How This Black Woman Inherited Wealth From An Infamous Slave Holder

Jail Site Richmond, VA
Leslie Taylor-Grover
October 29, 2021

Mary Lumpkin, like many enslaved Black women, often suffered under the sexual oppression of her “owner.” She endured unspeakable sexual abuse and exploitation from one of the most wicked enslavers in America, starting when she was a mere child of 8 years old.

Robert Lumpkin owned the most notorious jail for enslaved men outside of the deep South. He thrilled himself by enacting whippings, torture, starvation, and other dehumanizing acts against Black inmates. But her fate was especially terrible.

She was forced to endure the consequences of Lumpkin’s rape. She bore children for him, and her priority was protecting them from being sold or killed. So she continued quietly in her enslavement, living alongside Lumpkin, often praying to strengthen her spirit. But how could she keep her family safe?

By finessing Lumpkin for everything he was worth! In Lumpkin’s twisted mind, she was his “wife” –  which meant she was heir to his entire fortune, even the jail! 

When he died, she used this money to build a life for her children – and sold his jail to be turned into a Black seminary.

Lumpkin’s abuse was all too common during enslavement – but her story reminds us that even in the midst of the most horrible conditions we can still find ways to survive and provide for ourselves.

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