“I have sold my slaves in that county, to Col: White of Florida, who will take them in families, to that territory. He gives me for them, (with the exception of a few sold there) five thousand dolrs., which are paid, by obtaining for me, a release in that amount, from J. J. Astor, for a loan obtain’d of him in the late war, offerd by himself, on hearing that I was pressd for money”.
James Monroe to James Madison, Oak Hill, March 28th. 1828.
A group of enslaved families arrived in Jefferson County, Florida in 1828. They had been sold and forcibly removed from Virginia, the only home they knew. After a 700-mile journey, they arrived to the sparsely settled, newly U.S.-acquired Florida territory and their new home: Casa Bianca plantation.
Joseph Mills White, their new enslaver, had made a deal with former President James Monroe for the people that Monroe owned at his Highland plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia. Monroe was in debt and wanted to sell everything in Albemarle County. He had already sold his Highland plantation and had no more use for the enslaved men, women, and children who had labored there. There were too many of them for his Oak Hill plantation in Loudoun County, Virginia to work and support.
Monroe and his potential buyer Joseph M. White knew each other at least since 1817 – while White was from Kentucky, his mother’s family was from Albemarle County, and White had lived for a time there, qualifying as an attorney at the Albemarle Bar. For $5,000, Monroe sold nearly two dozen people to White: Toby and Betsy with their children; Dudley and Eve with their children; Jim Harris and his wife Calypso with their children; and eight-year old Mary Baker [no deed for the sale has been found – the names of the families have been extracted by comparing documents associated with both Monroe and White].
The families arrived in Florida to find another group of enslaved people toiling at Casa Bianca – African slaves.
In the summer of 1820, the United States revenue cutter Dallas intercepted the Antelope, a slave ship flying an American flag, off the coast of Florida. Over 250 chained Africans were found on board. Their average age was fourteen. The Antelope had been off the coast of Africa where it had plundered a Spanish and a Portuguese ship and stolen their human cargo. Slave importation to the United States had been prohibited by Congress in 1807. Further legislative acts passed during President Monroe’s administration in 1819 and 1820, enhanced the slave trade prohibition, placing any illegally imported slaves under Presidential control and declaring the offenders to be engaged in piracy, an offense punishable by death. The Antelope was escorted to Savannah, where an eight-year court battle began which reached the Supreme Court and spanned both President Monroe’s and John Quincy Adams’ administrations. The Antelope captain was indicted for taking the property of a Portuguese subject and a Spanish subject. He was not tried for piracy, nor was the illegal transportation of the Africans mentioned in the case. The jury found the captain not guilty. The next cases determined how the Africans would be divided between the two primary claimants: the Spanish and Portuguese. This process took until the end of 1827 to resolve.
After the 258 African captives arrived in Savannah, a yellow fever epidemic ravaged the city. A month later, 184 captives remained, half of them children under ten years old and the other half between the ages of ten and twenty. While waiting for the determination of their fate, the Africans were forced to work on public works projects and on plantations near Savannah. By 1827, the courts had decided that 134 of the African captives were to be freed and sent to Liberia. Thirty-nine of the captives were determined to belong to the Spanish claimant and were ordered to be taken out of the United States. But the Spanish claimant sold his share of the captives to Richard H. Wilde, a Georgia Congressman and the business partner of Joseph M. White. Together the two men created Casa Bianca as a joint business venture, and the Africans that Wilde purchased became part of Casa Bianca’s enslaved population.
Around thirty of the Antelope Africans, all young men except for one woman named Lucy, now enslaved for life, arrived at Casa Bianca in 1828, the same year the enslaved families from Virginia arrived. They would clear the Florida wilderness, and then labor there growing sugar cane and cotton.
Joseph M. White began purchasing land for the Casa Bianca plantation in 1826, and by White’s death in 1839 the plantation had grown to over 2000 acres. As he accumulated land, he also acquired enslaved workers, sometimes with their families. One group came from President James Monroe’s Highland plantation in Virginia, another group from New Orleans, and the third primary group was contributed by Wilde from the Antelope African captives.
White’s business partner, Richard H. Wilde, was an absentee owner, spending his time in Washington, D.C., Georgia, and abroad. He sold White his interest in the plantation in the 1830s.
White and his wife, Ellen Adair White were also absentee landowners, travelling widely for both business and pleasure, and White relied on his three brothers for plantation management. His brother Everett, described as “a practical industrious farmer and honest man” by Wilde, played the principal role in managing the plantation’s interests and holdings until his untimely death in one of the frequent duels that took place in Florida during this period.
The plantation had originally been intended for sugar cane. White and Wilde invested heavily in sugar cane equipment, only to discover that the north Florida climate was not suited for the crop. After a few years they transitioned to cotton. Both crops were labor-intensive, and the original enslaved population at Casa Bianca had a heavy male bias. But their numbers steadily grew over time: 60 in 1830, 94 in 1844, and 126 in 1859.
The early years at Casa Bianca would have been a shock to all the newly arrived enslaved people. Those from Monroe’s Highland forced to leave the long-settled Virginia Piedmont environment came to a wilderness frontier in Middle Florida. New fears and panic surrounded the Indian raids that took place around Monticello during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). A series of attacks by the displaced Native Americans in May 1836 sent the Casa Bianca slaves to the town of Monticello to build stockades for defense. In addition to the stress of these raids, in which people were killed, dwellings burned and crops stolen, disease in the form of malaria and yellow fever also ravaged the local population.
