Another Delivery This Morning!

Jun. 18th 2013

I couldn’t wait until the end of the day to write about this delivery!

This morning at 9am, we had a visit from the Fed Ex man!


He brought us a package addresses to

Brett, Michelle and Hurley!

Inside we discovered a wonderful book from Deborah in California! 

The book, “Dawn’s Early Light” is a romantic novel about a woman who dresses as a man in order to follow her man to war. Set during the Revolutionary War, this is the first in a series that works its way through to World War II.

But what made it even more special was a special treat just for Hurley!


Hurley will be coming to the plantation on Friday this week. He will be staying behind with me because he has a photo shoot coming up June 25th with a bride that will be staying at the plantation in July.

Don’t forget Saturday, June 22nd at 10am


We will be receiving our landscaping by flatbed truck!

If you can volunteer, we would welcome you to come and help us make Belle Grove Plantation beautiful again!

Hurley will be joining us!


Please bring the following if you have them:

Work Gloves



Plastic Rain Barrel if it is empty

Pickup Truck to help move items and water

Lawn Chair

Bag Lunch

We will have ice cold water on hand for everyone!

We look forward to seeing you at the plantation!!

Watch Our Facebook Page today!

Facebook Link

We are getting a delivery of furniture today!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 20 Comments »

Happy Independence Day!

Jul. 5th 2012

Happy Independence Day!

This morning when I woke up, Brett informed me that someone on our Belle Grove Plantation Facebook page had sent us a message. He is from White Stone, Virginia, which is about one and a half hours from Belle Grove. Since 1999 their site has chronicled the restoration of 18th century Enon Hall in Lancaster County, Virginia by a family descended from its original residents.

Thank you to Enon Hall for reminding us about the 4th of July celebration in Port Royal!

In his message, he mention that he and his family were heading to Port Royal, Virginia for their annual 4th of July Celebration. I had remembered reading about this in the Port Royal Historic Society Newsletter when I first started researching Belle Grove. So true to form, I jumped up, got dressed and headed to Port Royal. Brett stayed behind to get dinner ready when I returned around 6pm. He is such a great husband.

Civil War photo of the Evacuation of Port Royal. The house on the other side of the bank is Walsingham Plantation

You may remember Port Royal, Virginia from our hints at the beginning of our blog. Port Royal is located across the Rappahannock River from Port Conway and Belle Grove Plantation and is located in Caroline County.

According to Wikipedia:
“Port Royal is one of the area’s more historic towns. It was first established in 1652 as a port on a navigable portion of the Rappahannock River during an era when waterways were the major method of transportation of people and property in the British Colony of Virginia. It was an important point for export of tobacco, Virginia’s cash crop.

Local tradition holds that Port Royal was named after the Roy family. Dorothy Roy and her husband John owned a warehouse chartered by the crown, a ferry service across the Rappahannock River to King George County and a tavern. In the 21st century, the chimneys of the Roy house are preserved landmarks in the town.

Port Royal was incorporated as a town in 1744. The “town green”, upon which stands today the Town Hall and the firehouse, was forever reserved “for public and civic use”. Shipping of property from the port began to decline after completion of railroads which began in Virginia in the 1830s. The last scheduled passenger ship service ended in 1932, supplanted by highways. However, Port Royal was served by the new highways which became U.S. Route 17 and U.S. Route 301, with their crossroads at Port Royal.

Probably Port Royal’s most notable claim to fame is that John Wilkes Booth was killed about two miles outside town by Sgt. Boston Corbett, part of a contingent of federal troops, at the now obsolete Garrett farmstead (look for prominent markers along northbound Rt. 301) on April 26, 1865 after Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865 in Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.”You

You can also see more history on Port Royal at their website:

The Port Royal Annual 4th of July Celebration was free to the public. This festival was a celebration with period dress from Colonial to Civil War periods. They had patriotic music and speeches and 18th century dancing. There was even a horse drawn carriage for you to tour Historic Port Royal in. As you tour the town, you can see these beautiful historic homes, which have dated sign for you in front.

