Berkeley Plantation

Feb. 15th 2013
Berkeley Plantation

Berkeley Plantation

In the Southeast Virginia, just outside of Williamsburg, there are several historic plantations along the James River. One of these plantations is Berkeley Plantation, home to two Presidents of the United States, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison. Originally called Berkeley Hundred this plantation was named after the Berkeley Company of England. This plantation is believed to be the oldest three-story brick mansion in Virginia. This plantation was also the location for many of American “firsts”.


In December, 1619, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred on the north back of the James River in an area that was then known as Charles Cittie. Berkeley Hundred was about 8,000 acres and is about twenty miles upstream from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in Colonial Virginia in May, 1607.

James River at the Shore of Berkeley

James River at the Shore of Berkeley

It was at this time, the one of the “firsts” occurred. In the group’s charter that was a requirement that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On December 4, 1619 the first service of thanksgiving was held. This was the also the first written annual Thanksgiving. Captain John Woodleaf held the first service.

Thanksgiving Painting 2

Another first for Berkeley came in 1621. Reverend George Thorpe, an Episcopal priest brewed some beer from the native corn and declared that it was “much better than British ale.” He then ran some through his still and made the first corn whiskey. This whiskey would have been a forerunner of moonshine and bourbon. During this time, Reverend Thorpe was instructed to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and to establish a college for their education. The Native Americans rejected this and during the Indian Massacre in 1622, Reverend Thorpe was singled out. Reverend Thorpe was found in bits and pieces scattered all over the compound.

One of the many dangers that colonist faced was attacks by Native Americans. During the Indian Massacre in 1622, about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony was killed, which included nine from Berkeley Hundred. The remaining population would abandon outlying locations and would withdraw to Jamestown and other more secure points.

After several years, Berkeley Hundred would become Berkeley Plantation the home of one of the First Families of Virginia, the Harrison Family.

In 1700, Benjamin Harrison IV was born in a small house on the plantation. He would grow up all his life on this plantation. After attending the College of William and Mary, he would become the first of the Harrison family to become a college graduate. He settled on his family’s plantation and would marry Anne Carter in 1722 thus uniting to strong Virginia Families. Route 3 or Kings Highway in Virginia is named for Anne’s father, Robert “King” Carter.

Benjamin Harrison IV

Benjamin Harrison IV

Benjamin Harrison would build his Georgian-style three-story mansion from bricks that were fired on the Berkeley plantation in 1726. Over the side door, you can see a datestone that Benjamin had placed. It is his and his wife’s initials and the date the home was built. The handsome Adam woodwork and the double arches of the ‘Great Rooms’ in the mansion were installed in 1790 at the direction of Thomas Jefferson. From 1736 to 1742, Harrison would serve in the House of Burgesses representing Charles City County, Virginia.

Date Stone

Date Stone

Main Hall

Main Hall



The grounds and gardens consist of five terraced gardens leading from the house to the James River. These terraces were dug by hand before the Revolutionary War. Many hundred year old trees graces the boxwood garden while sheep graze on the distant rolling hills of the adjacent farmland. Miles of old fashioned gravel roads meander through the pastures and forest. Located near is a small woodland glade that is nestled in the trees beside the James River shore.


Benjamin and Anne would have eleven children. Benjamin would pass away with two of his daughters in 1745 when lightning struck the house.

This house would pass down through generations of Harrisons, two who would later serve as President of the United States. Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the American Declaration of Independence and a Governor of Virginia, his son William Henry Harrison, a war hero in the Battle of Tippecanoe, a Governor of Indiana Territory and ninth President of the United States and finally Benjamin Harrison, great, great grandson and 23rd President of the United States. Berkley Plantation is only one of two ancestral homes that from which two Presidents would come. The other is Peacefield in Quincy, Massachusetts birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

During the Revolutionary War, William Henry Harrison was only nine years old. During this time he witnessed many historic events. He saw Benedict Arnold land and march triumphant through Berkeley Plantation on the way to seize Richmond. He would see British streaming back from defeats toward Yorktown, not too far from Berkeley. He also recalled the French and American troops as the moved to surround the British. During the siege of Yorktown, Lafayette and Washington dined at Berkeley. William recalled waving as his father rode off to join the Virginia militia that reinforced Washington’s Continnental Army. His father was a close associate of General Washington and Williams recalled seeing the General dine often with the family.

George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan

During the Civil War, Berkeley Plantation was occupied by General George McClellan’s Union Army of the Potomac. In July and August of 1862, one hundred and forty thousand soldiers camped in the surrounding fields, and the entire U.S. Navy, equivalent to 10,000 men in gunpowder, brought supplies and food between Hampton Roads and Harrison’s Landing. President Lincoln visited Berkeley on two occasions during McClellan’s encampment.

Guest House

Guest House


While at Berkeley, General Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar tune” Taps”, fist played by his bugler, O.W. Norton. Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to evoke emotion than “Taps”. The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy and myth.

Major General Daniel Butterfield

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Taps” originally began as a signal to extinguish lights. Up until the Civil War, the infantry call for “To Extinguish Lights” was the one set down in Silas Casey’s “Tactics”, which had been borrowed from the French. The music for “Taps” was changed by Union major General Daniel Butterfield for his brigade in July, 1862. Butterfield was not pleased with the call for “Lights Out”, feeling that it was too formal to signal the day’s end. With the help of brigade bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton, he created “Taps” to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s landing, Virginia, following the Seven Days’ battles during the Peninsular Campaign.

Bugler, O.W. Norton

Bugler, O.W. Norton

The Harrisons were not able to regain possession of the plantation after the war, and it passed through several owners’ hands and fell into disrepair. In 1907, the house and 1,400 acres was purchased by John Jamieson, a Scotsman who had served as a drummer boy with McClellan’s forces when they were encamped at Berkeley and Westover. The property was inherited by Jamieson’s son, Malcolm Jamieson (who bought out the interests of other heirs after John’s death) in 1927. Restoration of the grounds began immediately and in 1933 the new owner was assisted with the restoration and furnishing of the house by his bride, Grace Eggleston. The property remains in the Jamieson family and is open to the public for tours. A portion of the site is permanently protected by a historic preservation easement.



Today the house attracts visitors from the United States and other parts of the world. The architecture is original, and the house has been filled with antique furniture and furnishings that date from the period when it was built. The grounds, too, have been restored, and cuttings from the boxwood gardens are available as living souvenirs for its visitors.














 To see more Virginia Historic Homes

Check out “Year of the Virginia Historic Homes” 

on the left side column

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page!

Facebook Link

Help us reach our 1000 goal by Liking and Sharing us with your Facebook Friends!

Hurley Paw Print Signature

Hurley says “Thank you!”

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 39 Comments »

Thanksgiving in Virginia

Nov. 22nd 2012


We all know the story of the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts and celebrating the first harvest with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. But did you know that there were other “Thanksgiving” celebrations before this event?


The first documented thanksgiving feasts in the territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Spanish explorer Pedro Men’ndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The Spanish most likely offered cocido, a rich stew made with pork, and the Timucua may have brought wild turkey, venison, or even alligator, along with corn, beans, and squash.

Spanish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

Jamestown Settlement

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

Berkeley Hundred

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Berkeley Thanksgiving

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

Present Day Berkeley

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Michelle and Brett
In Chesapeake on Thanksgiving Day 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Virginia!

Brett and Michelle

Visit Us on Facebook!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 62 Comments »

Back to the Beginning

Jun. 19th 2012

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 »