In the early part of the 1800s, an enslaved man named Peyton Skipwith quarried stone for the University of Virginia campus. On Thursday, he had a building named in his honor.
The dedication took place during the annual Founder’s Day celebration at the university. Like other universities and colleges with early roots, U-Va. has taken a close look at its history and has acknowledged some of the role enslaved people had in building and maintaining the school campus.
The new $6 million Skipwith Hall, completed last year, houses administrative staff and is built at or near the quarry where Skipwith and others quarried stone for the school, according to a university news release.
Skipwith’s owner, John Hartwell Cocke, was one of the first members of the University of Virginia’s governing Board of Visitors. Cocke, owner of Bremo plantation, selected certain of his slaves to be educated but he believed the best situation for them was to leave the country to start a new life in Liberia. Skipwith, who became a literate man as well as a skilled mason, was freed in 1833 along with his wife and six children. They made the move to the new colony but stayed in close touch with their former master.
It is not known if Skipwith ever returned to this country.
Skipwith’s connection to U-Va. was discovered through the work of several authors. “Dear Master: Letters of a Slave Family,” edited by historian Randall M. Miller and published in 1990, contained letters Skipwith wrote to Cocke. In addition, Andi Cumbo-Floyd, who grew up at the Bremo estate, where her father was the caretaker of the still-private residence, wrote about the Skipwith descendants in her 2013 book, “The Slaves Have Names.”
About 25 descendants of Skipwith’s relatives attended the ceremony along with faculty, students and visitors to the university.