Tea with Dolley Madison

Jul. 15th 2013

Dolley Madison

Every wanted to have Afternoon Tea with Dolley Madison?

How about having it on the bluff overlooking the river as the sun sets?

Here is your chance!

Tea with Dolley

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast is proud to host

Afternoon Tea with Dolley Madison of Montpelier


Saturday, August 24th


from Dolley P. Madison and her Portrayal Today Website


Young Ladies Tea on the Bluff

12:00pm to 1:00pm

Young Ladies ages 5 to 12 are invited to join Dolley Madison on the bluff for a fun lunch time tea. Wear your favorite big hat and bring your favorite doll and enjoy stories with Dolley.


Ladies Late Afternoon Tea on the Bluff

6:00pm to 8:00pm

Ladies are invited to join Dolley Madison on the Bluff for a Late Afternoon Tea and watch the sun set on the river. After the tea, join Dolley for a tour of the Mansion. Girls 13 to 17 may attend this tea.



Young Ladies Tea – $40

Ladies Late Afternoon Tea – $55


Make your reservations early – Space is limited


To purchase tickets for this event, please go to:


Find “Tea with Dolley Madison” and purchase your tickets

When you purchase your tickets – in the note section, please list the name of those that will be attending as well as your email address so we can confirm your purchase.

Reservations will be taken until Wednesday, August 21st.

Questions? Please email us at information@bellegroveplantation.com



Spending the night on Saturday, August 24th.

We have three rooms that we will be filling on the same night.

We are going to take early reservations for just this night!

In order to reserve a room for Saturday, August 24th

You must purchase at least one ticket and email us at information@bellegroveplantation.com

We will take room requests in order that it is received.

Your choices are:

The Turner Room

Second floor Master Suite with a 1800s Half Tester Bed. This room has a view of both the plantation and river.

Cost – $295 (double occupancy)

The Conway Room

First floor Junior Suite with a 1730s Full Tester Rare Acorn Bed. This room has a view of the river and a separate sitting room.

Cost – $245 (double occupancy)

The Hipkins – Bernard Room

First floor Junior Suite with an Early High Back Eastlake Bed. This room has a view of the plantation and a separate sitting room.

Cost – $245 (double occupancy)

Room costs do not include tax. Breakfast is included with room rental.

Please list the rooms in order of what you would like. If your first choice is taken, we will move to your second or third choice. If you do not list a second or third choice, we will move to the next email request.

Once the rooms are booked, we will not take any more reservations.

Our website is due to launch very soon!

To see more of what we are doing at the plantation

Facebook Link

Visit our Facebook Fan Page!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 8 Comments »

Getting Back to Normal

Nov. 29th 2012

Belle Grove
View from the Carriage side porch

Well it has been a few days since I last posted. After my trip to Belle Grove, we had the funeral for my mother on Monday. It was beautiful. And I made it through the eulogy… sort of. But the friends that came helped us with the final parts. We were so supported and loved. Both from our friends here in Chesapeake and those of you that have followed our blog! Thank you again for all your support and prayers. It was a life saver!On Wednesday, I returned to my current job. On my arrival I was greeted with 360 emails. One and a half days later, I am finally caught up. All email answered and files put away. Whew…. So maybe I can get back to normal again.

Belle Grove
View of Carriage side porch

Brett has been working hard on the zoning package. He has been in contact with the Zoning Director and has made some head way towards our goal. The Zoning Officials will be meeting to discuss our application the week of the 10th so keep your fingers crossed! Brett is also going to be meeting with the Zoning Director and the Surveyor on the 10th to discuss some correction he sees on the site plan. I am so glad Brett is here to do that! I would be so lost! Give me a wedding or gourmet breakfast to cook and I can knock it out of the park, but paperwork for government offices, I don’t know if I would get it right.

Next week, Brett is traveling out of town for his current job. What a dog! He is going for a week of work in sunny California! I will be back here in the cold weather! How unfair! Maybe he can bring some of that sunny weather back with him! He is also talking about stopping in to see one of the grandsons of the last owners if he has a chance in Los Angeles. It will depend on his time and how tired he is when he arrives. I would kill to be going with him! The grandson owns a high end restaurant in the LA and the food looks so good! If he goes, I will have to get him to take pictures and write about it for you!

