Experience Centuries of American History at Sotterley Plantation

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on September 29, 2017

Spend a day at Sotterley Plantation, and you can travel through more than 300 years of American history.

Built on land purchased in 1699, Sotterley Plantation invites visitors into the story of the property’s inhabitants – owner and slave. You’ll go back in time through multiple wars, the earliest beginnings of the United States, and more than a century of slavery.

Sotterley Plantation, which is operated by a non-profit foundation, seeks to link the past with the present to foster greater understanding. The organization’s mission is to preserve the structures and environment of the plantation as well as to use its stories to bring history to life. Sotterley’s vision is “to foster better understanding of our world today by providing a living link to America’s complex history and legacy of slavery.”

Sotterley opened to the public in 1961 and remains the only Tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to visitors. The original two-room plantation house was built in 1703, which makes it older than Mount Vernon. Sotterley was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

Start your visit to Sotterley in the visitor’s center for an introductory video. The film takes you through the plantation’s history and, along the way, introduces you to those who lived here. You’ll meet the descendants of owners and slaves and learn how they worked together to preserve Sotterley’s stories and history.

From there, move out to the grounds. Guided tours of the home are available, you can take an audio tours of the grounds, or you can explore the grounds on your own. Several of the plantation’s buildings are open for you to either go inside or see through open doors and windows.

(Slave cabin image via Sotterley Plantation website.)

On your way to the home and its gardens, stop at the “Land, Lives, and Labor” exhibit in the Corn Crib. This powerful exhibit puts you in the shoes of Sotterley’s slaves and laborers and details their lives through their own words or the words of their ancestors.

Further up the road, you’ll pass through the gatehouses as you walk up to the front of the plantation house. The North Gatehouse is set up as a period school. Sotterley’s renowned Colonial Revival Gardens will be on your left as you approach the house. Don’t miss a chance to walk through these spectacular gardens, which are maintained by dedicated volunteers. When the gardens are in bloom, they buzz with activity from bees, bugs, and birds.

Down the hill from the home sits a slave cabin, one of the few original, restored slave cabins in Maryland. Go inside to see how those enslaved at Sotterley lived. Artifacts dug up from the plantations slave cabin are on display in the visitor’s center.

Sotterley also has more than six miles of nature trails and plenty of opportunities for bird watching. The foundation hosts educational events for adults and children and presents annual events like the Ghosts of Sotterley during October and holiday events in December. Sotterley’s annual Riverside Winefest fundraiser takes place Oct. 7-8, 2017.

Hours vary by season; check the Sotterley website for updated hours and admission information.

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