Patrick Henry's Red Hill

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill

On our way home today (7/18/15), we decided to stop in at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill Estate.  It has long been on our places we wanted to visit, but is so far from where we normally stay that we decided to stop by on our way home.  Our initial GPS directions led us to Patrick Henry’s Boys and Girls Homes, which, it turns out is a place for troubled kids who need a safe, caring environment due to their or their family’s choices–but not what we were looking for.  So, if your GPS takes you there, keep going down the road, and you’ll see Patrick Henry’s estate.

We first went in the visitor center to learn a bit about Patrick Henry’s life.  He married at 18 (to a 16 year old, no less…) His father-in-law gave him a 300 acre farm and six slaves as a dowry.  To Henry, who had a frugal Scottish upbringing, this must have seemed like paradise.  But, his farm burned to the ground three years later, and Henry found himself at 21 back at his father-in-law’s tavern, trying to provide for his growing family.

Patrick Henry's Law Office at Red Hill  (Original Building)

Patrick Henry’s Law Office at Red Hill (Original Building)

Fortunately for American history and for Patrick himself, he worked right across from the courthouse.  He quickly became friends with the lawyers who hung out in the tavern and asked to borrow their books.  In just six weeks, he had read all of their law books, so he went to Williamsburg and passed the bar, though Wythe and others would recommend he receive more training.

Because this was the last house Henry ever lived in, we talked more about the house.  His original house looks about the size of the law office–the reconstructors thought the house was bigger than it actually was because they looked at a later reconstruction.  It was interesting to me that Patrick Henry moved out of the governor’s mansion at Colonial Williamsburg and willingly chose to build a small two room house, especially considering that at this time, he had seventeen children, two of whom were only toddlers when he died!

Flags of all the states that were part of Virginia when Patrick Henry was governor

Flags of all the states that were part of Virginia when Patrick Henry was governor

One of the things mom and I discussed is the fact that we don’t think about our founding fathers having lives of their own in the midst of making key decisions for the country.  Patrick Henry’s first wife Sarah had severe Post-partum depression.  In fact, Patrick used to have to lock her in the basement to keep her from harming herself or their six children.  This is where she was when he delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.  While I know this sounds cruel, Patrick chose to care for his wife himself instead of putting her in a mental institution.  Unfortunately, she eventually got so sick she died, after twenty-one years of marriage.   She was 37.   Henry will remarry and have nine other children.

This house here was wilderness when he moved into it. Henry lived in the house and practiced law out of the former overseer’s house.  He would live the last five years of his life here.

Instead of building a fancy house like Thomas Jefferson did, Henry wanted to build enough land ownership to leave each of his sons a plantation.

Graves of Patrick Henry and his second wife

Graves of Patrick Henry and his second wife

He managed it for his older sons, but he had two toddler sons when he died. Since he didn’t have separate plantations for them, his Red Hill property was divided, and each got 1,500 acres. John, the youngest, inherited this house. Later, however, Patrick’s great granddaughter Lucy married a man who was wealthy enough to buy out all the family’s shares, and she built her dream house. Unfortunately, in 1919, a lamp turned over in an upper room. The house burned to the ground.  Thankfully, all Patrick Henry’s personal effects were in one downstairs room, so they were able to preserve them. One fun story of Lucy is that she decided to allow the railroad to come through her land, but struck a bargain that they give her free rides. If ever she wanted to go somewhere, she’d pack her bags and stand out on the tracks.

Mantle piece saved from Patrick Henry House fire (Lucy had put it in an outbuilding)

Mantle piece saved from Patrick Henry House fire (Lucy had put it in an outbuilding)

Some other fun facts we learned about Patrick Henry included that he had 17 children and 77 grand children. He was known as the voice of the people because of his exceptional oratory skills. One case I found particularly interesting is that he defended Baptist pastors who were charged with preaching without a license.  Interestingly enough, his basic case was to imply, “You’re seriously going to arrest people for preaching the gospel of Jesus?!?”  He won.
On display in the museum is a letter George Washington wrote, asking him to help out in opposition to the Alien and Sedition acts. He came out of retirement to speak. But, by this time, Henry’s health was in decline due to some bowel issues.  He was elected, but never took office due to his death.  After being in intense pain because of an obstruction in his bowels, the Henrys called a friend and physician.  The doctor offered him a draught of mercury which he said would either kill him or cure him.  Patrick Henry took it.  It calmed him, and he spoke words of encouragement to his family, though he noticed his blood congealing.  He pointed out to the doctor (an atheist) the calmness with which Christians approach death.  Then. he died.

Red Hill Property with Osage Orange Tree (350+ ears old!)

Red Hill Property with Osage Orange Tree (350+ ears old!)

It was neat to spend time with Patrick Henry and imagine him sitting under the Osage Orange tree (Which was 100 years old when Patrick Henry lived there, so it is over 350 year old!), playing the violin while his children and grandchildren swarmed around him.  Definitely a beautiful place.

Finally, we headed for home.  As we were driving, we began noticing signs for a Natural Bridge.  “Isn’t that where George Washington carved his initials?” Mom asked.  I googled it, thinking it sounded true.  And, it was!  The 17 year old George Washington was a surveyor for most of this area, and he carved his initials (23 feet in the air!) on this Natural Bridge wall.  We stopped and tried to get directions, but the gift shop offers a $20 entrance fee–a bit steep for two people who just wanted to take a picture.  Also, from the Visitor Center, the site is 137 stairs and 1/4 mile down a trail.  While there were plenty of other things you could do with your entrance fee (Like a living history Native American village), we didn’t have time, so we had to forgo the young Washington for this trip.  We tried going up the highway to see if we could get a top view (since the signature is higher up), but the park has put view blocking barricades up, so the only way you can see it is to pay and walk.  So, that’s a job for another day.  Now, we’re home for a week and a half before hitting Prince Edward Island!

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