So while Brett goes to take in the sunny weather this next week, I will be on my own for the weekend and week. This will be the first weekend after three weeks of family at the house in Chesapeake. I don’t know what I will do! I told Brett that I think I might take in some sushi and a movie. I have wanted to see “Lincoln” since it came out. Now I think I might have time!

Colonial Williamsburg
Governor’s Palace

There is also going to be a big event in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend called the “Grand Illumination”. This is a day of events to kick off the Holiday Season. It is scheduled for Sunday, December 2nd with events happening from 10:30am to 9:30pm. To view more information on this event, you can visit their website at:


In all the years we have lived here in Chesapeake, we have never ventured to the “Grand Illumination”. I may have to see if I can make it this year!


Another event that you should mark your calendar for is at Montpelier, home of James Madison. This event is called “Candlelight Evening at James Madison’s Montpelier”.  Enjoy centuries of Christmas traditions at the Montpelier Candlelight Tour. Be greeted by Dolley Madison and learn about early 19th-century Christmas customs while exploring the Madison’s’ home by candlelight. See the Madison Dancers perform in the Grand Salon. Linger in the DuPont Gallery, enjoy light refreshments, wine, and wassail while enjoying harp music and carolers. It will be from 4:30pm to 8:00pm. Advance Tickets can be purchased on their website at:


Brett will be returning on Friday, December 7th and we have an appointment on December 8th at Belle Grove.

But you may see us there on Sunday, December 9th!

One last update:

We have been posting information on some of the historic sites and museums we are working with on our Facebook page!

Please check out our Facebook page often and share it with your friends!

Thank you so much for all your support!

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

James Madison’s Montpelier

Oct. 30th 2012

Once we finished lunch on Friday we headed to our last meeting of the day with Montpelier, Home of James and Dolley Madison. Our meeting was to introduce ourselves and introduce Belle Grove Plantation. We were seeking a partnership with Montpelier since we are so closely connected with the Madison’s and Conway’s.

The meeting went wonderfully. We met Dr. Sean O’Brien, executive vice president and chief operating officer at James Madison’s Montpelier, Doug Smith, Executive Director, Center for the Constitution at Montpelier Foundation, and Tim. We shared with them our vision for Belle Grove Plantation and our hopes for our possible partnership. We were excited to hear that they were happy to partner with us.

The Temple at Montpelier

Montpelier holds a special place in our hearts. It was here that we came and fell in love with the history and the man James Madison. It was here that our dream of finding the perfect historic home for our bed and breakfast truly started. We love coming to visit and are excited each time to find new restoration projects. It was here that we visited their Archaeology Lab with our questions about how old the outbuildings are and found their staff more than happy to assist us. This is truly an extraordinary place, but just as Thomas Jefferson overshadowed James Madison in life, so does his home, Monticello. James Madison was a quiet man who was very easily overlooked. Many visitors to the area are drawn to Monticello and tend to over look Montpelier. By doing so, they have missed a great opportunity to connect to the Father of our Constitution and his family.

Here is some of the History of Montpelier:

Montpelier started as part of a land grant of 4,675 acres in 1723 that was received by Ambrose Madison, grandfather of James Madison and his brother-in-law Thomas Chew. Ambrose and his wife Frances moved to the plantation in 1732 along with their three children. They named this first plantation Mount Pleasant. Today that plantation has been located near the Madison Family Cemetery on Montpelier. Ambrose would die just six months later when he was poisoned by three slaves. At the time of his death, he held 29 slaves. Frances would manage the close to 4,000 acres estate with the help of their son, James Madison, Sr.

In the 1740s, James Madison Sr. would add to the plantation and include building services and blacksmithing. He would also add more slaves to farm tobacco and other crops. On one of his trips to Port Royal to ship his tobacco, he would meet a young girl named Eleanor Rose Conway. She was known by her nickname Nelly. Nelly Conway was the daughter of Frances and Rebecca Conway of Belle Grove Plantation. James Madison Sr. would marry Nelly and they would have 12 children.

Nelly Madison

Their first born, named James Madison Jr. would be born on March 16, 1751 at Belle Grove Plantation, his mother’s family estate in Port Conway. She had returned to Belle Grove three months before her son’s birth to her mother’s home on the estate. Nelly was just shy of her 19th birthday at the time of her son’s birth. She would return one month later to Mount Pleasant.

View of the Front Yard of Montpelier

It was here that “Jemmie” Madison, as he was known spent his first few years. In the 1760s, his father would build a new home about half a mile away. This structure is the heart of the main house at Montpelier. This two story brick is laid in a Flemish bond pattern and has a low, hipped roof with chimney stacks at both ends. This phase one project that lasted from 1764 to 1797 would give the Madisons one of the largest brick dwellings in Orange County.

