New Arrival Donation

Jun. 25th 2014

We are so excited to announce that we will be receiving one of the most amazing donations to date from the James Madison Museum in Orange, Virginia.

Piano forte 1

The Board of Directors have donated an American, Sheraton style, square pianoforte. This amazing pianoforte was made by Loud & Brothers of Philadelphia. It has beautiful gold script above the keyboard which reads:

Piano forte 4

“Loud & Brothers Cabinet and Square Pianoforte Manufacturers Philadelphia”

Piano forte 2

It is made of mahogany and treated to look like rosewood. There are engravings inside on the upper right panel as you open the lid, which date back to 1832/33 for repairs and one from 1941 when it was scripted as “rebuilt”. However. much of the internal and external piece are original. It appears that the note pads (pieces of wood with felt) are younger than the 1800’s. The green painted “cover” for the strings are original. It had all of its legs at the time of the donation to the James Madison Museum in 1983, but is now missing one of the legs. There are no records of what happened and no one on the current Board of Directors has been around beyond 5 or 6 years. The pianoforte is in need of repair for both the missing leg and for the instrument. It currently does not play.

Piano forte 3

This pianoforte was given as a gift to the James Madison Museum by Mrs. Audette Kimball on February 1, 1983 and has been residing at the museum since that time. It was appraised at $3,000 by Lionbridge Antiques and Fine Arts of Charlottesville on January 31, 1983.

The pianoforte is currently at the James Madison Museum at 129 Caroline Street, Orange, Virginia 22960. If you would like to see it before it is moved to Belle Grove Plantation, please stop in and ask Bethany, the Museum Administrator to show it to you. While you are there, make sure you view all the wonderful exhibitions they have there! This is a museum that is seriously overlooked when people are traveling through. With Montpelier just down the road, most miss the opportunity to see the wonderful collection of James and Dolley Madison’s personal items as well as many other wonderful collection pieces. We have written about this many times and love going there as often as we can. Please make sure you tell Bethany that Belle Grove sent you!

We would also like to ask for any volunteers to help us move this amazing piece to Belle Grove Plantation. We do not have the means to do so and would very much appreciate any assistance we could get. This piece is very heavy and will require the legs to be removed while in route to Belle Grove.

We would like to extend a warm and much appreciated thank you to the Board of Directors and the James Madison Museum for such a generous donation. It will grace Belle Grove and be loved for years to come!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on New Arrival Donation

Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Jun. 25th 2014


Belle Grove’s July 4 event supports effort to restore outbuildings


Cathy Dyson

June 25th, 2014


Belle Grove Plantation is hosting a July 4th picnic and concert on the lawn to celebrate Independence Day and to begin raising money to restore three historic outbuildings.

Belle Grove is the birthplace of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. It was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River as a tobacco plantation.

The property fell into disrepair over time. The mansion was restored in 1997, and Brett and Michelle Darnell opened a bed and breakfast on the property last year.


Slaves once lived in half of the summer kitchen,

which has slid off its foundation and needs considerable work.

Now, the two are turning their focus to the oldest structures there: the summer kitchen, ice house and smokehouse. The three were built between 1720 and 1750 and were in use when Madison was born there in 1751.

The kitchen, half of which was used as slave quarters, is falling off its foundation, and portions of the inner wall have fallen away. The fireplace on the kitchen side still has the iron rod on the back fire wall, along with the rods that hung down and held pots.

“It really blows my mind to think what meals would have been prepared there and who they served,” said Michelle Darnell in an email.

The condition of the smokehouse is just as bad. Two walls already have fallen away. The icehouse is in the best condition, but its bricks have come loose and fallen around the window and back wall. Along with the kitchen, it’s suffered damage from animals making their dens there as well as from the weather.

The Darnells want to raise money to restore the buildings and to create a living museum where visitors could experience life on a plantation. Any artifacts found in the restoration would be placed in the summer kitchen, along with a memorial, naming those who were enslaved at Belle Grove over the years.

The Darnells have enlisted the help of a volunteer intern, Lauren Souza, to head up the restoration and preservation project. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation and has worked at Mount Vernon and Montpelier as a restoration specialist.

Initial estimates suggest the work will cost between $50,000 and $75,000, the Darnells said.

“It is killing us to stand by and watch as the board start popping [and] bricks start dropping away,” Michelle Darnell said. “The only thing stopping us from rescuing these historic treasures is funding.”

Belle Grove will begin the drive to raise money with its “Red, White and Blues” concert and picnic under the stars on July 4. The concert begins at 6 p.m. with Mike Mallick of Maryland and his old-school rock band. They’ll be followed by the Alexis Suter blues band from New York City.

Through Friday, tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. After that day, the prices go up to $25 for adults and $15 for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Tickets are available on Belle Grove Plantation’s website, by calling 540/621-7340 and at the event.

Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.

To see the online article and to leave comments, please visit:

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Meet the Volunteers!

Jun. 24th 2014

We put out call for some volunteer help at the plantation and the call was answered!

We would like to introduce you to some very wonderful people!

Carol - Master Gardener

Meet Carol

Master Garden Volunteer

Carol has been volunteering with Belle Grove Plantation for over two months! She started in the spring helping us get our flower beds and grounds into shape. Each Monday, Carol can be found weeding, raking, trimming, shoveling or planting in and around the mansion. When Dominion Power sent people over to the entrance to cut back the branches around the power lines, Carol and her husband took two weeks to clean up the mess they left behind. It required a lot of wood cutting and even a control burn to clean up the mess! But today, you can see better as you pull away from the entrance and it doesn’t look like a war zone. Carol helps Brett and I understand the needs of our landscape and what we need to get to improve on it. We are very glad that she has stepped up to help us and appreciate her hard work in helping us keep this historic landmark beautiful.


Meet Lauren


Lauren started working with us just a few weeks ago and came from one of our preferred vendors. Lauren has a masters degree in Architectural Preservation and has worked as an assistant at Mount Vernon and Montpelier. We will be using Lauren’s experience and expertise in preservation as we start our restoration and preservation of our three priceless outbuildings. The Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are her main focus and she will lead the project through each of the steps needed to bring them back to their 1720 time period. While she is working on this project, she will also be helping us as an assistant to Michelle during the week. We are excited that Lauren has come to the plantation and look forward to her helping us preserve the past here at Belle Grove Plantation!


Meet John


John came to us through our Easter Dinner, when his family joined us for a wonderful meal and tour. During the meal, we discovered John love of history and architecture. It wasn’t hard for us to see that he would be a great asset as a Summer Docent. John received our history and script just a couple of weeks ago. He did his first “tour” with Michelle last Thursday. John was so impressive that we turned over the tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to him as the lead docent. After just one day, Brett and Michelle have already decided to make John a trainer for any new docents that may come aboard! But docent work is not all of John’s talents! He is also a wonderful artist and will be working on a drawing of Belle Grove Plantation for us! Be on the look out for his work!


