Hotel A: Stories in Service of the Students at the University of Virginia

Hotel A North Elevation (Historic Structure Report)                                                                                           Hotel A West Elevation (Historic Structure Report) 

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Slaves were also actively engaged in the construction of hotels.  For example, documentary record indicates that a slave named Zachariah dug the foundation and cellar of Hotel A in 1821.  Zachariah and another slave, Willis, both provided excavation work from 1821-1822.[1]  It is also known that an enslaved carpenter and tinner, Sam, worked for the University starting in late 1818, including time spent on Hotel A.  Other carpenters included Davey, Young Sam, Dick, Ned, William, and Charles – worked on Hotels A, B, and D, and Pavilions V, VII, and VIII.[2]

Edwin Conway was the first hotelkeeper in Hotel A, working from 1825 to 1843.  He will be further discussed in Daily Life of Hotel A Slaves and Complaints and Hotel Management.

Over the course of the building's history, Hotel A experienced some structural changes.  On July 20, 1829, the Board of Visitors approved the erection of “one office with two rooms” in the rear of Hotel A, in addition to three other structures.[3]  On July 15, 1830, the Board of Visitors reviewed a request from Conway for reimbursement of payment to convert a window of a dormitory into a door.[4]  The dormitory in question is unknown. Conway continued to make additions but was denied reimbursement in 1843.[5]  Though beyond the scope of our investigation, a substantial addition was made to the east of the hotel after the Civil War.


[1] Benjamin Ford, “The African American Presence at Pre-Emancipation University of Virginia, 1817-1865” (Unpublished paper, University of Virginia, 2014), 11, see also Journals of Business Transactions of Central College, Vol. 1: 1817-1822, July 19, 1821, p53; August 24, 1821, p57, August 27, 1821, p58; October 1, 1821, p58; January 10, 1822, p64; January 26, 1822, p65; Vol. 2: 1819-1828, July 21, 1821, p86, August 24, 1821, p94, October 13, 1821, p101, January 26, 1822, p112, November 25, 11822, p159. RG 5/2/1.961. UVA Special Collections.
[2] Ford, "African American Presence," 11. See also Journals of Business Transactions of Central College , Vol. 2: 1819-1828, September 1, 1825, p380; December 30, 1825, p408; April 27, 1826, p240. RG 5/3/1.961. UVA Special Collections.
[3] Board of Visitors Minutes, July 20, 1829 from JUEL.
[4] Board of Visitors Minutes, July15, 1830 from JUEL.
[5] Board of Visitors Minutes, July 5, 1843 from JUEL.


Sketch of a Student Room (Peter Giscombe)

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Hotels were critical to the functioning of the University.  Hotelkeepers were responsible for providing meals to the students, doing their laundry, and cleaning/maintaining the student rooms.   They were Residential Life, Facilities Management, and Dining Services rolled into one.  They were subject to the rules and regulations of the Board of Visitors and the Proctor, but each hotel was run independently.

In 1835, the Faculty Committee determined that hotelkeepers should provide at least one student per ten dormitories.[1]  Hotelkeepers Mr. Conway and Mrs. Gray protested this, to no avail.[2]  Edwin Conway had three servants for the dormitories, which means he had 30 rooms under his supervision and 60 students total.[3]  As of September 21, 1835, Conway actually had 33 dormitories.  In response to the hotelkeepers' requests, the Board of Visitors began enforcing regulations with fines to ensure that the official 1:10 ratio was followed.  Some hotelkeepers must have continued to push the ratio because in 1842, the Board of Visitors determined that one hotel slave was responsible for no more than twenty students, or ten double occupancy rooms. 

