Berkeley Plantation

This is one of my favorite adventures that we’ve taken. We visited Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. Charles City is near Richmond, and is about 1.5 hours south of Northern Virginia. It isn’t far off of I-95, and was an easy drive.

My ancestors first came to Virginia in the 1600s, and settled in Charles City, so this trip was especially exciting for this genealogy nerd!

First, a quick history of Berkeley.

The Good Ship Margaret departed England on September 16, 1619, and arrived at Berkeley on December 4, 1619. It is believed that on the day of their arrival, the first true Thanksgiving took place in the New World.  

President Kennedy acknowledged this.

The White House mended its ways. President Kennedy’s next Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 5, 1963, stated that “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” Finally, Virginia was given its rightful recognition and place in history! To put this in historical perspective, Kennedy was assassinated, in Dallas, just 18 days later.

Berkeley Plantation

Berkeley Plantation was purchased in 1691 by Benjamin Harrison III. His son, Benjamin Harrison IV, built the mansion.

There is a round date stone carved above a side door that has the intials B for Benjamin, A for his wife Anne – with a heart between the two initials, and the date 1726 for the year the house was built.

Sadly, Benjamin IV and one of his daughters were killed in 1745 when they were closing a window during a storm, and were struck by lightning. (There is confusion over whether one or two daughters were killed. Most accounts say that his two youngest, which would be Lucy and Hannah, died that night. However, Lucy went on to marry and move to England. There is no record of Hannah after 1745, and no record of another younger daughter that could have been lost that night.)

While waiting for our tour to begin we explored a nearby building that houses a family chart, various other documents, and a video about the filming of the movie Harriet at Berkeley. There are also restrooms within the building.

Shane was our tour guide, and he was excellent. He allowed the boys to handle a replica gun from the time period, before using it to demonstrate for us.

Once the initial presentation was over, we moved toward the main house. The first thing we learned about was the damage that a cannon did to the outside of the home during the Civil War, which can still be seen.

Photography is not allowed inside of the house, so unfortunately no pictures from there. The inside of the home is beautiful however, and I highly recommend taking a tour to see it for yourself.

Shane was very knowledgeable about the home and grounds. We learned that they had discovered much underground near the home as well.

This home has seen so much history. Benjamin V, son of the builder of Berkeley, was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, the British went looking for anyone in the area who was fighting for independence, and most of the homes in the area were destroyed. Berkeley was spared because Benedict Arnold was convinced he and the British would win the war, and he wanted to come back and claim Berkeley as his own after their victory.

Benjamin V’s youngest son, William Henry Harrison, became the ninth president of the United States. He was born at Berkeley.

Civil War battles were fought on the grounds of the plantation. TAPS was composed here.

There is much to do on the property, and we only did some of it. I’m looking forward to going back to learn more! Tammy with American History for Travelers has an excellent post about Berkeley with much more information.

Berkeley Plantation has a well shaded on site parking lot. The visitor’s center where you can purchase tickets and souvenirs is a short walk from the parking area. The house is two stories, plus a basement entered from outside steps. The basement was a prison during the Civil War and has lots of history as well!

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