Westover Plantation

Westover Plantation

We set out early this morning (3/24/14) for the library in Charles City County, hoping to dig up some information on our Peebles connections there. As we set out, we discovered that we would arrive an hour before the library opened, so we decided to detour by some of the plantations along the way.

The first place we stopped was Westover, built in 1730 by William Byrd II, founder of Richmond. The house is not opened to the public, but the grounds are available for viewing with an “honor system” payment outside the gate of up to $5.00, depending on age, military standing, etc. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful, though it feels a bit odd walking around someone’s yard and seeing things like basketball hoops. It also makes it a bit confusing to know where you can and cannot go. Still, the architectural features are amazing, it was well worth the experience. I’d love to explore a little more when the weather is nicer.

Berkeley Plantation

Berkeley Plantation

After Westover, we headed down to Berkeley Plantation. Berkeley is simply steeped in history. The building itself dates back to 1726, but the history of the plantation starts long before that. On December 4, 1619, early settlers came ashore here and observed the official first Thanksgiving. If you walk down to the river, there is a small monument to the event. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that it is really just a picture and a plaque inside the archway–a bit scant for such a momentous event.

Taps Monument Berkeley

Taps Monument Berkeley

In addition to its Colonial history, Berkeley also has a great deal of Civil War history. Union troops were encamped here in 1862 under the leadership of McClellan (This is the plantation he was trying to get to when he left wounded men at the Shirley Plantation.) In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself visited McClellan at Berkeley two times during the summer of 1862. But, that’s not the end of the Civil War history of the house. First, between the house and the river, there is a monument to Taps. It sounds weird, I know, but the music we know as “Taps” was composed and first played on Berkeley land during the Civil War. General Daniel Butterfield composed this variation of an earlier bugle call. Apparently, Butterfield whistled it for his bugler, who helped him work out the rhythm and notes. This monument, as well, is small, but boasts an audio explanation of the story of “Taps.”

Benjamin Harrison's Grave Berkeley

Benjamin Harrison’s Grave Berkeley

The last Civil War connection comes in 1907. Unable to regain it after the Civil War, the Harrison Family (Declaration of Independence Signer Benjamin Harrison inherited it from his father who built it, and William Henry Harrison was born here) lost the house to others. After a series of owners allowed it to fall into disrepair, the house was purchased by John Jamieson, who incidentally had been a drummer in the Union Army during the Civil War. His children would restore the plantation to its former glory. It’s an incredible site (though we had to pay $7.00 to tour the grounds, while admission to the house and grounds is only $9.00.) Yet, one could easily spend many hours exploring here.

Charles City County Courthouse

Charles City County Courthouse

But, we were now an hour late (instead of an hour early) for the opening of the library, so we set off. We first went to the Charles City County Visitor Center and Courthouse. This Courthouse is the third oldest courthouse in the country, so it was fun to be able to see. When we went in the Heritage Library, however, we quickly discovered it was not what we were looking for. They had only two books that were genealogical in nature, though patrons were able to access computer data only available at this location. But, they kindly directed us to the Charles City County Center for Local History right down the road.

Robert Bolling Court Case

Robert Bolling Court Case

We walked into a room lined with records and knew we were in the right place. Those on duty were very helpful to bring us a number of books to go through. While I didn’t find much on our immediate ancestors, I hit the Robert Bolling Jackpot. Despite being away from my project on Robert Bolling for almost two years, I still have a fondness for him, so seeing his name in writing gave me another trail to go down. I think my favorite thing about seeing his name was that in almost every case, it said, “Witness: Robert Bolling.” Obviously, having studied him, I knew he was often in court as a member of the House of Burgesses, but to see how many cases he was involved in was incredible. In addition to witnessing a number of cases, he was involved in a few disputes of his own which made the ledgers. The first was a suit against Owen Gilmore for a debt Gilmore owed. The suit read, “Suit of Robert Bolling, Gent., vs Owen Gilmore for debt. Gilmore absconded. Bolling to recover from estate of Gilmore in the hands of Thomas Williams.” The second case was even more interesting. This one stated, “Francis Epes claims 200 lbs tobacco for taking up two runaway negro women belonging to Robert Bolling of this county.” I hadn’t really concentrated on the fact that Bolling had slaves. It brought a whole slough of questions. What job did they do for him? How did he treat them when they were returned–after all, he’d had to pay 200 lbs of tobacco to get them back? Additionally, the family had more trouble involving slaves. Apparently, Robert’s son sued his brother-in-law over slaves that were taken which should have been part of the estate. (The entry is in the picture above) Fascinating new information to consider.

Lee's nephew's Prince George Map

Lee’s nephew’s Prince George Map

The Historical Society directed us to the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center. There, we met Carol and hit the jackpot. Not only is she living in Aberdeen, next door to Bon Accord, which was part of our Peebles connection, but she also was incredibly helpful with information. So, we spent the next few hours looking up information about some of our ancestors. The Prince George County also houses a small museum of their own. One of the coolest things for me to see was a map of Prince George County carried by Robert E. Lee’s nephew as he fought in the war. After the Civil War, maps were so rare that he sent it back to Prince George County. Looking at it, you can still see where he had folded the map to transport it. The museum also has a court ledger from the early 1700’s–the full versions of the summaries I had previously looked at in which Bolling played such a prominent role. This book also was a gift from afar, as it had turned up in someone’s attic in Ohio, and they graciously sent it back to the town. A wonderful treasure trove of history.

New Flowerdew

New Flowerdew

At last, we headed out of town. We swung through Shirley Plantation again to get some pictures in the sun, since yesterday had been such a dreary day. Then, we made the quest for Flowerdew Hundred. It’s a hard place to find, as it’s located in James River National Wildlife Refuge, but if you stay on Flowerdew Hundred Road, you can’t miss it. Flowerdew was a land grant of Governor George Yeardley (of Jamestowne) in 1618, named in honor of his wife (Thankfully, that was her maiden name–her first name was Temperance. So, he quite possibly named it for her wealthy father.) In addition to being another of the oldest plantations, Flowerdew played a part in the Civil War as well. It was here that the Union army under the command of Ulysses S. Grant camped before making the Seige of Petersburg in 1864. They had crossed over the James River on a pontoon boat bridge which, though constructed in one night, would hold the record as the longest pontoon boat bridge until World War II. Unfortunately, the original house is no longer on the property, and the mansion there was built in the late 1990’s and is not open to the public. Neat to see, regardless.

Bacon's Castle

Bacon’s Castle

We ended our day with a trip to Bacon’s Castle. While the house is only open on the weekends (admission $8.00), we knew that this weekend is supposed to be rainy, so we wanted to get some pictures on a nice day. Bacon’s castle is not only one of only three houses of the high-style Jacobean structures in the Western hemisphere, but it is also the oldest datable brick building. The name, however, is deceiving. Not only did the house not belong to Nathaniel Bacon (famous for Bacon’s rebellion), it is doubtful he even went there. The house derives its name due to the fact that when Bacon and his men rebelled, Nathaniel sent his men across the river to establish a stronghold in Surrey County. They chose Major Arthur “Allen’s Brick House,” as it was previously known, as their headquarters. They apparently made themselves quite at home in Major Allen’s house, the major himself having fled since he supported the Governor instead of Bacon. They ate his cattle, drank his wine, and generally destroyed his property. Apparently, it was bad enough that he sued the men for the damages!

Finally, we headed back across the ferry and home to curl up for a potentially yucky day tomorrow.

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