Each hotel provided students with many amenities and servants, including “three meals daily, furniture, linens, fuel and candles, ice (upon payment of an extra charge), water, laundry services, and cleaning services.”[4]  The annual cost was $150 in 1826 and $165 in 1838.  The fees were paid first to the Proctor and then transferred to the hotelkeeper, depending on hotel-rental fees and the number of boarders with each hotel.[5]

Hotel A - Basement Kitchen Hearth (Neal Wright)

Cooking and dining service occurred within the hotel itself while manual labor took place in the work yards behind the hotels and in further plots owned by the hotelkeeper.  Per testimony given in 1841, there were at least two slaves in the kitchen and at least two waiters in the dining room.[6]  The variety of fare offered at Conway’s table includes cabbages, potatoes, rice, beans, peas, and stewed fruit, in addition to turkey, beef, veal lamb, mutton, shoat, and bacon.[7]  Slaves also ran errands for the hotelkeepers and students.[8]

The slaves had daily tasks such as bringing water and clean towels, delivering wood or ice, cleaning the rooms, making and serving the meals, blacking the students’ shoes, etc.  They also had weekly tasks like cleaning the fireplaces.  This task went from twice weekly to once weekly in 1842.[9]  Every two weeks, they had to wipe down the walls, mantles, and molding.  Effective January 24, 1831, hotelkeepers were to provide clean sheets and pillow cases at least once every two weeks and clean towels at least twice a week.  The rooms were to be washed out at least once every two weeks.[10]  Hotelkeepers were also supposed to check the rooms at least once a week.  Hotel slaves also had to clean the arcades and colonnades.

Rotunda Colonnade in the McKim Mead and White period (UVA Special Collections)

One slave from each hotel was required to wait under the colonnades between 2:45 and 3 pm, effective in 1831, to run errands to town.[11]  This time of day was prescribed following Mr. Conway’s complaint of the inconvenience of sending his slaves to town, assumingly at varying times of day.[12]  Slaves might have to get new uniforms, paper and ink, or other amenities for the students.

Some tasks beyond the regular assignments included waking students up (requested by students Peter and Towles), providing special suppers, or laying out blankets for students to enjoy on the Lawn.[13]  Some students also asked the slaves to get them alcohol. The Faculty committee then enacted a rule that any slave who acquired alcohol for anyone beside their masters should be dismissed immediately.[14]

Catherine Neale, in her thesis, Slaves, Freedpeople and the University of Virginia, refers to a slave named Sarah and another named Violate who may have served as cooks for laborers.[15]  It is possible, but not known, whether or not either of these women worked in Hotel A.


[1] Neale, Slaves, 44, and Faculty Minutes, September 12, 1835 from JUEL. [2] Neale, Slaves, 44, and Faculty Minutes, September 21, 1835 and October 3, 1835 from JUEL.
[3] Faculty Minutes, February 2, 1831 from JUEL. [4] Neale, Slaves, 43, and Board of Visitors Minutes, October 7, 1826, October 27, 1838, and August 16, 1865 from JUEL.
[5] Neale, Slaves, 43.
[6] Faculty Minutes, May 4, 1841, from JUEL.
[7] Faculty Minutes, February 3, 1834, and April 28, 1834, from JUEL.
[8] Faculty Minutes, May 14, 1835, from JUEL. See also Gayle M. Schulman, "Slaves at the University of Virginia" (Unpublished paper, University of Virginia, 2003), 6-7.
[9] Neale, Slaves, 44.
[10] Faculty Minutes, January 24, 1831, from JUEL.
[11] Neale, Slaves, 45.
[12] Neale, Slaves, 45, and Journal of the Chairman of the Faculty Committee, Volume II, p. 75, January 28, 1831, from JUEL.
[13] Neale, Slaves, 51, Faculty Minutes, June 6, 1836, and April 7, 1840, from JUEL, and Charles Coleman Wall, Jr., Students and Student Life at the University of Virginia, 1825-1861 (PhD Dissertation, University of Virginia, 1978), 69.
[14] Neale, Slaves, 52, Faculty Minutes, February 18, 1837, from JUEL, and Journal of the Chairman of the Faculty Committee, Volume VI, p. 29, January 17, 1837, from JUEL.
[15] Neale, Slaves, 21, Proctor’s Papers, Box 5, Folder “ALS John S. May to James Brockman,” February 25, 1825, and Proctor’s Papers, Box 6, Folder “Receipts 1826," UVA Special Collections.


