Back to the Beginning

19/06/12 9:43 PM

Belle Grove Plantation – Plantation side – Front Portico

Since we skipped ahead for Father’s Day, we need to return to the beginning to fill in the first part of the story. The history of this land that would become Belle Grove started hundreds of thousands of years before the arrival of English settlers. This land was inhabited by primitive people known by the artifacts found in the surrounding area. On the plantation next door to Belle Grove, primitive tools, shear heads and pottery have been discovered. One of these items has been examined and is considered to be over 10,000 years old.

Stone Tool

Leather Tanner



Captain John Smith

In 1608, Captain John Smith, explorer and soldier, sailed up the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers searching for areas to expand the new colonies. In his log, Captain Smith spoke of weather, the waterways and land around him.

Sunset view of the Rappahannock River from Belle Grove Plantation

“The temperature of this countrie doth agree well with English constitutions.”

“There is but one entrance by sea onto this country and that is the mouth of a very goodly Bay, the wideness of which is near 18 or 20 miles.”

“Within is a Country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places of Europe, Asia, Africa or America for larger and pleasant navigable rivers’ Heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s being of our Constitutions were it inhabited by industrious people.”

Captain Smith also noted the many Indian Settlements along the river banks. These Indians were part of the Powhatan Nation.  This was a confederation of Indian tribes within Virginia. At the time of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, it is believed that there were about 14,000 to 21,000 people in this nation. Wahunsunacawh, also known as Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas had brought together this nation of 30 tribes within the eastern side of Virginia in an area call Tsenacommacah (“densely-inhabited Land”). Each tribe had its own chief, but all tribes paid tribute to Chief Powatan.

Chief Powhatan

It is believed that the Nanzemond Indians were the tribe that inhabited the land, but I have not been able to confirm this. Since we have never had any archaeological digs at Belle Grove, I can only go with what has been passed down through local lore.  The closest tribes I do know that were in the area were the Potabago Indians of Essex County, Rappahannock Indians of Tappahannock and the Nanzatico Indians of King George. In my research, it looks more likely that it would have be one of these tribes that inhabited the land. The Nanzemond Indians seem to have been primarily located in and around the present day cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Maybe the name Nanzemond got confused with the name Nanzatico as it was passed down from generation to generation.

Sir William Berkeley

The next mention of this land came when a royal land grant was given by Governor Sir William Berkeley to Thomas Chetwood and John Prossor. Under the Royal Charter of 1649 on September 28, 1667, 5275 acres of land, known as “Nauzem” was granted to Chetwood and Prossor in consideration for transporting 163 persons from England. Of these 5275 acres, it is said that the land that would become Belle Grove was the heart.

On April 13, 1670, John Prossor sold a 1,000 acre tract to Anthony Savage. I have found two names for this tract, one being “Mangecemuzen” and the other being “Mongoheocala”.  Anthony Savage was thought to be the son of John Savage of Castleton, Debyshire, England. His birth date is unknown. The earliest record of him places him in Gloucester County, Virginia in 1660, when he was commissioned as a Justice or Sherriff. Anthony Savage (died 1695) was married to Alice Stafford Savage (died 1701). The Savages had two surviving children, daughters Dorothy (1635-1702) and Alice (1653-1692). By the time, Anthony had purchased this tract, his daughter; Dorothy was already married to William Strother I and was living next door on a 500 acre plantation that they had purchased just six months before. His other daughter, Alice would marry Francis Thornton (1651-1726/27). Dorothy and William had six surviving children. Alice and Francis had seven surviving children. Two of these children, Margaret Thornton and William Strother II would marry.

One small note, I have been told that Lawrence Washington, grandfather of George Washington, grew up at Mattox Creek, just 9 or 10 miles from Belle Grove and he was childhood friends with William Strother II and Margaret Thornton.

Belle Grove Plantation

At the death of Anthony Savage, the 1,000 acre tract was divided into 700 acres for the Thornton family and 300 acres to be given to Margaret Thornton Strother and William Strother II. By this time, Alice Savage Thornton had passed and Francis Thornton had remarried. Francis Thornton, an attorney and land owner, was a very prominent attorney. In my research of archived items, I came across a large number of items with his signature. He also increased his land holding into Stafford County. At his death, most of his Stafford County land holdings went to his sons, but the 700 acre tract went to his eldest child, Elizabeth Thornton Gibson Conway (1673/74-1732). I believe she was already living on the tract prior to his death. She first married Jonathan Gibson (1672-1729) and had two surviving children. At Jonathan’s death, she married Edwin Conway (1653-1698). With Edwin, she had one more child, Francis Conway I (1696-1736).

