Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two Plantations

I don’t think this part of the trip would be complete without visiting at least one plantation, afterall the emergence of the tobacco plantations shaped not just the history of Virginia but of the nation. Tobacco was to British America what gold would be to California.

And, as you drive the John Tyler Highway, Route 5, you have many plantations to choose from, but Lonely Planet, our guidebooks of choice (no affiliation), suggested these two, the Shirley Plantation and the Berkeley Plantation.

Shirley Plantation has been in the Hill-Carter families for 11 generations. The Carters have long been one of the great families of Virginia. From their narrative, we took away a favorable impression of a family that is fiercely committed to their heritage and their land, has grappled with their past and has made something of it that is meaningful for our times. The house is not only their family home but it bears their stamp. Here you see feudalism at its best. We found ourselves comparing it favorably to Alnick Castle, the ancestral home of the Percys, Dukes of Northumberland since the 15th century. We liked the place.

Four outbuildings, arranged symmetrically, precede the great house. This is the kitchen balanced by the laundry.

This the store house flanked by the ice house.

The smoke house and stable, off to the side

The Berkeley Plantation, just downriver a few miles, I found much more problematical. The family who owned it for much of its history were the Harrisons, who gave us two presidents, and the plantation was part of the original grant to Lord De La Warr, was worked by Captain Isaac Madison, an ancestor of the 4th president of the US, who abandoned it, and then came into the hands of the Harrisons. Today it is owned and operated by the Jamieson family. John Jamieson first saw the plantation as a drummer in the army of John McClellan in 1862. In 1907 he bought the plantation not to save it, but for the timber on the land. But save it he did and it is operated today by his heirs. The building is original, the furnishings are not. Without disparaging the property or the folks who operate it, Shirley Plantation was far and away more interesting to us.

The two unidentified outbuildings, each flanking the great house

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