Meet Rachel


Rachel has been with Belle Grove Plantation from the very beginning! In July, 2013, Belle Grove opened its doors for a July 4th Open House. Not truly advertised expect on Facebook, Brett and Michelle didn’t truly expect too many people to come. But to be on the safe side, asked Rachel and her mother to come as greeters. Boy we are so glad we did! We ended up with over 100 people showing for the tour! But Rachel handled it like a pro. Since then, Rachel has been available for any volunteer job we have  needed. From wait-staff at dinners to door greeter at Christmas, we have been able to relay on her to back us up. We are excited that she will be joining us for the summer as a docent! She will be truly appreciated here!

We would like to thank each of our volunteer for giving of their time and talents! We have been so truly blessed not only by these volunteers, but by so many that have come to our aid in the past! We couldn’t have done it without you! You are truly appreciated!

If you would like to volunteer with us, please check out our Careers page on our website at:

We would love to have you join us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Meet the Volunteers!

When America Met China

Jun. 18th 2014

One month ago, we received a call from a location scout from American University. She was scouting for locations for a doctoral film thesis for several students at the university. They had secured Mount Vernon and wanted to find a location that might “stand in” for the interior shots of Mount Vernon. Just a few days later, we received the email to let us know that we had been selected! What an honor to “stand in” for Mount Vernon!


The film, “When America Met China” is their documentary on how the import of porcelains from China in Early America had affects on how we lived and entertained. I was so excited to hear that we would have actors coming in period dress and that two of them would be President and Mrs. Washington.

The students arrived just a few days later to walk the location and to start working on their shooting schedule. Little did I know I would become a historic consultant for their dinner shoot! Of course it was easy since I had create two Colonial style meals for President and Mrs. Madison’s two dinner parties here.


Emails flew for the next couple of weeks as they asked questions about our china pieces, dishes we had that they could use, linens and such. They also asked us if we could help them locate four more actors in period costume to act in the film. I knew just who to go to for this one. We had met a group called George Washington’s Young Friends ( at Stratford Hall last year. After a few more emails and getting their schedule together with the film makers, we finally had a film date.

First the production crew arrived and worked to set up each of the rooms they needed. They wanted to do a tea shot in the Parlor, a Library shot, a dinner shot in the Formal Dining Room and a Riverside Portico shot for George and Martha. Our actors from George Washington’s Young Friends arrived first. I placed them in rooms to allow them to rest and get ready. It’s not easy dressing in period costumes! Then Mrs. Washington arrived. Martha was played by actress JoAnn Abbott ( Then President Washington arrived. George was played by actor James Manship (


Of course, I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to get some great photographs of period actors in the mansion so I made sure we had at least one photographer on site for the filming. I asked Bill Hutchins to come and take the photographs. You may remember our “Gone with the Wind” photo from our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. Bill was the one who took this photograph.

William Hutchins Gone with the Wind Belle Grove

During the filming, Brett and I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. The production crew would come to us every now and then to as if they could move something or help them find something to use. But for the most part, we stayed outside or in our room. I would peak out every now and then to snap a few candid shots for history sake.





After the filming was over, the actors packed up and headed home. The production crew left and to tell you the truth, we wouldn’t have even known that they were there. They put the mansion back in place and cleaned up. As they said their goodbyes, the director handed us a small gift to say thank you.


Thank you


The gift was a small kite from her hometown, Weifang. It is a small city in north east China. Handmade kites from Weifang are very famous in China. They hold an international kite festival every year in Weifang. It was a preious gift that Brett and I will treasure.

We would like to thank the students of American University for selecting us for filming. It was an honor to help you.

We would like to thank George Washington’s Young Friends for coming to our rescue! We appreciate you taking the time out of your Sunday to spend the day in costume at the last minute. We look forward to having you at the mansion more often!

We would like to thank James Manship and JoAnn Abbott for coming and playing George and Martha. Your performances were awe inspiring and truly show your love of history and respect for such great historical people. We would love to have you back at the plantation to meet and greet our visitors some day as well as help us with field trips during the school year.

We would like to give a special thank you to Bill Hutchins for coming and capturing the historic events with us! Your photographs are just perfect!

BW Family Riverview

Filming Shot

Gentleman in hall

Gentlemen by the door - BH - 2014

George and guests

George and Martha come to visit

George at the table

Goerge side at table

Ladies in the Parlor

Lady at the table

Lady reading

Martha and George in front

Martha in Library

Martha in Parlor

George and Martha at riverside

We look forward to being selected for many more films in the future. Maybe one day we might even be selected for a movie!

No autographs please…


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Filming | Comments Off on When America Met China

My Dear Sister

May. 13th 2014

My Dear Sister,

I am sorry that my letters have not been getting through these past years. While I have longed to talk to you, we have been restrained from sending our correspondence due to the war. But now that the fighting has ended, we are again at liberty to send them.

Much has changed since we last spoke. The war has taken much from us and I fear things will not be the same as it once was. It is hard for me to remember how we long thought we would escape this war as Mr. Turner and our son, George were neither of age to fight. Since the war, Mr. Turner seems to have aged so much. While he is just fifty-seven years old, he seems to have aged to much older through these last four years. One would think that it was 1885 instead of 1865 according to the lines on Mr. Turner’s face and the look of exhaustion.

Belle Grove Pan

Riverside of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

While other homes were not spared the invasion and destruction of either armies, our beloved Belle Grove Plantation still stands. But I don’t know if the loss of our home would not have been better than the terrible sight we witnessed as the Union army approached and took our home from us. We were only given a short time to collect what clothing and personal items we could and were forced to leave. How hard it was to gather my four, young daughters and son into the wagon we were allowed to take, never knowing if we would ever see Belle Grove Plantation or our fine things again. Taken from us were all of our livestock and slaves. One officer seeing the tears of our nine year old son, George, did allow him to take his small pony with him.  I think had it been a horse, George would not have been given such a gift.

john 2

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

john 3

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

We left Belle Grove Plantation to head to Chotank to be near our family. It was here that we stayed through the rest of the war. I have to say, dear sister that it was one of the most peaceful places we have been. We were away from the main fighting and were able to living without much fear.

It is my understanding that our home was also used as a headquarters during that time that the Union army held her. I must say, it is with thanks that they did use her as such for I am sure it would have been worse for Belle Grove. There is even a rumor that they used part of Belle Grove as a prison of war camp for a short time.

We have been able to return to Belle Grove Plantation, but it is not as it was before. Much of our fine personal items were stolen from our home. All the livestock have been taken or eaten. The slaves were taken from the plantation and used by the Union army or released. It seems such a different place than it was before. It is as if something had died, never to return again. Oh, will it ever be that grand place I once called home? I fear not. If it wasn’t for Mr. Turner, I think I would have rather stayed in Chotank.

