Gloucester County

Sep. 9th 2012

Holly Hill Antiques

In the coming weeks, we are going to be up at the plantation with several activities that we have going on, so we took advantage of this down weekend. Brett caught up on a few chores at our house in Chesapeake as well as catching a few college football games. I decided to head out for a day of antique shopping. I have just a few more plates to match to tea cups to complete my sets for the afternoon tea at Belle Grove. So I headed up to Gloucester to hit a few places I haven’t been yet.

My first stop was in Yorktown at The House Key Antiques and Interior Design. This is the company that will be assisting us in filling Belle Grove with wonderful antiques and interior décor. I spent about an hour discussing my ideas and wants for Belle Grove and getting some “homework” for us to do in order to help Susie and George in fulfilling our desired look for the plantation. With us having to wait four months for zoning, we are going to do as much as we can to prepare and find what we need so we don’t have too much more of a delay in opening Belle Grove.

I then headed to a local flea market called “Stagecoach Market and Antiques” located in Gloucester, Virginia. We have driven past this flea market many times on the way to Belle Grove and I wanted to stop and see what they had. There were some nice permanent shops there. One of these shops called “Catherine’s Place” had some really wonderful pieces. It was there that I found my first treasure of the day.

Catherine’s Place

After looking through a few more shops, I headed out to the Historic Glouchester downtown area. This is another location we have seen signs for as we drove to Belle Grove that I have wanted to see. Gloucester is a historic town that was formed in 1651 in the Virginia Colony. The county was named for Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, third son of King Charles I of Great Britain. Before the English arrived this area was inhabited by a Native American tribe in an area called Werowocomoco, a stronghold of the Powhatan Nation.

The English settlers would at arrive at Jamestown in 1607. These settlers would soon come  into conflict with the Native Americans as they competed for resources. In late 1607, John Smith was captured and taken to Powhatan at Werowocomoco, his eastern capital in the present day Gloucester County. According to legend, Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas saved John Smith from being executed by the tribe there.

Gloucester Court House

The center of Historic Gloucester has an area called Gloucester Court House. Here you will find a main street filled with quaint shops and dining. There is also a Court House Circle that has several colonial buildings and the Visitor Center. It was in Gloucester Court House that I made my next stop. “Wisteria Lane” had been recommended to me by someone at Stagecoach Market. What a wonderful shop! They have artwork, books and tons of silver! I wasn’t looking to purchase silver pieces this day, but now I have a place to go to find what I am looking for.

Wisteria Lane

My last stop was up the road a ways from Gloucester Court House. Located about four miles up John Clayton Memorial Highway, I found a wonderful historic farm, called Holly Hill Antiques that was filled with antiques as far as the eyes could see. The house located on this farm was built in 1880. There is a large barn, a very old shed and several smaller dependencies behind the house and barn. Every one of these buildings was filled with antiques!

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I started in the barn and spent a good thirty minutes walking up and down areas with every kind of antiques. There was art work, furniture, house ware, and even several wooden mermaids from old boats. I found several tea cups, which I didn’t buy because I have all I need right now. But there were no plates really in the barn. There were a few silver tea pots, but just not the right kinds I wanted for Belle Grove.

As I stepped out of the barn, I met one of the employees who shared with me some of the information of the house and buildings. Tara told me that the house was also open and would have what I was looking for as far as plates. She also directed me to one of the dependencies that might have some plates as well. I stopped first at the dependencies, but it was filled with mostly old kitchen items like cast iron pans and such.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I made my way up towards the house, I came up to one of the trees in the yard. Looking at this tree reminded me of our trip to Mount Vernon. It was as large as the trees we had seen there. Standing nearby was another employee who it turns out lived in the house as a child. I told her that this tree reminded me of the trees at Mount Vernon and that I bet it was here in the early 1700s as those at Mount Vernon had been. She agreed and said that she had no doubt it was.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I walked into the house, I was amazed at the amount of antiques in each room. Dishes and artwork were abundant. It was in the dining room that I found my second treasure of the day.

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I made my way up to the second floor passing homemade quills hanging on the landing rails. It was funny, but I found myself looking more at the house than the antiques most of the time.

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I think the wallpaper amazed me the most. What wonderful old patterns it had. Upstairs there were four rooms and a bathroom in the back wing of the house. It even had a servant’s staircase that was blocked by antiques. I think I spent a good hour or two just looking around. Another thing that amazed me was the family pictures. Albums and wall-mounted pictures were all over the place. Looking at them, I wondered if they had lived there and what their lives must have been like.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I walked back to the car, Tara wished me a good day. I know that I didn’t see half of what this farm has to offer. I can see another trip here soon! If you love antiques and want a true treasure hunt, I wound highly recommend a detour down John Clayton Memorial Highway to this historic farm.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 20 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 »