By Melissa Spellman
New Journal and Guide
On January 19, 2024, students from Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Virginia will travel to Henderson, North Carolina to visit a former slave plantation turned family retreat grounds and tourist attraction. Kenneth Spellman is a native of Chesapeake, Virginia. He is the owner of 23 acres of land formerly a slave plantation which he named Back to Eden located at 451 Satterwhite Point Road in Henderson, North Carolina. The name Back to Eden symbolizes a rebirth and revitalization of the spirit.
Tracy Spurlin-Saravanan, an English Teacher at Indian River High School, heard about Back to Eden, its historical relevance, and purchased the book A Tribute written by Kenneth Spellman. The book provides records, discusses the history of the land, the Wortham Family, the whites, who owned the land, as well as the enslaved persons who were bought and sold during the time of enslavement. Saravanan decided to visit Back to Eden with her family and take a tour. Her visit prompted the educator to return to the historic lands with her students allowing them to share in her experience.
In September 2020, Kenneth Spellman acquired the property when he and his wife Laurece were looking for a house in Henderson, NC. “I bought the house sitting on 2.5 acres of land. I could see a structure next door, but the trees had grown to the ground,” said Spellman. Next to Spellman’s 2.5 acres set 14 more acres where Isabella Worthem lived. She was the last Worthem to live in the house that sat amongst overgrown trees and foliage. “Ms. Worthem was under 24-hour care. Her sons were going to sell the property to a developer,” shared Spellman. “Their family cemetery was on the land. They saw what I had done with my two acres with the gardens, the nature trails, and the treehouse. So, they asked me if I was interested in purchasing the additional acres,” Spellman recalled.
Seeing the work that Spellman put into his own 2.5 acres and with the hope of preserving their family cemetery, in October 2021 the Wortham family sold the 14 acres to Spellman with the vague mention that a slave was buried somewhere on the property. Unbeknownst to Ken Spellman was the deep history of pain that saturated the land and the spirit of the ancestors that lay beneath the soil.
Spellman is the owner of Ken’s Construction and with the newly acquired lands he and his crew got to work. Spellman recounted, “While cutting trails we discovered six graves and then we discovered 30 or 40 more.” Spellman said the men were overwhelmed by the discovery as tears welled their eyes. Armed with a desire to know who these ancestors were and to honor their lives he began the work. “That’s when I started researching,” said Spellman.
He contacted the Vance County Historical Society who visited the property and provided census records, maps, articles, and documents from the 1800s. These documents validated that the Wortham family owned the land, as well as slaves, and that the house located on the property was built in 1820. An archaeologist from the University of North Carolina came to authenticate the findings. Spellman also sought out a genealogist to trace the history of the Black Worthams. This research was compiled and is included in Spellman’s book called A Tribute: Slaves of Select WORTHAM Families in Warren, Granville and Vance County, North Carolina, 1625-1865. The book is dedicated to the ancestors who lived, died, and were buried on the plantation.
When people hear the name Back To Eden it sparks an interest and they want to know what this place is all about. Spellman shared, “Before I discovered the plantation or slave graves, I just wanted a place where I could…