Elijah Fletcher moved to Virginia in 1811. Although he originally voiced strong opposition to the institution of slavery, by 1813 he had been given two slaves from his new in-laws, Maria Crawford’s parents. He purchased the Sweet Briar Plantation in 1830 and added additional acreage over the years. The 1850 census records Elijah Fletcher as owning more than 100 slaves. ln his will, 67 of these enslaved people were listed by name. By 1860, when the will was probated and the slaves were distributed among Fletcher ‘s children, including Indiana, over 140 enslaved individuals were listed by name and divided into “lots.”
The plantation was used for its timber resources and provided pasture for animals and fields for growing crops. During the work day, enslaved laborers harvested crops, husbanded animals, milled flour, quarried building stones, constructed buildings (including, most likely, their own cabins) and served the Fletchers in the Big House. With the little leisure time allotted to them, they raised families, planted private gardens to supplement their allotted rations, played instruments, danced, worshiped and buried their dead in one of the several slave cemeteries located on the plantation. After emancipation, in 1865, several continued to work at the farm as laborers and tenant farmers. Their decades of labor contributed to the success of the plantation and, in part, provided Indiana Fletcher Williams with the income that made it possible for her to establish the College.