Oh how I long for those days that seem so long ago. My memory of the beginning of the war, when our men were so sure. I did have the honor in meeting some of these great men just as the war started. General Robert E. Lee, whose old family home, Stratford Hall is yet but a day’s ride from Belle Grove Plantation, stopped by early to assure us that all would be far away from us and that we would not need to worry. He and General Stonewall Jackson, both made us feel that comfort we longed for. How sad was the news of General Jackson’s death early in the war.

Rich Johnson Lee 2

Rich Johnson - Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson Jackson - Lee

Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

RIch Johnson Lee

Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

Robert E Lee

Robert E Lee – Madge Haynes

 The 47th Virginia made a stop at Belle Grove as well. We offered them water and what food we had to give. Many soldiers walked up our lane throughout the time we were at Belle Grove Plantation, in need of water, food and a place to rest. It was our honor to be of what assistance we could.

Lee Jackson 47th

Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and 47th Virginia – Madge Haynes

Rich Johnson - 47th

47th Virginia – Gloria Sharp


47th Virginia – Mike L Cary

Rich Johnson - Soldier 2

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography – Gloria Sharp

Rich Johnson - Soldier

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier 2

General Bartow – Leslie

The one sight we soon learned to fear was that of the Union army gunboats. These steamboats were fitted for war and would sail up and down the river, firing their guns at whatever fancy they saw fit to shoot. Many of our plantation homes along the river have felt their guns and several home stand no more because of them. Once I received word that our family at Camden were fired upon. An officer from one of these gunboats arrived at their door asking if anyone was at home. Our dear cousin told him that she and her sick child along with their servants were the only ones at home. He reassured her that she was be safe and they would not harm her or her home. When the officer boarded his gunboat, the captain of that gunboat gave the command for them to fire upon the house. The officer that had spoken to our dear cousin protested telling the captain he had given his word that no harm would come to the home. The captain did not relent. As our dear cousin was laying her sick child down in her crib a shot broke through the nursery wall and nearly killed her. Had she not been laying over the crib, surely the shot would have struck her and killed her. They continued their barrage until our dear cousin’s tower on her beautiful home lay in ruins. Yet sad news still followed just a week later as our dear cousin’s child passed away in her arms.

Just as the war ended, we were yet pulled into another event that will forever be imprinted in my mind. In April, word traveled to us about the death of President Lincoln. Shortly after, we saw a sight that again brought fear to us as a group of Union soldiers once again rode up the lane at Belle Grove. We were informed that the assassin and his companion were in our mist and that the soldiers had been pursuing them for days. They required our front lawn to rest and eat before moving on the next day. One of these officers, Lt Col Conger, seemed in a very bad way. This officer had been wounded three times during the war and was having a hard time of this pursue. We allowed him to come into the front hall to rest and eat. My dear sister who would have ever guested that the famous actor, John Wilkes Booth would be the one to bring down our President! As I am sure you know, he did not survive Garrett’s Farm. I have heard that Lt Col Conger, the very one that slept in our hall, set Garrett’s barn on fire in hopes of smoking out the assassin. But before J Booth could exit, another soldier fired through the barn wall striking down J Booth forever.

Rich Johnson President Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson - Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier and lady of the house

Soldier and the Mistress of Belle Grove – Leslie

Today, I walk the bluff overlooking our river, hearing the sounds of the past years and longing for them to quit. I do not know if that will ever happen here or if it will ever be that grand place in my heart as it once was. But I pray and hope for it. Until then I continue to walk and watch for the end in my heart and head to finally come.

William Hutchins Gone with the Wind Belle Grove

Mistress of Belle Grove Plantation on the Riverside Bluff – William Hutchins

Your Loving Sister

Belle Grove Field

Fields of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

All the photographs were taken during our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. We would like to thank each of the photographers that gave of their time to capture our first Civil War event.

The re-enactors seen in the photographers all gave of their time for our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. They came short notice and helped us make the event such a great success. We wish to thank each of them for come and being a part of the event and hope to see them again next year. Next year, the event will be a weekend camp out and we hope to have several more units with us.

We would also like to thank all the volunteers who came and helped us. Without our volunteers, Belle Grove Plantation could not present our living history events as we do. You are so special to us!

The letter in this blog is a fiction letter written from the history we have uncovered over this past two years. It is told from the view of Susan Augusta Rose Turner, wife of Carolinus Turner and mistress of Belle Grove Plantation during the war. Susan did in fact have family in Chotank as well as the Pratt/Turner family at Camden. After the death of Carolinus Turner in 1876, she did not remain at Belle Grove Plantation. The plantation was willed to their four daughters and she moved back to Chotank. Whether it was for her own comfort or for whatever other reason, we do not know. It is a fiction thought that she might have wanted to leave after the events of the war at Belle Grove Plantation.

We also do not know if General Robert E. Lee or General Stonewall Jackson ever came to Belle Grove Plantation. It was added to the letter so we could show the photographs of our re-enactors. We do know that the Turner Family was forced from the home and their home, belongings and livestock were taken. It was through family information that we found that George was allowed to take his horse. We assume that it was a pony because a true horse would have more than likely been kept. We also believe that Belle Grove was held as a headquarters for the Union Army. One reason was that the house has never had any bullets holes, shots or cannon ball scaring. Another reason is we have found Union “drop bullets” at the base of one of the outside staircases and at the white entry fence. One last clue was in the pardon letter from Carolinus Turner to President Johnson. In this letter, Carolinus speaks of knowing General Burnside. While we still haven’t confirmed the thought that is was a headquarters or even a POW camp, we believe that the clues do lean that way.

We would like to say that they letter is written from the view of someone that lived through and lived after the Civil War. The reference to the actions of either Union or Confederate armies or the reference to slaves does not reflect our belief and is used only to show what Susan’s feelings may have been. Again, this is a written fiction letter and not intended to be taken as fact.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 4 Comments »

Hello Mr. President

Nov. 11th 2013

Today we had another first!


Our first tour bus!

This tour was from the “In the Footsteps of John Wilkes Booth” Tour. They start at Ford’s Theater and trace the places that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold took. Their last stop is the site of Garrett’s Farm on Route 301. Today, we were the last stop!

So how does Belle Grove Plantation fit in? Well, Booth and Harold didn’t stop at Belle Grove Plantation, but they did take the Port Conway ferry crossing to Port Royal. Just a day or so later, the detachment pursuing them, stopped at Belle Grove Plantation. Here they ate and slept until it was time to cross the river.