James and Dolley Statue

The second phase which lasted from 1797 to 1800 began when James Madison returned with his new bride, Dolley Madison. A thirty foot extension and a Tuscan portico were added along with single story flat roofed extensions at either end of the house. This would provide separate households for James and Dolley and for his mother, Nelly, who still resided there after the death of her husband in 1801.

From these windows James Madison viewed the plantation and wrote the first draft of the U.S. Constitution

The third and last phase which lasted from 1809 to 1812 would add a large drawing room and one story wings to each end of the house. This is the home James Madison retired at with Dolley after his second term as president in 1817.

Resting Place of James Madison

James Madison would pass away in 1836 and would be buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. Dolley would move back to Washington D.C. in 1837 leaving the management of the plantation to her son Payne Todd.

Payne Todd

Payne, believed to have been an alcoholic was an unsettled soul. He was belligerent and was repeatedly convicted of shooting incidents. He was sentenced to serve jail time for assaults and disruption of the peace. He was sent to debtors’ prison twice and his stepfather, James Madison had to cover much of his debt and bail bonds by mortgaging Montpelier.

Due to Payne’s problems and the scarifies made by Dolley and James during their lifetime, at the time of James Madison’s death, Dolley was left with very little. She had moved back to Washington D.C in 1837 and had left Montpelier under Payne’s management, which ended in failure. Dolley had to sell Montpelier to cover Payne’s debts and to gain some living expenses in 1844. It was sold to Henry W. Moncure. Dolley would pass away in Washington D.C. in 1849 and would first be buried there. She was later re-interred at Montpelier next to her husband.

Final Resting Place of Dolley Madison

Where the name Montpelier came from is uncertain, but the first record of its use comes from a letter of James Madison in 1781. James Madison liked the French spelling of the name which means “Mount of the Pilgrim”.

Montpelier would exchange owners six more times before the DuPont Family purchased it in 1901. Some renovation had been made to Montpelier in 1855 and 1880. In 1901, William and Annie Rogers DuPont purchased Montpelier. Horse enthusiast, William built barns, stables and other buildings for equestrian use.

The DuPont family would also add the “First American’s Organized Prefabricated House” called the Hodgson House to the property. This house is still on the property and is known today as the “Bassett House”.

The DuPont Family’s Montpelier

In 1928, Marion DuPont inherited Montpelier. She would preserve much of the core of the Madison home, gardens and grounds as a legacy for all Americans. She did enlarge the house by adding wings that more than doubled the size to 55 rooms. The brick was also covered with a stucco exterior. In 1934, Marion and her brother would found the Montpelier Hunt Races on the grounds, using natural hedges for the steeplechase. This is still an annual event every November at Montpelier.

Garden added by DuPonts

Garden added by DuPonts

Garden added by DuPonts

Garden added by DuPonts

Garden added by DuPonts

Garden added by DuPonts

At her death in 1983, Marion bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with ten million dollars as an endowment to buy and maintain it. However, her father’s will stated that if she died childless, the property would go to her brother, William DuPont Jr. He had passed away in 1965 so his five children legally inherited Montpelier. Marion’s will encouraged them to sell or give their interests to the National Trust. It also stated that if they chose not to, they would get no share of an additional $3.1 million trust she had set up for them. Three of the children sold their interest to the National Trust. The last two tried to break the trust, but after being unsuccessful, they too sold their interests in 1984.

after Restoration

after Restoration

The National Trust took ownership of Montpelier in 1984 and began restoring it to the Madison era. They also paid tribute to Marion DuPont by maintain her favorite rooms in the new Visitor Center and holding the annual Horse Hunt Race.

They also provided an Education Center for students and teachers and sponsor the “We the People” program promoting the understanding of civics for upper elementary and secondary students. They also have national and state programs for teachers which focus on historical content and teaching methods.

Slave Quarters
being rebuilt

Working with the James Madison University Field School, Montpelier has been the site of annual archeological excavation from April to November. They have revealed early structures in those areas including possibly the slave quarters and recovered precious artifacts dating back to the Madison time.