Slaves Associated with Hotel A

Edwin Conway was an interesting character who seemed quick to make excuses and may not have provided satisfactory services.  For example, several students actually paid extra money for o

ne of Conway’s slaves to further wait upon them.[1]  This slave’s name was John Taylor and he was employed by 22 students and paid $45.  Their reason for hiring John’s additional service was because they were not receiving sufficient service.[2]  However, the Board of Visitors quickly ended this practice and only permitted a personal servant when a student was ill.[3]

Conway’s slave Lawrence was responsible for cleaning the arcades.  At the Faculty Committee meeting on January 8, 1838, it was reported that Lawrence had been negligent, allowing ashes to remain on the arcades for several days.[4]  This particular instance may have referred to Lawrence’s absence during “holyweek” the previous year because Conway reported that he had not been negligent at any other point.[5]  Later that year, Conway was fined$5 for not changing sheets.[6]

Sketch of the West Range arcade (Erin Que)       

Difficulty with the Schedule of Tasks

Given the high number of tasks required by the slaves, it was often difficult to complete all of the tasks by the prescribed time.  As a result, the Faculty Committee did extend the cleaning time from 8:00 am to 9:00 am in 1829.[7]  However, the issue persisted and hotelkeepers complained that they had to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 am to organize their slaves to accomplish all of these tasks.  Conway admitted that sometimes his servants didn't finish until 10:30 am.[8]  However, the Faculty Committee would not budge and thus fined Conway $1.00 for failing his duties.[9]  In 1834, Conway and two other hotelkeepers were fined $15 for failing to complete the cleaning of the dormitories on time.  This fee was then adjusted to $5.[10]

Conway's Digressions

In 1834, Conway had his slaves “burn the fence running from the Anatomical Hall to [his] stable, thereby exposing the meadow belonging to the University to the depredations of cattle, hogs etc.”[11]  It is unknown if the stable was adjacent to Hotel A or perhaps beyond the Anatomical Hall.  The Faculty Committee then ordered Conway to replace the fence or pay the Proctor to construct one.  Later that year, it was also noted that one of Mr. Conway’s slaves had killed a pig, which “had been carelessly thrown by the servant near the steps of the Hall.”[12]

Conway was fined $3.00 for negligent cleanliness and he appeared before the Faculty on February 2, 1831.  He explained that he was absent from the University over Christmas and unable to attend to the routine cleaning of the sheets.  He also said the cold weather prevented frequent washing.  He remarked that students should inform him “whenever the servants neglected their duty.”  The rooms were washed as students requested and sometimes students didn't want to have their rooms washed.  He also lamented that the sheets were often in poor condition when his staff received them because students “get on the bed with their shoes on.”[13]

The Board of Visitors minutes also reveal that students did often submit complaints about the services rendered by the hotels.  Some students bemoaned the quality of food served at Conway's table.  In testimony given in 1841, the students commented on the good taste of the butter but suggested the tea and coffee might be weak.[14]

The Faculty Committee Takes Action

As a result of these complaints, the Faculty decided to ask students for their reviews of Conway’s service.  Both Mr. J. B. Young and Mr. T. Leigh commented on sufficient servant attendance at meals and decent food with some weak points.  The sheets didn't seem to be changed as often as they should and Mr. Conway had never visited their rooms for inspection.[15]

Twenty-three students signed a report about his negligence and submitted it to the faculty on April 22, 1834.  The outcome of this investigation resulted in a $5 fine for negligence with food and a $3 fine for negligence in cleaning.[16]  Complaints continued through 1836.

Conway was typically ready with an excuse whenever he was called before the Board of Visitors or Faculty.  A complaint about poor service in 1828 was justified as resulting from slave illness.[17]  In another instance, he explained that the inadequate performance was because one of his slaves was gone during “Easterweek” in 1834.[18]  He had two boys attend in his place, which suggests that adults were typically responsible for tending to the dormitories. 