One of the officers, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger, who had been wounded three times during the Civil War, was allowed to sleep in Belle Grove Plantation’s Grand Hallway. One of the wounds that Lt.Col. Conger had received had been so severe that they had given him up for died. It was during this time that he was cared for by Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. After leaving the plantation and finding Booth and Harold at Garrett’s farm, Lt. Col. Congar pulled up brush from around the barn, lite it on fire and stuffed it into the barn setting it on fire.


Today’s group of forty-three were from Michigan. Their tour guide was Michael W. Kauffman, author of “American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth”, a modern edition of Samuel B. Arnold’s Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator, and the book and CD – “In the Footsteps of an Assassin”.

As historian William C. Davis once wrote, “no one has studied [John Wilkes] Booth longer or more in depth than Michael W. Kauffman, a well-known figure and voice of reason in the field of Lincoln assassination studies.”

For thirty-five years, Kauffman has been a fixture at assassination-related symposia, tours, and news events. He has written numerous articles on the subject, and his bus tours of the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route have been a staple of feature publications all over the U.S., making Kauffman “legendary,” according to The Washington Post. Taking a full-immersion approach to history, he has rowed across the Potomac where Booth rowed, leaped to the stage in Ford’s Theatre, and burned down a tobacco barn almost identical to the one in which Booth was cornered and killed. (It was already slated for demolition!) For a time he even took up residence in Tudor Hall, the Booth family home in Maryland.
Kauffman has written for Civil War Times, the Washington Post, American Heritage, Blue and Gray, and the Lincoln Herald, among others. He has lectured throughout the United States, and has appeared in more than twenty television and radio documentaries, including programs on A& E, The Learning Channel, the History Channel, National Geographic Channel, and the Discovery Channel.

One of the highlights of the day was the appearance of “President  Lincoln”. Ron Carley, a Professional Lincoln Impersonator from Detroit surprised us today with his wonderful performance as “President Lincoln”. It was amazing! He is the same height as President Lincoln standing at a towering 6 feet and 4 inches tall! With his hat and hand at his jacket, you could have swore he was in fact President Lincoln!






He even had his photograph taken on one of our “Lincoln Movie” Settees! It just make this settee even more special!


Just as we were finishing up with the “John Wilkes Booth” Tour, we had two couples from Port Tobacco, Maryland come in for a tour of Belle Grove Plantation. Little did they know who they were bumping into as they came into the door!

All and all it was a wonderful day with many great surprises. This is just the first in many more “John Wilkes Booth” Tours we will be a part of in the years to come. I guess you can now say we have had TWO “Presidents” grace our halls at the plantation!

Thank you to all the wonderful tourist we met today! We had a wonderful time getting to know you and sharing our love of Belle Grove Plantation! Thank you to Liz and Michael for including us in such a wonderful tour!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 6 Comments »

Happy President’s Day!

Feb. 18th 2013


You know I just couldn’t let this day pass without a little history! So I have pulled together ten little known facts about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.


George Washington

1.            Most of us know that George Washington had false teeth. But, contrary to legend, his dentures were not made of wood—they  were made out of a combination of carved animal bone and human teeth that he bought out of the mouths of his enslaved workers. (The records of these purchases still exist.) The fact is appalling to us today, but remember that, as a slave owner, Washington would not be required—or necessarily expected—to pay a slave for a tooth at all!


2.            Washington’s favorite breakfast was hoecakes—simple pancakes made with cornmeal—served with butter and honey. Usually fried in butter in a stove-top pan, hoecakes can also be cooked over a fire on the flat back of a hoe, hence their unusual name.


3.            His friends called him “General”—even his wife, Martha (at least in public). We don’t know what she called him privately, though, because she burned their letters after her beloved husband died.

4.            Washington was one of the most successful liquor distributors in the new nation. He built a state-of-the-art distillery at Mt. Vernon, where he made rye whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy. The distillery has been restored in recent years, and is now open to visitors.

5.            The story of how George Washington, cut down a cherry tree with his new axe, is well known. The incident never happened. It was a story concocted by Washington’s biographer, Parson Mason Weems, years after his death.


6.            As a young man, Washington was confronted by death many times. He suffered and survived dreadful diseases like malaria, smallpox, pleurisy and dysentery. He nearly drowned when he accidentally fell of the raft into the icy river while returning from an expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf. In 1775, bullets grazed his coat, but he was unhurt.

7.            During the election campaign, there was a bitter war of words. A man called Payne felt that Washington had crossed the line by insulting him. He decided to settle the matter with the help of a hickory stick. The following day, Washington set up an interview with Payne. Payne expected that Washington would seek revenge. However, Washington apologized for insulting him and shook his hand.

8.            As the general of the Continental army, Washington was willing to forfeit his salary. He only wanted to be compensated for his expenses. Not only did this win more admirers, but also made sound economic sense. His salary was a meager $500 a month while his total war expenses for eight years added to $447,220!

9.            Washington did not attend college, the only American President not to do so.

10.          His inaugural speech is the shortest in American History. It was only133 words long.



Abraham Lincoln

1.            Lincoln under-utilized his pockets. Lincoln’s stovepipe top hat served as more than fashionable headwear. He used it to store and carry notes, letters, even bills. Why do they call it a stovepipe hat? Well, the rise is so tall and straight up and down with no flair that it resembles a length of pipe. They’re hard to come by nowadays, the traditional top hat being much more current, but still pretty “retro”. Best you go to a custom haberdashery to get one made just for you.


2.          Lincoln was really tall. That stovepipe hat just made a tall guy a whole lot taller. Lincoln was 6’4”, making him our country’s tallest president. That of course begs the question, who was our shortest president? 4th president James Madison stood a stately 5’4”, making him an entire foot shorter than Honest Abe – even without his hat!


3.           Lincoln has no living heirs. Despite the fact that the marriage between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln yielded 4 sons, there are no living heirs. Three of the four sons died before their 20th birthdays: Edward died at 4 years of age, Willie at 12 years, at Tad at 18. Robert was the only child who lived into adulthood and his last descendent, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in the 1985 in Saluda, Virginia. (One note – Saluda is just one hour from Belle Grove Plantation!)

Robert Lincoln

Robert Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

4.           Lincoln’s son Robert was a death-magnet. Speaking of Robert, he was sort of a magnet for tragedy. More specifically, presidential assassination tragedy. While he was not present when his dad was killed, he was an eyewitness to Garfield’s assassination, and at the same World’s Fair where McKinley was assassinated. Another interesting fact about Robert, he was saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth, the brother of his father’s killer, John Wilkes Booth.

Edwin Booth

Edwin Booth

5.           Lincoln Liked to Tinker. Lincoln really liked machines and gadgets. He liked to take them apart to see how they worked and try to put them together again. He even tried his hand at inventing, and in 1849 had a patent issued for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals”. The machine never made it, but the patent was a new thing for a president, and no president has held a patent since.



