The Riddicks were members of the planter class in the south, the dominant ruling class that influenced policy throughout the southern states before, during, and shortly after the Civil War. Their 76 slaves placed them among the larger slaveholders east of Richmond (though certainly not in the same league as some of the sprawling plantations of the Piedmont region of Virginia with hundreds of slave laborers). Therefore, the devastated agricultural industry resultant from the war and the emancipation of all 76 of those slaves meant a genuine economic struggle for the Riddicks.
Nathaniel Riddick, patriarch of the family during and after the war made his name in politics and through his law practice, so the protracted legal issues of Reconstruction most likely kept him busy, if not fiscally solvent. Still, in a town not known for its wealth or prosperity before the war, no less after it, how were the Riddicks able to maintain their lifestyle?
Immediately following the war, the southern states were divided into five military districts, each under martial law. As such, the comings and goings of nearly everyone -- citizen, freedman, and soldier -- involved passes, permissions, and paperwork of all stripes. Missouri Riddick, Nathaniel's wife, had to obtain special permission to search several freedmen's homes looking for stolen valuables. Her search took her as far as Portsmouth before she returned home with what she had been able to retrieve.
Aside from this one anecdote, we know precious little, and the archives of Riddick's Folly offer few answers. The correspondence we have from the years after the war is scant, and often silent on such matters as squatters who may have tried to claim Riddick land, vagrants who tried to take Riddick valuables through thievery and deception, and even the employment status of the male family members. We know little indeed.
This is an important story, intimately related to the Riddicks and the mission of Riddick's Folly. It is, for now, largely untold by the museum. Only further research will give us the answers we need, and even then we will have to draw conclusions from what we know of the circumstances of similar families or individuals.
Frustrating our efforts, the legal records from those years burned when the local courthouse burned in the late 19th century. We can only hope to uncover records from the capital in Richmond, or from some as-yet unfound stash of Riddick family letters and documents.
We hope to tell this story, but we want to make sure that we tell it correctly and without bias. This fall, new research will begin in earnest, guided in part by historians from Old Dominion University. This will be only the initial phase of a larger research project to better educate ourselves about this history. If you'd like to help with our research, please contact the museum office. Otherwise, stay tuned and we'll post more information soon.