in Southside Virginia and about African American history and culture.
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