6.           Lincoln & Kennedy. You didn’t think we’d leave it out, did you? There are some pretty bizarre coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Here are a couple:


  • Both were shot in the head with one bullet on a Friday.
  • Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, Kennedy in 1946.
  • Lincoln’s successor (named Johnson) was born in 1808. Kennedy’s successor (also named
  • Johnson) was born in 1908.
  • Lincoln’s assassin (who went by three names: John Wilkes Booth) was born in 1839.
  • Kenney’s assassin (who also went by three names: Lee Harvey Oswald) was born in 1939.

7.           Lincoln was kind of psychic. In the weeks before his death, Lincoln was extremely melancholy. He had seen portents of his own death, and had been dreaming of death as well. On one occasion looked in the mirror and saw a double reflection, one image much paler and blurrier than the other. He told his wife that he thought it meant that he had survived his first term, but wouldn’t survive his second. The week prior to his death, Lincoln had a dream of hearing crying in a distant room of the White House. He sought out the room and found that it had a coffin in it. He asked the weeping person who had died and the person responded that it was the President. In his dream, Lincoln looked into the coffin and saw himself.


8.           Lincoln dabbled in the occult. Not only did he get premonitions, he also believed in the occult. Well, if he didn’t believe then he was at least willing to go along with it. Because he and Mary had lost little Edward and Willie at such young ages, they actually held séances in the White House trying to contact their dearly departed. Mrs. Lincoln also attended séances at the homes of famous mediums of the day. Whether or not they made contact is unknown.

9.           Lincoln was spiritual, not religious. Despite the last two facts, Lincoln said he was still a Christian. He didn’t, however, feel it necessary to subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity. Though many different sects try to claim him, Lincoln was 100% non-denominational. He never joined a church, didn’t say grace before meals, and spoke on a more spiritual level, rather than religious. He did read the Bible quite often, and did have highly developed spiritual governance. When asked if he thought the Lord was on the side of the North in the Civil War, Lincoln responded, “I am not at all concerned about that…But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

10.          Lincoln had a way with words. Not only was Lincoln spiritual and intelligent, he was also a heck of a speech writer. He wrote his own speeches, and it is said that his famous Gettysburg Address wasn’t even the best one! Rumor has it that the speech Lincoln made to the Illinois Republican Convention on May 29, 1856 was his best, but it was either so enthralling that nobody remembered to take notes, or it was so controversial that nobody was allowed to print them. Either way, no record of it exists.

Lincoln Gettysburg

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | 55 Comments »

Sushi and Lincoln

Dec. 4th 2012


With Brett being gone for the week, I have been left to my own devices. Generally when he has to go for a business trip, I run for my favorite comfort food, sushi. I know that doesn’t sound like the typical comfort food, but for me it is. Brett doesn’t really like sushi so I don’t eat it a lot with him. So I guess you can say it’s my chance to have it.


My favorite sushi restaurant is a little place here in Chesapeake called “Kyoto’s Japanese Steak House”. My daughter and I have been eating there for years. She was the first to be so adventurous as to try sushi and in turn got me hooked on it. However, I have to say I am really picky when it comes to which one. I tend to stick to one roll and that is all. It’s called a green spiral roll. The center is made of crab, Japanese mayonnaise, tempura flakes, fish eggs and another sauce for spice. The center is kind of like a crab salad. It is wrapped in a thin layer of raw tuna and cut into individual pieces.

On Saturday, my daughter, who is generally my sushi partner wasn’t available so I invited my father. My parents divorced when I was young, so during the past month, I kind of felt like I was ignoring him during my mother’s illness and death. He understood. He is also my backup partner for sushi. The only difference is he will only do the grill (hibachi). But that is good with me too. When we arrived we were first to be seated at the table. Shortly after, we were joined by another party with three ladies and four gentlemen.

This is one of the things I love about the hibachi grill, the chance to meet new people. If you haven’t figured this out about me, I am not really shy. I love talking to people and this gives me a chance to do so. As soon as the parties had ordered their drinks, I started listening to their conversation. It didn’t take long to hear something that caught my ear. One of them was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, just as I had been. When I asked where he was stationed, he told me that he was from Camp Lejune, North Carolina, but was here visiting with another of the gentlemen who is from the area. He also told me that he had just returned from Afghanistan. I also have a nephew who just returned from Afghanistan and is also at Camp Lejune. He is a Naval Corpsman, just like my husband was. When I told the Lance Corporal that my nephew was also home, I asked if he might know him. What a surprise, he did! They didn’t know each other very well, but he had met him after a rollover accident and had remembered him. What small world!

BTCS J.D. Gardner from Illinois, LCpl Cory Sackett from Virginia and LCpl Fabrizis Fasano from Florida

BTCS J.D. Gardner from Illinois, LCpl Cory Sackett from Virginia and LCpl Fabrizis Fasano from Florida

One of the other gentlemen seated next to me was also in the military. He is a Senior Chief in the Navy. I had informed the group that I too had been in the military as well as my husband. As we compared duty stations, I found that the Senior Chief and I shared a common experience during the first bombing of Libya. During 1986, I was a radio operator in the Marine Corps. During this operation, I worked the radio shot from the General’s conference room. That morning I had sent a message to a ship stationed in the Atlantic. That ship related the message to England. Of course, I had no idea what the message said as all messages are encrypted. But I knew it had to be something big. When I arrived home later that day, a news alert came on television that we had bombed Libya. I looked at my then fiancé and said, “That is what I did today!”

The Senior Chief then surprised my father and me. He paid for our meals! We tried to explain that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. I just couldn’t say no. He outranked me! But the meal was wonderful and we had a great time sharing our military experiences. It really started my evening with a bang!

After the meal, my father and I head to the movies in Virginia Beach. I have wanted to see Lincoln since I saw the first trailer. If you follow our blog, you know what a huge history buff I am. We arrived early so we decided to get some dessert at Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant there by the theater. Dad has this love of red velvet cake, so he ordered a red velvet cupcake. I had to have one of the pumpkin cheesecakes. They were so good!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

We headed into the movie early so I could get my favorite spot, top section, front row, and center. It has a railing there that I like to place my feet up on so I can give my legs a rest during long movies.  After what seemed like hours getting through the previews, the movie finally came on. I had joked with my father that I knew the movie was about three hours, but what I didn’t know was that the first two and half were previews!

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

We settled back to enjoy the film. I found it just fascinating. To see Daniel Day-Lewis bring life to this iconic figure of Abraham Lincoln was just mind blowing. I have heard criticism of his Southern accent and I do have to say I heard a bit of English accent every now and then, but it didn’t take away from what I would say was a very good midwestern accent. I loved that they showed that Lincoln had a good sense of humor too. But it was his apparent love of his youngest child Tad and oldest Robert that showed him as a real person. As a parent with a son who wants to join the military, I can understand Mary and Abraham’s plea to keep Robert save.