The National Trust began in 2003 to 2008 to restore the mansion to its 1820 Madison period state. This $25 million project decreased the house by half the size the DuPont’s had created. When the DuPont family had added those extensions, they had been mindful of the return to the original state. All their additions had been added without damage to the original structure. Currently the National Trust has begun working on finding either the original or pieces of that era to add to the house. Wallpaper has been added to some of the rooms using pieces found in the walls of Montpelier to compare them to.

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

Surprises around every corner… part one of four parts

Aug. 1st 2012

Special Note:

There was so much that happened this long weekend, it is going to take me four postings to get it all in.

I will tell you the last post will have the most exciting part!

After a very busy week at my current job, I decided it was time for a long weekend. So Brett and I took Monday off and set off on a grand weekend. The best part of the weekend was that we had nothing planned. We took it moment by moment. And I have to tell you, it was wonderful!

Belle Grove Plantation
Middletown, Virginia

When Friday rolled around, I knew that I wanted to head up to Middletown, Virginia. This is the location of the Belle Grove Plantation that was owned by James Madison’s sister, Nelly Madison Hite. It was in part the location that started us on our search for our bed and breakfast.


This plantation got its start with Jost Hite, a German immigrant who came to the Shenandoah Valley in 1732 with his partner Robert McKay to settle on 140,000 acres with sixteen other families. These acres were acquired through two land grants. In 1770, Isaac Hite Sr. purchased 483 acres that would become the Belle Grove Plantation.

Old Hall foundation
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

The grand manor house was not the first home on this plantation. There was a large limestone home that was built around 1750 for a tenant farmer. The foundation of this home, later called “Old Hall” can still be seen next to the smokehouse. It was in this house that James Madison brought Dolley to for their honeymoon.

Belle Grove Plantation
Middletown, Virginia

Isaac Hite Sr.’s son, Isaac Hite Jr, who attended William and Mary College and served during the American Revolution, married Nelly Conway Madison, sister of James Madison in 1783. Major Hite’s father gave the couple the 483 acres as a wedding gift. The manor house was started in 1794 and took three years to complete. It was through his brother-in-law James Madison friendship with Thomas Jefferson that Major Hite was able to consult with Mr. Jefferson on the design of Belle Grove. Mr. Jefferson’s influence is seen in the final design.  The manor house is built of limestone that was quarried from the property. It is said that Nelly named the plantation “Belle Grove” after our Belle Grove Plantation in Port Conway, Virginia.

Sadly Nelly Madison Hite would not live very long in this beautiful manor. She passed away in 1803, just six years after its competitions. From my research Major Hite and Nelly had three children:

James Hite Jr – Born January 29, 1793 – Died January 11, 1860

James Hite – Born April 10, 1788 – Died December 8, 1791

Nelly Conway Hite – Born December 1, 1789 – Died 1836

Nelly Madison Hite would be laid to rest in the family cemetery in Warren County. Major Hite would marry Ann Tustall Maury. With his three children with Nelly and another ten with Ann, Major Hite expanded his manor house to include a 100 foot façade to the west side of the house. He would also expand his land holdings to a total of 7,500 acres and would have 103 slaves. He would open and operate a general store, grist mill, saw mill and distillery. The house remained in the Hite family until Ann’s death in 1851.

View from the front stairs
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

After the Hite family, there were several owners. In 1907, the Brumback family purchased the plantation. In the 1920’s they would operate an inn. It was sold to Francis Welles Hunnewell of Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1929. He would carefully restore this manor house in the 1930s and 1940s and later bequeath the house and 100 acres along with a $100,000.00 endowment to the National Trust for Historic Preservation at his death in 1964. The plantation would open as a museum in 1967 and is still operating as a museum and working farm to this day.

Site of the Cedar Creek Battle (also known as the Battle of Belle Grove)
Front field of Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

According to Wikipedi, during the Civil War, this plantation was center stage for the Battle of Cedar Creek, also known as the Battle of Belle Grove. This battle was part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. During this campaign, this area would exchange hands 70 times! In one day it would exchange hands 13 times! This area of the Shenandoah Valley was important to both sides as it would have given a backdoor to either Washington D.C. or Richmond. During this time, General Philip Sheridan had burned his way through the Shenandoah Valley, destroying crops, livestock and homes, much like that of General Sherman’s march through the South.