(To Be Continued Tomorrow – the Conway Family)

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 30 Comments »

30 Comments on “Back to the Beginning”

  1. Really interesting history!

  2. Thank you! It gets better tomorrow!

  3. Wonderful…I was watching Pawn Stars last evening and there was a scale for weighing coins brought into the Pawn shop that was dated 1662 and authenticated…love seeing these old photos, now I see images of those who may have used the scale. Looking forward to more..

  4. I saw that one last night too! Great minds think alike! I am posting the second half of this story tomorrow. It’s has some really good parts too.

  5. I’m so glad to see that you’re back blogging! I’d missed your posts!

  6. Aw thank you! I was wondering if some of our friends from the old blog would show up! We are looking forward to moving ahead and get this plantation going!

  7. margaretsue Says:

    Wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing this! Looking forward to the the next half! BTW-I will be seeing you on Sunday July 1st I believe, for the paint out there with Lynn! Thx!

  8. Thank you so much! We enjoy sharing this history and home. What paint out are you attending?

  9. nancyc Says:

    So interesting! Lots of history is tied to this B&B!

  10. Thank you! Just wait, it gets better!

  11. kam Says:

    James Madison was one of the presidents right??

  12. James Madison is also known as the Father of the Constitution.

  13. 🙂

  14. Yes, James Madison was the 4th president and as theshepherdspresence points out was one of three founding fathers that drafted the Constitution. He did the majority of the draft with assistance from Thomas Jeffereson and Benjamin Franklin. That is why he is call the Father of the Constitution. More on him later today.

  15. kam Says:

    I started noticing that “Madison” was a president since there is many Madison streets, just like Jefferson and Washington! Thanks for sharing the info!

  16. kam Says:

    Thanks for the info! I started realizing that Madison was a president after I saw so many Madison streets!

  17. Angeline M Says:

    That sunset view is a defiinite selling point for a stay at the plantation! Beautiful!!

  18. Yes, I have to say that is true. I have seen a few of them both in winter and summer now. They are breath taking. And to be sitting up on the River side balcony just enjoying it, well its worth the stay!

  19. Lissa Rabon Says:

    Yea!!! I love this kind of stuff! Keep it up!

  20. Me too! I have a lot more to share!

  21. Hi
    I’ve nominated you for a ‘One Lovely Blog Award!’ Please visit for all the details!

  22. Thank you so much! We really appreciate you thinking about us and adding us to the list!

  23. Nurse Frugal Says:

    This place looks so fun!!! Would love to go and stay one day if we travel back east 😉

  24. Thank you! It is a great place to come and enjoy. We do hope that you will stop by some day!

  25. Jen Says:

    This is fascinating! I do love history.

    One thing, though: that image of Lawrence Washington is actually one of the General’s older and revered half-brother. I’ve a tremendous admiration for George Washington (and own & have read nearly every book written about him), and that painting is definitely of his brother; I do not believe there is one of his grandfather (or great-grandfather, for that matter!) Lawrence in existence. Just an FYI.

  26. Thank you for letting me know, I will remove it. It was listed as Lawrence. Wait until you see where I was yesterday! If you love GW, you are going to love this!!!

  27. chrisstov Says:

    Very interesting story, thank you. Look forward to the next installment.

  28. Thank you! Wait until you see what I did yesterday!

  29. hermitsdoor Says:

    Thanks for all the historical data. When I saw the name “Belle Grove” I thought that you were referring to the “Belle Grove” home near Cedar Creek, VA, which we toured recently. This was built by Isaac Hite, who married Nelly Conway Madison, daughter of the James Madison who built your “Belle Grove” after which that “Belle Grove” was named. History can be confusing because they recycled names (like all those home towns back in England, etc.). You can check on our prior tours by clicking on the “Travel” category at my blog. Anyway, we are heading your way, sort of, to the Castelton Music Festival this afternoon.

  30. Thank you! We know the Belle Grove at Cedar Creek very well. It was the place that we started to think about really chasing our dream of owning a B&B. But you have a few details mixed up. The house was built by Isaac Hite. He married Nellie Madison, not Nellie Conway Madison. Nellie Conway Madison was James and Nellie Madison’s mother. Nellie Conway Madison was born and raised on our plantation, which was named Belle Grove before James Madison was born in 1751. Also Nellie Madison Hite was James Madison’s sister. You are correct about the name of Belle Grove in Cedar Creek. It was named after our plantation when it was built in 1794. I know what you mean by the way names are used and reused. There is also another Nellie Madison that was James Madison’s niece. You will get to learn more about her in a post soon. I will have to go back to your blog and read your post on your visit to the Other Belle Grove! We hope you enjoyed your Festivial!