Lincoln with his son Tad from the movie Lincoln

Lincoln with his son Tad from the movie Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln

Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln

Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln

Sally Fields was just a wonderful as she is always. And they could not have picked a better likeness for Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War under Lincoln. Bill McGill was a dead ringer for his likeness! Tommy Lee Jones was also wonderful as Thaddeus Stevens.

Bill McGill as Edwin Stanton

Bill McGill as Edwin Stanton

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

Do I think this movie has Oscar written all over it? I am sure that many nominations will come from this movie. But I am not so sure that we will see a clean sweep. Daniel Day-Lewis I think is a shoe in. But the others will be a little harder to get.

Do I love the movie? From a history buff, yes I loved the movie. But I think it will be lost to most that are not. Going into the movie, I expected more of the Civil War and other events of his last months. I felt they were glossed over. This movie was more about the political side of Lincoln and his fight to get the 13th amendment passed. Don’t get me wrong, I think that was a really important part of his time as president. But you missed that he was not only trying to get the amendment passed while so much more was going on in his life.

A couple more points I was also disappointed at were that fact that they brought into the early part of the film that he had prophetic dreams. But at the end, they left out the most important dream he had that was documented. He had reoccurring nightmares of his own death days before he died. The extraordinary details are recorded in “Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1885″ (Ward Hill Lamon, 1911):

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?

I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered.

There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers ‘The President’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin!’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.”

Another point was that they glossed over the assassination. It was as if it were an afterthought. It seemed like they came to a point where they were over time and just dropped it in there. If you didn’t know much about the assassination, you would have missed it all together until it was on you.

While I did love seeing Abraham Lincoln come to life, I didn’t leave the movie with as much excitement as I had when I came in. I plan to take Brett to see it once he comes home so maybe it will have a better result in a second viewing.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 54 Comments »

Pardon Me

Sep. 29th 2012

As I started working on this post, it was just to be the last of the history I had of the Turner Family before we moved on to the 1900s. Little did I know that it would end up being so much more for us.

During my initial research, I had found a number of documents at the Library of Virginia on Belle Grove and the families that called it home. One of those documents was a copy of a Presidential Pardon from President Andrew Johnson to Carolinus Turner for his connection to the rebellious uprising of the South. I would later find out that the original copy is stored in the archives of the King George Library. Currently the King George Library is undergoing some remodeling so I have not been able to visit and view any of their archives.

Copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon
Library of Virginia
Their copy was dark so my copy is not as clear

One thing that has eluded me has been what connection Carolinus Turner and his family had with the Confederate Forces and what happened to Belle Grove and his family during the Civil War. I have known that most of the area of King George County and Port Royal were primarily Confederate. When I was at the King George Historic Museum, I had come across a document from the Confederate Memorial Association of King George County Virginia with a list of members that included Carolinus Turner. But with this evidence, a couple of things left me truly puzzled.

Confederate Memorial Association
Carolinus Turner’s name is listed
King George History Museum

First, Carolinus would have been in his early fifties when the Civil War started. He also had a very young family. All of his children, including his only son were under 15 years old. At this age, would he have been able to serve as a soldier? Also, during the restoration of Belle Grove from 1997 to 2003, no evidence was found that would indicate that the house had ever been shot at during the war. This was really hard to believe considering that all the plantation homes along the Rappahannock River had either been damaged or destroyed by shots fired from Union gunboats. Why wasn’t Belle Grove scarred by this war?

Here is a little bit of background information on these Presidential pardons that occurred during and after the Civil War. I discovered a wonderful essay by Dr. William Long that best explains the pardons. With his permission, I will be sharing some of that essay with you. You can find the whole essay on his website at

During and after the Civil War, Federal officials recognized the need for new laws to deal with the rebellious acts by most of the Southern population. There were two acts passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862 that fixed penalties for the lesser crimes of “conspiracy” and “rebellion”. The second act also provided for future pardons and amnesty to those who participated in the rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln

The first amnesty proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on December 8, 1863. It extended pardons to persons taking an oath to support the Constitution and the Union and to abide by all Federal laws and proclamations in reference to slavery made during the war.

“During the Civil War many statutes were passed which allowed punishment and confiscation of land of people who fought against the Federal government on the side of the Confederacy. The most important law to this effect was the Second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862. It assessed penalties for treason (not less than five years in prison or $10,000 fine, with the maximum penalty being death) and for insurrection against the US (not exceeding $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail), as well as the liberation of his slaves and the confiscation of his property. But, significantly, the Congress also approved Sec. 13 of the bill, which provided as follows:

“That the President is hereby authorized, at any time hereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such time and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.”

This, then, provides the legal framework and basis for Presidential pardon in the Civil War Era.”

“Just as Abraham Lincoln waited until a propitious time (the Union victory at Antietam in Sept. 1862) to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, so he waited until he felt the tide was largely turned in the war to issue his first amnesty/pardon proclamation. In addition, this amnesty proclamation was coupled with a plan for reconstruction. Thus, amnesty and reconstruction would always go hand in hand in Lincoln’s mind. The first proclamation was made on December 8, 1863. In order to get people to resume their allegiance to the United States, Lincoln proclaimed:

“I Abraham proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath and thence-forward keep and maintain such oath inviolate…” (Quoted in Dorris, Pardon and Amnesty under Lincoln and Johnson, 34).

Before getting to the actual words of the oath, a few points should be made. Note that the person who is seeking pardon will not have slaves (an example of property) restored to them. Other legislative acts said that no compensation for loss of slaves would accrue to former slaveholders. The meaning of “rights of third parties” in property issues simply means that where title has passed legitimately to other parties–bona fide purchasers– the person applying for pardon didn’t receive back that land.

Then there is the oath. It is quite wordy, but let’s hear it:

“I ______________ do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and Union of the States thereunder; and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far not repealed, modified, or held void by Congress or by decision of the Supreme Court…(another similar phrase followed regarding “proclamations of the President”)…So help me God!”

From an Essay by Dr. William Long

Robert E. Lee

One interesting note on Confederate Presidential Pardons is the Pardon for Robert E. Lee. Lee applied for a Presidential Pardon under President Andrew Johnson, however it was never approved. The reason was that the Oath of Allegiance was said to be missing from his application. After Lee’s death, his oath of allegiance was found, misfiled (possibly by someone who didn’t want to see him pardoned). Lee was indicted for treason in June, 1865, but it was never acted on. Lee’s citizenship was restored by Congressional resolution and a pardon was granted posthumously effective 13 June 1975 by Gerald R. Ford.

Andrew Johnson

As I said before, I had come across a copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon. When I started working on this post, I pulled up information on Civil War Presidential Pardons. When I did, came across a new resource for military records. There I found something I never thought I would see; Carolinus Turner’s handwritten application for Amnesty for his part in the rebellious uprising! I couldn’t believe it! This letter gave me insight into his part in the war and possibly Belle Grove’s part in the war!

