Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Plantations on the James

I hope everyone had a WONDERFUL holiday!  No matter what you and yours celebrate, I do hope it was/is lovely :)  

Louis and I celebrate Christmas.  This means that we spend months and months running around looking for "just the right" gift for the people in our lives.  And then we wrap it up.  And then we pack up the car and travel to Big City, VA.  And then we present our gifts.   And then we PRAY that everyone likes them. 

This year we spent some extra time in Big City, VA, and Mother and I changed things up a bit!  We usually have a few "traditions" that we've stuck to. This year we decided to scrap a few of those, and to visit some plantations in the area.  A little history lesson never hurt anyone :)

First, we visited Shirley Plantation:

Shirley Plantation was amazing for so many reasons.  The MOST amazing, to me anyway, is that the same family has lived on this plantation for ELEVEN generations!  Can you imagine?  The Hill Carter family has never once left the plantation.  They still live there today!  It is also the oldest plantation in Virginia.

There is a precious little tradition that we learned about.  One of the Carter girls wasn't 100% sure that her ring was a real diamond.  Her finacé was a bit of a gambler, and she had her suspicions.  So, she attempted to scratch her initials into a glass window in the formal dining room.  Well, it worked!  The diamond was real.  And from then on, EVERY SINGLE CARTER GIRL HAS DONE THE VERY SAME THING.  What a neat tradition!  And I got to see each and every one of those initials in the various windows in the formal dining room.  It was like looking back over the last 100 years with a bird's eye view :) 

Another neat story we learned about comes from the Civil War era.  While all of the Hill Carter men were off at war, the Union soldiers helped themselves to the lawn (and the interior) of the plantation.  There were hundreds of wounded, and the Hill Carter women said to themselves "even though they are our enemy, they are someone's husband.  we would hope someone would be good to our men if they were injured".  And do you know what those FINE southern women did?  They took water, and bread, and bandages out to THE ENEMY.  Yes.  They sure did.  Excellent breeding, and strong survival techniques, if you ask me.

Because of their selfless acts toward the injured solders, General George McClellan sent over an official document that protected all of the Hill Carters, and their plantation, from harm during the remainder of the war. 

Hence the fact the original house still stands today.  Quite a lesson can be learned here I do believe.

Next, we went to Berkeley Plantation:

Berkeley Plantation was fun to visit because so many historic things happened here!  The original settlement was attacked by indians, and most all settlers were killed in 1622.  Then, in 1862, Taps was written on the back lawn of Berkeley Plantation.  The "technical" First Thanksgiving was held on shores of the James River in 1619.  William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. President and Benjamin Harrison V, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, were born in this home.  It is also the ancestral home of Benjamin Harrison, 23rd U.S. President. 

Let me just say that standing in each room, walking through the halls, it was a bit overwhelming!  Granted, this home has gone through many renovations through the years.  Unlike Shirley Plantation, it was not spared during the Civil War.  Berkeley served as headquarters for General George McClellan and the Federal Army of the Potomac during the summer of 1862. Those soldiers absolutely trampled the grounds. I mean trampled! And destroyed the main house.  Damn Northerners. Sorry. Forgive me.

Needless to say, the plantation was severely damaged, and was in great disrepair when John Jamieson purchased it.  Mr. Jamieson and his family were no relation to the Harrisons, whose family homestead Berkeley Plantation originally was.  HOWEVER....John Jamieson did have a tie to the plantation!  In 1862 John served as a drummer in the band that accompanied General McClellan's army. 

Little known fact...when Jamieson bought the home he wanted to fill it with period antiques.  So, he reached out to a neighboring plantation that was being sold called Westover.  His wife, actually, asked if they could purchase some of the homestead pieces to put into Berkeley when they refurbished it.  The mistress of the neighboring plantation said absolutely NOT!  And the Jamieson's were forced to acquire some of the pieces in an auction held by Sotheby's.  Personally, I believe it is because the mistress of Westover Plantation wasn't about to sell her family's belongings to a Northerner.  I'm just sayin...

We didn't get a chance to walk the grounds of Westover Plantation (they do not open the home to the public), but I peeked around the hedge and was just overwhelmed by this lovely plantation!  I'm planning to go back during Garden Week so that I can see it more closely!  It was built in 1730 by William Byrd II.

I do have to say that Shirley Plantation was my favorite.  The fact that Robert E. Lee's momma was born there may, or may not, have something to do with that ;)

And now, if you are still awake, and I haven't bored you half to death, I highly recommend visiting all 3 of these plantations if you find yourself out Charles City County way anytime in the future.



mrs.mfc said...

What neat stories and gorgeous pictures!!!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you had fun!!! I love the diamond-etching in the window :) I'm glad you made it back home safely...we got in at midnight last night, but are home at last!

MLD said...

One of my favorite things about Virginia! Someday off in the far far distant future I want to have my wedding in the Fall at either a plantation or vineyard in Virginia.

dreaming in pink and green said...

Thanks so much for sharing the pictures and the stories of the beautiful plantations! SO interesting. I went to Williamsburg years ago, but want to go back. Wanted to go this Christmas, but maybe in the Spring :)

Ann said...

Love that tradition of carving the initials in the window.
Hope it's ok for northerner to leave a

Tote said...

Thanks for giving us some insight into the Plantations. They are beautiful. A little history never hurt anyone.