Lieutenant General Jubal Early

On October 19, 1864 Lieutenant General Jubal Early launched a surprise attack against the encamped army of Major General Philip Sheridan, just across the Cedar Creek, just northeast of Strasburg, Virginia. During this fight, seven Union infantry divisions were forced to fall back and lost numerous prisoners and cannons. Lieutenant General Early failed to continue his attach north of Middletown and Major General Sheridan, dramatically ridding to the battlefield from Winchester, Virginia was able to rally his troops to hold a new defensive line. A Union counterattack that afternoon route LieutenantGeneral Early’s army.

Major General Philip Sheridan

The Final Confederate invasion of the North was effectively ended. The Confederacy was never again able to threaten Washington D.C. through the Shenandoah Valley, nor protect one of its key economic bases in Virginia.

Our visit to this plantation was even more special as the plantation was also hosting a Family Reunion for the Hite Family. I had hoped to meet someone from the Hite-Madison side of the family, but I kept just missing them. Brett and I were able to meet several of the wonderful museum docents that we shared our Belle Grove with and compared notes on the families.

Since Brett and I had been there, they had added several new exhibits as well as carpeting in the halls. Believe it or not, but Major Hite had full rooms of carpet in the dining room and main parlor! Major Hite was great at keeping records and had saved the receipt for these purchases. The museum was able to trace the purchase back to the company in England, who are still in business. This company reproduced these carpets and they were installed as they would have been during Major Hite’s time at Belle Grove.

Some other points of interest at Belle Grove are outside. In the mortar on the back door wall, you can see the signatures of Civil War soldiers that were encamped on Belle Grove. There is also a beautiful kitchen garden just behind the house. Down past the barn, you can also see a field of stones. This is the slave cemetery of Belle Grove. Each grave is marked by a single stone with no names or dates.

Cannon Ball hit to the front wall
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

View of the back of house from kitchen garden
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

Slave Cemetery
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

Stone marking the grave of a slave
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

One last story of Belle Grove that is worth telling is the story of the death of Confederate Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur. After being mortally wounded during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Major General Ramseur was carried from the field to Belle Grove. There his Union friends Major General George Armstrong Custer, Colonel Wesley Merritt and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander C. Pennington, all whom he had met at West Point sat with him through the night comforting him as he lay dying.

Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur

Major General George Armstrong Custer

Colonel Wesley Merritt

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander C. Pennington

Once Brett and I finished walking around the house and remembering our first time at Belle Grove, we drove over to the Hite Family cemetery. I have to tell you this is not an easy find. It is located down a dirt road that runs along the river. If you didn’t know where to look, you would miss it. It is a small cemetery that has a flag pole in it center. Just as you walk in to cemetery through a modern chain link fence, you see a small grouping of tombstones to the back left. There towards the middle we found Nelly C. Hite. It first, I wondered why they had not placed her maiden name on the tombstone, but then I remembered that she had passed in 1803. Her brother would not rise to fame as the fourth president until 1809.

Story Continues Tomorrow

A Night in Winchester, Virginia

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 24 Comments »

Family Feud

Jun. 27th 2012

Wikipedi Hamilton Burr Duel

There is one more story I want to tell you about before we move on to a new family at Belle Grove. This story involves Francis Fitzhugh Conway, son of Captain Francis Conway, founder of Port Conway and his wife Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway. This story takes place several years after the Conway’s had already sold the plantation to the Hipkins-Bernard family in 1791.

After Captain Francis sold Belle Grove, he and his family moved to a plantation in Caroline County called Mount Scion. This plantation had been in his family for some years, have been built by his father, Francis Conway on a piece of land that was part of a land grant to his grandfather, Edwin Conway. In 1794, Captain Francis Conway passed away. Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway would remarry to Colonel James Taybil, date unknown.

Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway

Another person involved in this story is William Thornton. William was a cousin of Francis Fitzhugh Conway. Their connection was through Francis Thornton, who married Alice Savage and was the second owner of Belle Grove. William’s Great-Great Grandfather, Rowland Thornton Sr. was Francis Thornton’s brother. Francis Thornton was Francis Fitzhugh Conway’s Great-Great Grandfather.

The incident in question was a duel between cousins. This form of dueling started in Early Modern Europe. It general started with an offense occurring to which the offended would demand “satisfaction” from the person who had caused the offense. The person who was offended would signal his displeasure with an insulting gesture such as throwing a glove down before the other person. This is where the phrase “throwing down the gauntlet” come from.

