Bringing Home the Bacon

Jul. 1st 2012

Today I had the privilege to meet one of our fellow bloggers, Dianna. She lives close to us here in Chesapeake and had invited me to come a see her ancestral plantation near Smithfield, Virginia. What an honor it was to see this beautiful home and plantation!  The plantation home is called “Bacon’s Castle” and it is located in Surry, Virginia.

Below is a brief history on this plantation that I took from Wikipedia:

Bacon’s Castle, also variously known as “Allen’s Brick House” or the “Arthur Allen House” is Virginia’s oldest documented brick dwelling. Soon after Surry County was formed in the Royal Colony of Virginia in 1652, Arthur Allen built a Jacobean brick house in 1665 near the James River, where he and his wife Alice (née Tucker) Allen lived. He was a wealthy merchant and a Justice of the Peace in Surry County. Allen died in 1669, but his son, Major Arthur Allen II, inherited the house and property. Major Allen was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Bacon’s Castle is a rare example of American Jacobean architecture and the only surviving “high-style” house from the 17th century. It is one of only three surviving Jacobean great houses in the Western Hemisphere — the other two are in Barbados. Notable architectural features include the triple-stacked chimneys, shaped Flemish gables, and carved compass roses decorating the cross beams in many of the public rooms. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About mid-September, 1676, a number of the rebel followers of frontiersman Nathaniel Bacon seized the brick house of Major Allen and fortified it. The garrison, commanded at various times by William Rookings, Arthur Long, Joseph Rogers and John Clements, retained control of the house for over three months while their cause declined. The death of Bacon in October left his forces under the leadership of Joseph Ingram, who proved to be unsuited to the command. Ingram dispersed his army in small garrisons, and as the demoralized troops began to plunder indiscriminately, the condition of the colony was soon deplorable.

Royal Governor Sir William Berkeley began to conquer the isolated posts one by one, some by force and some by persuasion. On December 29, a loyal force aboard the vessel Young Prince captured an unidentified “fort” which many historians have identified as Bacon’s Castle. After withstanding a brief siege early in January, 1677, the loyalists used the “fort” as a base of operations for the last engagements of the rebellion, which ended before the month was out.

The Allen family’s brick home became known as “Bacon’s Castle” because it was occupied as a fort or “castle” by the followers of Nathaniel Bacon during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. However, contrary to popular folklore, Bacon never lived at Bacon’s Castle, nor is he even known to have visited it. Bacon was the proprietor of Curles Neck Plantation in Henrico County; about 30 miles upriver on the northern bank of the James River. Many historians believe the name “Bacon’s Castle” was not used until many years after Bacon’s Rebellion. In 1769, the Virginia Gazette newspaper in the capital city of Williamsburg used that name when it published several articles about Bacon’s Rebellion.

Between the mid to late-nineteenth centuries, Bacon’s Castle underwent several modifications. An original one story service wing was replaced by a taller Greek Revival wing. Around this time, the entrance was moved from the center of the main block to the hyphen between the original house and addition, and diamond-pane casement windows were exchanged for double-hung sash windows. Moving the door left a scar in the location of the original pedimented surround. All of these changes were maintained in the restoration.

Bacon’s Castle was acquired by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) in the 1970s and restored. Preservation activities continue while guests visit the Site. Bacon’s Castle now operates as a house museum and historic site with 40-acres of outbuildings and dependencies including barns, slave and tenant quarters, smokehouses, and a rare example of a 17th-century English formal garden.”

When we pulled up this morning, they were not yet open, but because Dianna knew the place so well, she was able to give me a personal tour of the grounds before they opened. We viewed the garden and the back outbuildings.  It was great because she could point out things like an old tree stump that had been there since her childhood and was able to tell me about personal memories of her time there.

Todd, Site Coodinator for Bacon’s Castle.
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

On entering the home, we were warmly greeted and allowed to walk around before our tour.  We also had the opportunity to meet Todd, the Site Coordinator. After telling him about our journey in opening Belle Grove Plantation and that we also had a blog documenting our adventures, he was gracious and gave me special permission to photograph the interior of Bacon’s Castle to use on the blog.  He also gave us access to the house at our own leisure since Dianna knew it so well. So off I went on my own special tour with my own personal tour guide! I felt like mistress of the manor!

English Wine Bottle Artifacts
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photo

Nathaniel Bacon Stained Glass
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photo

Dianna walked me from room to room, showing me the old construction and pointing out restorations and preservations that had been done. She also pointed out personal spots such as the wood carved initials for her ancestors and etching in the windows.

Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Wall Drawing exposed during restoration
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

What the rooms would have looked like back in the late 1600s. Exposed wood ceiling and diamond cut frosted windows. The furniture is also period.
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Second view of room
Special Permission by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Up to the Attic – Dianna
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Looking down from Attic Space
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Attic Space – This is where the servants would sleep
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Basement Kitchen
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Ladies Parlor
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Ceiling Beam Detail
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Wood Craving made by Dianna’s Uncle
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Window Etching
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

Main Room – This is where they ate, drink tea and meet for business
Special Permisson by Bacon’s Castle for interior photos

After our tour of Bacon’s Castle, Dianna took me down the street to the cemetery that her ancestors and previous owners of Bacon’s Castle rest. In the cemetery, there is the ruins of a brick church that was built in 1639. The church, Lower Surry Church in Lawns Creek Parish, burned in 1868 and was later damaged during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. They are currently working on restoring the church.

Lower Surry Church Lawns Creek Parnish built in 1639 -burned in 1868

After we finished touring the cemetery and she took me back to my car, I headed back into Smithfield to, yes go antique shopping! You may remember Smithfield from my “Hamtown” post. While I was there, I found some really nice pieces to add to my tea sets. Today, Smithfield was having their “Heritage Days Festival”. They had closed off the main street and had booths lining the street for five or six city blocks. There was food, art, crafts, and much, much more! And the antiques didn’t disappoint! I stopped by Olde House Antiques to see Patsy and she had some butter pat plates and a beautiful rose plate for me!

Olde House Antiques – Patsy
Stop by and tell her Belle Grove sent you!

Butter pat plates

It was another great time in Smithfield and Surry, Virginia. If you have a love for beautiful old historic homes, you must make a point to visit Bacon’s Castle. You can check out their information through their links.!/baconscastle


If you would like a personal view of Bacon’s Castle – you can visit Dianna’s blog – Look under Bacon’s Castle

My Performance

Thank you to Dianna and Todd for a great day!!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 47 Comments »