Plantation owner Sampson Sanders died on June 21, 1849, at age 62, and was buried near Milton. At the time, Sanders, who is sometimes referred to as Saunders, was the largest landholder in Cabell County.
He owned large tracts on the Guyandotte and Mud rivers east of Barboursville and operated the largest flour mill in Cabell County. Saunders Creek, a Mud River tributary, is named for his family.
Sanders also owned at least 51 slaves, including men, women, and children, making him one of the largest slaveholders in Western Virginia and among the top three percent of slaveholders in the South before the Civil War. Upon his death, Sanders freed all his slaves, regardless of their ages.
Based on his will, the slaves were given cash, equipment, and legal assistance to start their new lives. The former slaves maintained the Sanders surname, migrated northward as a group, and settled in Cass County, Michigan.
Many of their descendants still live there today.
The story of Sampson Sanders’s slaves is one of the leading examples of manumission—or the freeing of slaves—in present West Virginia.