The Lekie House 1775

The Pearson House 1775

The Riverview House 1846

The Tavern 1750

The Timberlake 1750

The Townfield House 1745

The Brockenbrough date unknown some time before 1765

St Peter’s Church 1835

St Peter’s Church 1835 – Interior

St Peter’s Church 1835 – Interior

St Peter’s Church 1835 – Interior

I meet some really wonderful people who shared their love of history with me. I also met the mayor of Port Royal, Mrs. Nancy Long, who welcomed me to the area and told me that they were excited that we were opening Belle Grove. Brett and I are looking forward to becoming part of this celebration next year!

The Rappahanock Colonial Hertage Society –

The Rappahanock Colonial Hertage Society –

Westmoreland Long Hunters

Caroline County Minute Men

Time Traveler

13th Virginia Infantry Co A Montpelier Guard –

13th Virginia Infantry Co A Montpelier Guard 5 –

23rd Regiment USCT –

23rd US Colored Troops – and 54th Mass Volunteer Infantry Reg Co B –

Hundley Carriages, Inc –

Port Royal Mayor Nancy Long

Afterwards, I made a quick stop at Belle Grove, to see what damage we might have had from the recent storms. Happily I can report that Belle Grove is safe and sound. Two hundred twenty-one years, and she is still standing strong. We did lose a branch from one of our older trees at the front entry. This tree has had damage from a lightening strike as well, so I am sure that had something to do with the branch breaking off. We also lost one of the Cypress trees that lines the front drive in. The caretaker had already removed it, but you can see the way the wind just twisted this tree off. Wow.

Belle Grove Plantation – Tree at the front entry gate

Belle Grove Plantation – Tree along the front drive

I am also happy to report that James and Dolley’s nest on top of the chimney is still there. With the high winds, I expected it to have been blown away. I am also happy to report that both James and Dolley were at the nest. We are glad to see James back. He had us worried that something had happened to him since we had not seen him the last several times we were at the house. The caretaker also told us that the eagles have been flying around a good bit lately. Could be that they are looking to pick off James and Dolley’s nest.

Belle Grove Plantation – Dolley on her nest

On my way home, as I rode into Tappahannock, I noticed an antique store that was opened. So you guessed it, I had to stop. And score! I found two more wonderful tea plates to go with my tea cups and saucers.

A to Z Antiques – Tappahannock VA

A to Z Antiques – Tappahannock VA

I arrived back home, just in time as the food was coming off the grill and got to spend some family time with our son, his girlfriend and my father. I have to say for a Wednesday, it was a really good day!

Brett and Hurley

Brett, and I and even Hurley want to wish each of you’re a wonderful 4th of July. Next year, who knows, we might have to have our own cookout at Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 54 Comments »

Making a Mark on the World

Jun. 20th 2012

James Madison

The Conway Family had a very big impact on the land that would become Belle Grove Plantation as well as the nation as a whole. When Edwin Conway passed in 1698, Francis Conway I inherited the plantation as well as took care of his mother, Elizabeth Thornton Conway until her death in 1732. Francis would marry Rebecca Catlett in 1717. They would have six surviving children.

It was under Francis Conway I that Belle Grove grew to become one of the most successful plantations in the area.  The primary crop from the beginning of this plantation had been tobacco. While tobacco constituted a major percentage of the total agricultural output, tobacco growth was hard on the land itself. Tobacco is a weed that uses up the nutrients of the land quickly. This is why most tobacco plantations had large acres of land. As the land become less fertile, the plantation owner would clear more land and plant a new crop. A plantation would also grow corn and wheat to feed the plantation as well as vegetable gardens and herbs for medicinal purposes. There would be livestock too, generally pig and cattle, but the animals would be marked and set loose in the woods so they would not have to raise feed for the animals as well. At the height of this plantation under Francis Conway I, there would be a warehouse to store tobacco and a granary for the corn and wheat. There was also a wharf for shipping these items to Europe and for receiving goods.