The two parties would then select a second to represent them and a field of honor would be determined. The weapon would then be selected. The seconds would later check the weapons before the duel and then make sure the rules were followed. The offended would then select the conclusion of the duel. This could be one of the following out comes:

  • To first blood, which means the duel would end as soon as someone was wounded, even if the wound was minor
  • Physically disabled opponent
  • To the death

In the case of pistols being used as a weapon, there would be one round of shots fired. If neither were hit, the challenger would have the right to stop the duel or to continue until one or both parties were wounded. It was considered barbaric to shoot more than three times so few duels ever went beyond that.

The story of Francis Fitzhugh Conway and William Thornton occurred in December of 1803. The offense involved the affections of another cousin. Now I have read this story and the name of the cousin has been different in a few of them. The first story I read states the name of the cousin was Lucie Madison. The other name I saw as Nellie Madison. In doing some research, I have concluded that Lucie was far too young to have been the object of affection. At the time of the incident, Francis was 31 years old, William was 25 years old and Lucie would have been only 3 years old. On the other hand, Nellie Madison would have been 19 years old and a more appropriate age. Nellie Madison was the daughter of James Madison’s brother, Ambrose Madison, making her James Madison’s niece and cousin of both Francis and William.

National Park Service – Chatham Manor

The offense occurred in Fredericksburg, Virginia at Chatham Manor. Nelly was visiting the manor for Christmas and there must have been a Christmas party that both gentlemen were invited to. Both gentlemen had arrive on horseback and had had their horses stabled. To impress Nellie, Francis had purchased a new bridle (some stories say saddle) and had planned to unveil it that evening to Nellie. Francis had made the mistake though of boasting about the purchase before hand to which William heard.

When it came time for the gentlemen to leave, the horses were brought out. But to Francis’s surprise, the groomsman had switched the bridles. William’s horse had the new bridle on and it made a great impression on Nellie. Francis quickly accused William of the deed stating that he had bribed the groomsman to make the switch. William’s denials only aggravated the disagreement. Feeling offended, Francis challenged William to a duel. The duel was settled to occur at Alum Spring with pistols. John Spotwood Wellford, William’s half brother acted as his second. It is not known who acted as Francis’s.

www.waymarking.com – Alum Springs Duel Path

The site they chose is a narrow pathway between a rock cliff and a pond. There was only one round of shots fired. Both shoots found their mark. Both gentlemen were wounded in the lower abdomen.The pistols belonged to Robert Patton, who after the duel threw them into the river opposite of the old mill. William was able to make it back to Fredericksburg to his stepfather Dr. Robert Wellford’s home. In fact, one of the witnesses stated that William did not even know he was wounded until he reached home and found blood in his boots. It is unsure if Francis died on the spot or if he was taken back to town and died. William lingered for two days and then died. According to family tradition, William and Francis both dead from their wounds the same hour. It is also said by family tradition that William had a miniature of Nellie Madison on him at the time of his death.

It is said that Nelly would never speak of the incident with anyone as would anyone connected with her. Her feelings for either of the gentlemen were never known. Nelly would later marry Dr. John Willis.

Family tradition says that Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway had a premonition of the death of her son. She woke and told of a dream of a man riding up on a white horse to give her the news of her son’s death. Shortly after she walked to the window to see the messager riding up. She fainted at the window.

William Thornton was buried on Willis Hill, but sadly no markers can be found for him. Mary Thornton, sister of William, cut a lock of William’s hair and placed it in a gold locket with the inscription “William Thornton, born 24 September 1778, died 27 December 1803. You that have lost a Brother pity me”. It is thought that Francis was laid to rest with his father in the family cemetery on Mount Scion.

A few days later the Virginia Express Newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virignia ran this article:

“Thursday, December 29, 1803

With infinite regret, we communicate to the public, an event, the most distressing in its nature, and fatal in its consequences of any within the compass of our recollection. On Monday last Mr. William Thorton and Mr. Francis Conway met, in consequence of a previous misunderstanding, in the neighborhood of this town, and sorry are we to announce that the event proved fatal to both parties. By their untimely fate two weeping Mothers are left to deplore the loss of two dutiful sons, their children two affectionate brothers, and society two most promising citizens. The surviving relations are in a situation easier to be imaged than described. We sincerely regret the frequency of a custom so prevalent in our country, and hope the melancholy catastrophe, here related, will prevent others from endangering their own lives, or embittering the days of their surviving relations.”

Two months later the Virginia Hearld newpaper carried a notice that a brace of brass-barreled pistols were found near Alum Spring. It was undetermined if they belonged to Francis and William or could have belonged to another duel that occurred there.

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