Carolinus Turner’s Handwritten Application Letter
page 2

Here is what the letter says:

Port Conway, King George Co. VA

July 20, 1865

His Excellency Andrew Johnson

President of the United States


I have the honor to make application for pardon and protection of property under your Amnesty Proclamation of May 29th 1865.

Neither I nor any member of my family have taken part in the rebellion or sympathized with its abettors. I represent property the taxable value of which may be estimated at more than twenty thousand (20,000) dollars. I am fifty two (52) years of age and with my wife and children (four (4) girls and one (1) boy under twelve (12) years of age have remained throughout the entire war quietly at my  home which for a great part of the time has been within the lines of the United States Army.

During this period I made the acquaintance of many officers of the United States Services some of whom I beg leave to refer your Excellency (via?) Gen G Burnside, U.S. Army Gen Abercrombie and Acting Master G.C. Shulze U.S. Navy who has been in command of this Station for the last year and a half. I would also beg to refer you to Captain William Jameson U.S. Navy an uncle of my wife.

Hoping that this may meet with your favorable consideration.

I am Sir

With Great Respect

Your Obedient Servant

Carolinus Turner

In this record, there is also a handwritten Oath of Allegiance by Carolinus Turner and a copy of the witness by the Provost Marshall’s Office in Tappahannock, Virginia. One last sheet of paper shows that Carolinus Turner was recommended for pardon.

From this I am guessing that Carolinus was in fact too old to serve in the military and that he and his young family did remain at Belle Grove throughout the war. This also shows that the Union Forces were in fact in Port Conway through most of the war. This would lead me to believe that Belle Grove may have served as a headquarters, which was one of our theories!

It also tells us that General Burnside and General Abercrombie visited the plantation where Carolinus and his family lived. Wow to know that well known Generals of the Civil War walked here! But here is a funny twist. While Generals of the Union Army were spending their time at Belle Grove, Confederate Generals such as General J.E.B. Stewart were being hosted by the granddaughters of the man who built Belle Grove for his daughter, at his home, Rose Hill Plantation (also known as Gaymont during the Civil War). Rose Hill Plantation sits high on a hill across the Rappahannock River, with a clear view of Belle Grove. We think that he placed his plantation on the hill so he could look after his daughter and her plantation (Belle Grove).

General Ambrose Burnside

General John Abercrombie

The discovery of Mr. Turner’s letter may help us find out whose the name is etched in the window is under Carrie Turner’s name! If Belle Grove was used as a headquarters for the Union Army, maybe W. Vanderburgh was a young Union soldier that she met while he was there! I think we might need to get History Detectives involved on this one!

Etching in the Window
Carrie Turner
W Van der burgh
May 18 1869

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 36 Comments »

Eyewitness to History

Sep. 5th 2012

At the end of the Civil War, Belle Grove once again was involved in another important piece of American history. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1965. Most consider this the end of the Civil War even though there were still Confederate forces in the field until June 23, 1865 when the last major fighting occurred. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. This event set off one of the most famous chases in history.

John Wilkes Booth

David Harold

John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirator, David Harold spent 12 days on the run traveling through Maryland and Virginia. On April 24th, ten days after the assassination, Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty, leader of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment received orders to assemble a detachment of twenty-five men and report to Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, Agent of the Department of War who was accompanied by two detectives for the intelligence service; Luther Baker, cousin of Colonel Baker and Everton J. Conger. Everton Conger had been a Lieutenant Colonel for the Union and had suffered three severe wounds during combat. He had been assigned to detached duty in Washington D.C. joining Colonel Baker’s intelligence service. This intelligence service would later become the Secret Service we know today.

Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty

Colonel Lafayette C. Baker

Everton J. Conger

In my research of this pursuit, I have read many accounts of what happened. But just recently I have come across an account that has not received much attention. This account is from a Private who was involved in the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth. In reading his account, he has given me a much better view of the timeline that this detachment spent at Belle Grove. The account I am sharing with you comes from the Portland Journal newspaper by reporter Fred Lockley in three separate installments in early February, 1937. This Private was named John W. Millington. Private Millington was born at Chestertown, N.Y., and enlisted in Company E, 93rd New York volunteer infantry, on December 3, 1861, when he was 18 years old.

Private John W. Millington


“On the morning of April 15, 1865, I was on guard, when news came that President Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s theatre.” wrote Millington. “We were ordered to form part of a cordon to prevent the assassin from escaping. Our company was deployed through the brush. It was a chilly day and a cold rain was falling. A few days later we were ordered to Washington, where we served as an escort at Lincoln’s funeral. We were held in Washington, quartered in the J street barracks. On April 24 I returned from a patrol and put my horse into the stable, leaving him saddled, and fed him and went to the barracks to get something to eat. Before I had finished eating, “boots and saddles” was sounded and there was a rush to the stables. We were ordered to fall in as fast as we led out, disregarding company formation. As my horse was already saddled, I slipped on his bridle, led him out of the stable and mounted. I was next on the left of the sergeant. We were ordered to count off in fours. We went to Pennsylvania Avenue and out 14th street about opposite the old Willard hotel. We halted just in front of the office of Colonel Baker, chief of government detectives and scouts. Our lieutenant, Dougherty, reported, and in a few moments he and two detectives, Lieutenants Conger and Barker, came out and mounted, and the order to march was given. We rode to the wharf of the navy yard, on the east branch of the Potomac, or the Anacostia River, where we took the steamer John S. Ide and started down the Potomac.

Navy Yard Bridge

Lieutenant Dougherty showed us a photograph of Booth and told us he had crossed the Potomac near Port Tobacco.” “We arrived at Acquia Creek and went ashore about 10 o’clock that night. We started scouting through the country, searching all houses and buildings, routing out the inmates and making a thorough search. Next morning early we met some men who had been fishing. They said that a closed hack had passed a few days before, with two men in it. A Confederate captain was in charge, who warned them not to come near. They thought one of the men in the carriage resembled the photograph that we showed them of Booth. We were then on the road to the Rappahannock, toward Port Conway, where we arrived about 2 0’clock. We had not eaten since leaving Washington, so we were told to fall out and rustle some rations. When I returned, with four comrades, we saw some of our company crossing the river in a scow about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide.