Of the children of Francis and Rebecca, there are two I would like to talk about. The first is a daughter named Eleanor Rose Conway, known as Nellie. Nellie Conway was born on this plantation in 1731 and grew up here until she married James Madison Sr. in 1749. James Madison Sr. was from Orange County Virginia. He was a prominent plantation owner and was a colonel in the militia during the Revolutionary War. His father, Ambrose Madison was the plantation owner of Mount Pleasant. Ambrose Madison died in 1732, thought to have been poisoned by his own slaves. James inherited Mount Pleasant in 1744 and called the plantation Home House. He would acquire more land throughout his life, bringing his holders to 5,000 acres. He was the largest land owner in Orange County.

James Madison Sr.

Nellie Conway Madison

Shortly after their marriage, Nellie became pregnant with their first child. In the middle of winter, she traveled back from Orange County to her childhood plantation to have her child. There are no records of her thoughts of her childhood home, but it can be assumed that she had a great love for Belle Grove.

James Madison as a young boy

On March 16, 1751, Nellie gave birth to James Madison Jr. Jemmy as he was called would grow up to become our 4th American President and the Father of the Constitution. Nellie would have nine more children. Nellie would return to her husband’s plantation and would live at Montpelier until her death in 1829. One of her children, Nellie Madison Hite would marry and settle down in Middletown, Virginia. When she and her husband, Isaac Hite built their plantation from 1794 to 1797, she chose to name her plantation “Belle Grove” after her mother’s childhood plantation.

Belle Grove Plantation – Middletown, Virginia
Home of Isaac and Nellie Madison Hite

The second child I want to point out is Francis Conway II (1722-1761). At the death of Francis Conway I, Francis would have inherited the plantation, but he was only 14 years old at the time. His mother Rebecca Catlett Conway would retain the plantation until he would become of age. Rebecca married a second time sometime after 1737 to John Moore (1698-1759). Together, she and John would have two more children. It was John Moore that is credited with giving Belle Grove its name. Rebecca and John managed Belle Grove well and at her death, Belle Grove was still a very successful plantation.

Conway Family Bible

Francis Conway II married Sarah Taliaferro (1727-1784) in 1744. They would have three surviving children. In 1748, Francis Conway III was born.

In 1743, Francis Conway II should have taken possession of Belle Grove. But from my research, it looks as if he did not get the plantation until the death of his mother, Rebecca in 1761. There is a record of another plantation that was owned by Francis Conway II, Mount Sion located in Caroline County. Shortly after his mother’s death, Francis Conway II also passed away. For Francis Conway II, the same circumstance that had happened to his father was now being played out with his mother. At his father’s death, Francis Conway III was only 13 years old. His mother, Sarah Taliaferro would remarry in 1765 to George Taylor, but have no more children.

Captain Francis Conway’s signature

Francis Conway III would grow up and become distinguished gentleman.  Francis became a member of the King George County Committee of Safety form 1774 to 1776. He served for 3 years in the Continental Line as a Minutemen from 1775 to 1778. He was commission a 1st Lieutenant on September 12, 1776. He served as 1st Lieutenant of the four companies of Minutemen from the Caroline District. He was commissioned a Captain in October, 1776.

Later in 1842, his service was called into question. He was one of the cases of Revolutionary Claims rejected by the Congressional Committee on claims in 1842, with the statement that, “His name is not on any roll now to be found, nor was he paid, by Virginia, or the United States for any service. It is altogether impossible he could have performed a service of these years, though his heirs were allowed the bounty of 4000 acres for that service, September 1, 1838.” In 1844, this claim was proven.

During the Revolutionary War, Belle Grove Plantation started to decline. Unlike Rebecca, Sarah and her husband did not manage Belle Grove well. Sarah held onto Belle Grove until her death in 1784. Shortly after his mother’s death, Captain Conway took possession of Belle Grove. He sectioned off 10 acres of his land and divided it into half acre lots. In May, 1784, Captain Conway received rights by Act of Assembly to sell the lots and to establish a town by the name of Port Conway, of which John Skrinker, George Fitzhugh and others were made Trustees.

Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway

Captain Conway married Elizabeth Fitzhugh March 20, 1770. They would have six surviving children. One of these was Francis Fitzhugh Conway (1772-1803).

After years of decline, Captain Conway sold Belle Grove Plantation on July 1st 1790 to John Hipkins for a sum of 2,000 pounds. This tract of land had been in the Savage/Thornton/Conway Family for 120 years.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 44 Comments »