Mr. Tom Camden, Washington and Lee graduate of the class of 1976 and head of Special Collections in our very own Leyburn Library, grew up at Buffalo Forge right here in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Buffalo Forge is a large plantation, and was home to many slaves in its past. The book, Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge, shares the full history of the plantation. He brought this book along to show us when we met for an interview.
His family owns what used to be the general store for the plantation. He grew up there, and still owns the house. A massive 21-room house which belongs to the family of the builders also sits on the property, near the general store. At the store, slaves held accounts and were allowed to trade. The plantation still ran as a mill during his childhood, and his family owned the store but hired a storekeeper to operate it.
Camden had many stories to share about his experiences at the plantation- in both houses though this podcast only covers those which took place in his own house- and the energy associated with its history. He firmly believes that a place with that much history inevitably never loses its energy.
“Now there’s no way you can grow up in an environment like this… without coming to some realization that there’s this vibe going on, there’s stuff going on here all the time that’s sort of unexplainable.”
During the Civil War, a man named Major Rex lived in Mr. Camden’s home and ran the store. Camden’s mother told the boys at a young age that Major Rex still audibly walked around in the attic. Later, Camden found out that Major Rex did in fact hang himself in the attic, whether or not his mother knew that when she told this story.
Another interesting experience Camden talked about followed his grandmother’s death. His mother put his grandmother’s rocking chair in his room, and it rocked back and forth, unprovoked, bathed in eerie moonlight.
Growing up, he maintained stubbornly that ghosts are a figment of the imagination and “major Rex in the attic” was simply a trick to get his brother and him to behave. However, as he grew up, mysterious happenings around the house and plantation led him to conclude that ghosts there are active, and the history of the plantation must leave energy, an aura, to haunt the property today.
“We’ve always known we were going to inherit this legacy. And now, we talk about the burden of history because it is extraordinarily a burden.”
Christina Gordon and Mary Helen Powell