After White’s death in 1839, his widow Ellen hired George Anderson to manage the plantation for about three years. After Ellen remarried, she and her new husband, Theophilus Beatty, decided to live at Casa Bianca and manage it themselves. Beatty mortgaged the plantation in 1844 and included 96 enslaved people as part of the collateral for the loan.
Beatty’s death in 1847 caused Ellen to return to the plantation from New Orleans, where the couple had been living during the latter part of Beatty’s illness, and she was faced with having to manage on her own. In 1856 Ellen’s niece Etta and her husband James Patton Anderson (no relation to George Anderson, the former manager) moved to Casa Bianca, and Ellen entered into a business arrangement with Anderson, who would pay Ellen a stipend, relieve her of debt, and manage the plantation. Anderson also assumed the responsibility for the enslaved population to, “keep them in order, make them do their duty, take care of them in temporal things and provide for their religious instruction…”
In debt and with war imminent, Ellen made the decision to sell the plantation. Robert W. Williams, a Tallahassee lawyer, purchased the core 3000 acres of Casa Bianca and 82 enslaved families, promising to ensure their safety on the voyage from Florida to his plantation on the Mississippi. J. Patton Anderson purchased 400 acres of the plantation known as “The Scrub,” which was about two miles away from the main house, and 38 enslaved people from his aunt Ellen. After the Civil War, Anderson moved with his family to Memphis, Tennessee and rented out his Jefferson County land to his former slaves. He died in Memphis in 1872. Ellen lived off the charity of her relatives and died impoverished in Oxford, Mississippi in 1884.
Many black churches were established during Reconstruction with congregations of the formerly enslaved who had been worshipping together for years, often in secret at plantations. These new churches became the social focal point of their communities, and today serve as a rich and valuable link with the past, preserving records and traditions so important to family researchers.
The Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1872 on former Casa Bianca plantation land. Five trustees – Alfred Williams, William McGuire, Isham Nelson, Anthony Robinson, and Tony Robinson – signed the deed creating the church. Alfred, William, and Isham had been enslaved at Casa Bianca, and William was one of the children sold by Monroe to Florida. Anthony and Tony Robinson (its yet unknown how or if they were related to each other) lived nearby [Tony Robinson (b.~1841) and his wife Margaret lived a few doors down from Isham Nelson and David Straws, the first pastor of Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church, according to the 1870 census. Anthony Robinson (b.~1835) was a single man and lived in that same census township].
The first pastor of the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church was David Straws, as documents by a one-page WPA church history. David Straws, who had also been enslaved at Casa Bianca plantation, married Hannah McGuire, a daughter of Dudley and Eve from Virginia. William McGuire, the oldest son of Dudley and Eve and brother to Hannah, spent his early years at Monroe’s Highland plantation. They and others who were sold to White likely took part in religious observances in their Virginia community. While William McGuire may have been too young to remember his time in Virginia, his mother Eve was alive and may have shared her religious memories while the Casa Bianca church was created.
Those forcibly sent to Florida took very little with them, save their memories, and when those memories left Virginia, the knowledge of their enslavement at Highland left with them. For years the assumption at James Monroe’s Highland historic site had been that the stories of their lives had been lost. Oral histories of their descendants, so important in the histories of the plantations of the Virginia founding fathers, would possibly never be part of Highland’s history.
Then the history of Monroe’s Highland plantation began to be entirely reexamined in 2014, leading to the discovery of the foundation of Monroe’s original 1799 home, which had been destroyed by fire and long lost to memory. As a result of, and in parallel with this inquiry, researchers questioned the story of the fate of the enslaved men, women, and children from Highland. An effort began to locate the Florida plantation to which they were sold, and shortly afterward it was learned that there were also local descendants living in Albemarle County, Virginia, not far from Highland.
The Middle Oak Baptist Church was established in 1871 in Albemarle County, Virginia and is located mere miles from Monroe’s former Highland plantation. It’s congregation is filled with members descended from those enslaved by James Monroe. The most unexpected part of the history of Middle Oak is that until 2017, it was virtually unknown to James Monroe’s Highland historic site. Since then, Middle Oak and Highland have begun forming a new community together, the Highland Council of Descendant Advisors. Together they collaborate on the reinterpretation of the plantation site.
As a community that has been together for over 200 years, their combined memories are a major source of information about slavery at Highland. One story, collected by the WPA in the late 1930s, illustrates how valuable and informing such information can be. This is the story of Garland Monroe and his father and older brother, which is reproduced in the Biographies section of this website.
As Burnett and Violette researched the families sold to Florida and got to know the descendants in Albemarle County, they realized that two descendant groups, separated nearly 200 years ago, could be reunited. In September 2018 Burnett and Violette traveled to Monticello, Florida to visit the Casa Bianca plantation site and, more importantly, attempt to connect with descendants there. Their presentation at the local library yielded results.
On the first Descendant’s Day, held at Highland on June 11, 2022, descendants from the Florida families joined together with the Albemarle families. The following October, a contingent of descendants and researchers traveled to Monticello to meet up with members of the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church and families whose ancestors had been enslaved at Casa Bianca. Members of the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church attended the second Descendant’s Day at Highland on June 10, 2023.