Unlike their ancestors who worked in tobacco fields, Warwick County slaves provided labor for raising staple crops. Slaves also cared for livestock and draft animals, worked in fields, repaired fences, washed clothes, cut wood and performed a variety of chores. In addition, male slaves were often used as skilled craftsmen (carpenters, blacksmiths and coopers) on the plantation.
Richard Lee inherited 7 male slaves in 1844. As he prospered, he purchased or rented more slaves. By 1860, Lee owned 38 slaves and held a man and woman in guardianship for his stepsons. They ranged in age from 65 years old to 2 months old. The 1860 census records 8 slave houses on the property. By the outbreak of the Civil War, Lee was one of the largest slaveholders in the county.
Sidebar: The Confederate Army needed laborers on the Peninsula between 1861-1862. In the summer and fall of 1861, Richard Lee rented 8 males (John, Bob, Moses, Jerry, Jim, Peyton, Henry, James and Jack) for earthwork construction on Mulberry Island. Lee also rented three male slaves to Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder before abandoning his home in March 1862. During their exile in Richmond and Danville, the Lee family may have retained some of their slaves until the end of the war. In September 1865, Richard Lee returned to Lee Hall and found several freedmen living on his property. The Federal government had confiscated his property in February 1864 and tried unsuccessfully to establish a colony for former slaves. Lee regained his property from the Freedmen's Bureau on November 24, 1865.