                       Sketch of a daily task (Erin Que)

Students also complained about lost and damaged items from the laundry services.[20]  Eventually, the Board of Visitors exempted the hotelkeepers from providing laundry services in 1845.[21]  However, the hotels still had to provide clean towels and sheets.[22]

The slaves in the dining room were often children, though the students considered them “too young to be of much service.”[23]  As they got older, students continued to express dissatisfaction, describing the slaves as impudent, impertinent, and unable to attend properly.

On October 31, 1836, the faculty discussed complaints made that Conway did not always have a fire in his dining room and that windows were “wanting glass.”  They informed Conway that he needed to keep a fire for cold weather and close his windows.[24]

Hotel A Ground Floor Axonometric Drawing (Hotel A HSR)

In 1836, students Goode and Shelton complained that Conway’s slaves were “filthy in their dress.”[25]  Conway was fined $3.00.  In 1841, students lamented about a dirty woman in the kitchen.  Conway agreed that she was dirty but said she was not the cook and would not impact the students’ food.[26]  The Proctor even visited at suppertime and found nothing out of the ordinary.  Students provided mixed testimony.  Student A. E. Maxwell commented that the servants “are as clean as Servants generally are.”  Student Paul V. Sanders believed the "dirty woman" in question was actually the assistant to the cook.  The Faculty Committee did not punish Conway; instead they encouraged him to be more attentive to cleanliness.  There were also concerns that the slaves were not provided with adequate clothing or opportunity to clean themselves.

Discipline of Students

Interestingly, the students were not without rebuke.  Student T.A. Wilson hit one of Conway’s slaves and was suspended from June until December.[27]  Wilson had demanded a glass of water but the slave instead waited on a different student so Wilson struck him.  Wilson also was guilty of wearing his hat at the dinner table.  A student, Mr. Keary, was similarly charged for insulting Edwin Conway and wearing his hat at the dinner table.[28]

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[1] Neale, Slaves, 41, and Faculty Minutes, February 4, 1824, from JUEL.
[2] Faculty Minutes, February 3, 1834, from JUEL.
[3] Faculty Minutes February 5, 1834, from JUEL and Neale, Slaves, 42.
[4] Faculty Minutes, January 8, 1838, from JUEL.
[5] Faculty Minutes, January 10, 1838, from JUEL.
[6] Faculty Minutes, April 17, 1838, from JUEL.
[7] Neale, Slaves, 46-47, and Faculty Minutes, December 31, 1828 and July 21, 1829, from JUEL.
[8] Faculty Minutes, February 5, 1834, from JUEL.
[9] Neale, Slaves, 47, and Faculty Minutes, October 26, 1829 and March 5, 1838, from JUEL.
[10] Faculty Minutes, February 5, 1834, from JUEL.
[11] Neale, Slaves, 43, and Faculty Minutes, March 5, 1834, from JUEL.
[12] Journal of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session of 1833-1834, May 1834, from JUEL.
[13] Faculty Minutes, February 2, 1831, from JUEL.
[14] Faculty Minutes, February 3, 1834, and February 5, 1834, from JUEL.
[15] Faculty Minutes, February 3, 1834, from JUEL.
[16] Faculty Minutes, April 28, 1834, from JUEL.
[17] Faculty Minutes, February 29, 1828, from JUEL.
[18] Faculty Minutes, April 28, 1834, from JUEL.
[19] Faculty Minutes, April 28, 1834, from JUEL.
[20] Neale, Slaves, 47.
[21] Neale, Slaves, 47, and Board of Visitors Minutes, July 4, 1845, from JUEL.
[22] Neale, Slaves, 47, and Faculty Minutes, January 24, 1831 and February 2, 1831, from JUEL.
[23] Neale, Slaves, 48, and Faculty Minutes, May 2, 1835, from JUEL.
[24] Faculty Minutes, October 31, 1836, from JUEL.
[25] Neale, Slaves, 48, and Faculty Minutes, February 8, 1836, from JUEL.
[26] Neale, Slaves, 48-49, and Faculty Minutes, May 4, 1841, from JUEL.
[27] Neale, Slaves, 50, and Faculty Minutes, June 21, 1836, from JUEL.
[28] Faculty Minutes, April 14, 1835, from JUEL.