Port Conway Ferry House and Post Office (1925)

This ferryboat could hold 10 men with horses, at a trip. In our turn we crossed the river. Mr. Rowlen, owner of the ferry, said he had ferried a carriage a few days previously, and that Captain Jett, formerly of Mosby’s command, was in charge. He believed we would be apt to find him near Bowling Green, about 15 miles from Port Royal, and he volunteered to guide us. Our command was across the river by 4pm and we started. We had traveled about three miles and were approaching the Garrett farm, when we met a man on horseback, who turned and fled. Some of our men pursued, but he escaped in the young pines and as it was nearly dusk he escaped. We arrived at Bowling Green at 11 o’clock that night. We left our horses, with every fourth man counted out to hold the horses. We surrounded the hotel, where we captured Captain Jett. At first he refused to tell us where he had left the two men, but after some forcible persuasion he agreed to show us. He said he didn’t know who they were, except that they were Confederate soldiers who had got into trouble in Maryland and wanted to hide out until the trouble had blown over.”

William Storke Jett


“The ferryman at the Rappahannock told us that Captain Jett of Mosby’s command had crossed with two men in a closed carriage a few days before. Our company arrived at Bowling Green about 11 o’clock that night. We surrounded the hotel and captured Jett, who, after forcible persuasion, agreed to guide us to where the two men were. He said they were Confederate soldiers hiding out on account of some trouble they had got into. He led us back on the road by which we had come, to within about three miles of Port Royal. He pointed out a house some distance from the road.

Garrett’s Farm

We opened the gate carefully and, after surrounding the house, knocked at the door. Garrett came to the door. Asked where the two men were, he said “I know nothing about any men being here.” Our officer said to a trooper, “Untie your picket rope. We’ll hang the old man and see if it will refresh his memory.” “A young man ran from the direction of an outbuilding and asked, “What do you men want?” Our officer said, “We want the two men who are stopping here and at once.” He said, “They’re in the barn.” Part of our company was detailed to surround the barn and part to surround the house. I was with the party sent to the barn. Our lieutenant, who heard some whispering in the barn, called, “Come out at once.” One of the men inside the barn asked, “Who are you?” Our officer said, “It doesn’t make any difference who we are, but we know who you are. You had better come out at once.” “The man in the barn who had done the talking was the man we were after – Booth. He refused to come out. He said, “If you will withdraw your men 30 rods, I will come out and we’ll shoot it out.” We could hear Booth accusing the man who was with him, David E. Harold, of being a coward. Harold was willing to surrender and Booth said, “You’re a coward to desert me.”

David Harold Captured

Finally, Booth called out and said, “Harold will surrender, but I will not.” Our captain said, “Tell Harold to pass out his arms and come out.” Booth said, “Harold has no arms. They belong to me.” “Our officer told Harold to come to the door. He came and as he opened the door Lieutenant Dougherty grabbed him and pulled him out. With a picket rope he tied him to a locust tree, called me and told me to guard him. I said to Harold, “Who was in the barn with you? Was it Booth?” He said, “Yes, Booth is in the barn.” and he added, “Booth told me, when he asked me to help him, that he was going to kidnap Lincoln: he didn’t tell me he was going to kill him.” I said, “When you learned that Booth had killed Lincoln, why did you help him to escape?” Harold said, “Booth threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him get away. Booth came out of the rear of the theatre immediately after shooting Lincoln and we went to Dr. Mudd’s home. After Dr. Mudd had set Booth’s leg we went to Port Tobacco and hid that day. That night we got a fisherman to take us over the river into Virginia. It was so rough that the fisherman said it was unsafe, but Booth told him we had to cross at once and he would kill him if he didn’t take us.” “Once more the officer summoned Booth to surrender. Booth responded, “I’ll fight you single handed, but I’ll never surrender.” Detective Conger went to the opposite side of the barn and lit some loose straw under the sill. I heard a shot and a moment later saw the door was open. Booth had been shot through the neck. They brought him out, carried him to the Garrett house and put him on the porch.

John Wilkes Booth dies on Garrett’s front porch

A soldier was sent to Port Royal for a doctor, who arrived about daylight. Meanwhile, the barn had burned down and some of the men were hunting in the ruins for relics. They found two revolvers and one of our boys got Booth’s carbine. The revolvers were spoiled by the fire. Booth lived about three hours. He was wrapped in a government blanket, his body was placed in a old wagon and a Negro drove the rig to Acquia Creek, which we reached at dusk.”

John Wilkes Booth’s body on the Monitor


“Booth’s body, wrapped in a government blanket, was placed in a wagon, which was driven by a Negro,” Millington wrote. “When Booth was carried from the barn to the porch he was unconscious, but presently came to, and when a doctor who had been called tried to give him some medicine, he shook his head and said it was useless. Booth then added, “Tell my mother that what I did I did for the good of the country.” “The two Garrett boys had returned home shortly before we got there. They had been with Mosby’s command. One of them had a young wife and there was a tearful scene when our officer told the boys they would have to go to Washington with us. Captain Jett was allowed to escape. I understood at the time that if he guided us to Booth and Harold he would not be held.” “When we arrived at Acquia Creek we went aboard a vessel. I was ordered to stay in the cabin and guard Harold. Another trooper was stationed outside the door. Harold was soon sound asleep on the floor. When I was relieved, I was cold, as I had no overcoat, so I went below and lay down near the boiler and slept until we arrived near one of the monitors at Washington. After we were made fast, the lieutenant ordered me to help carry Booth’s body aboard the monitor. We laid his body on the deck. I was tired and hungry and much more interested in getting to barracks for a good meal and a good sleep than knowing what was to become of Harold and Booth’s body. I stabled my horse and went at once to my bunk. When I awoke, about 10 o’clock, the papers had long articles about the killing of Booth and the capture of Harold.”

In the account, Private Millington wrote “We were then on the road to the Rappahannock, toward Port Conway, where we arrived about 2 0’clock. We had not eaten since leaving Washington, so we were told to fall out and rustle some rations.” This statement confirms the information I had uncovered that the detachment had made a stop at Belle Grove. In my information, the detachment had split up in King George to form to search parties. It was at Port Conway and Belle Grove that they met back up. My information stated that half of the detachment had gone to another plantation (most likely Walsingham Plantation) and the other half had come to Belle Grove. Everton Conger was with the detachment at Belle Grove. Due to his severe wounds that he had received during the Civil War, traveling on horseback had taken a toll on Lieutenant Conger. He was allowed to sleep in the main hallway at Belle Grove.

Site of Garrett’s Farm
No house or farm remains, just woods

It wasn’t until I read this account that I knew for sure the amount of time they spent here. From the account, it looks as if they were in Port Conway for about 2 hours. More than likely Everton Conger was one of the last to leave Port Conway, allowing him time to rest.

View of where Port Conway Ferry should have been

The ferry that Private Millington spoke about is the ferry located at Port Conway. I am still doing research on the ferry owner, Rowlen. I am not sure if that is the correct spelling or not yet. But I do know that where the ferry was at Port Conway is now a wooded area about 100 yards up river from the present day James Madison Bridge. Thanks to Carolinus Turner, that location is now part of Belle Grove Plantation.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 16 Comments »