Richard Harrison is a photographer that has been following our first blog almost since the beginning of our journey. Richard currently travels the United States taking some of the most amazing photographs. So when he requested to come to Belle Grove Plantation to stay and take some photographs, I was over the moon.
Here are just a few of his photos of Belle Grove Plantation.
Back in June, Belle Grove Plantation was one of the locations for a documentary film called “When America Met China”. This film, which was directed and produced by Meng Wang, Xuan Zhao and students from American University in Washington D.C. tells about the import of Chinese Porcelain and their affect on Early America. The film centers on General George Washington as he narrates through a letter he is writing. He is thought to be at Mount Vernon as he is writing this letter. However, while Meng and her crew filmed the outside of Mount Vernon, they were not able to film inside the residence.
This is where Belle Grove Plantation stepped in. We provided the interior settings for the film as well as several of the minor actors. These actors were re-enactors from Young Friends of George Washington. They brought both their skills of recreating early America and their beautiful costumes. Their touches truly gave this film an air of true Colonial America. You can see more information on this wonderful group through their website at http://www.gwyf.org/.
As you watch the film, you will see the Madison Suite, the Parlor, the Formal Dining Room, the Riverside Bluff and the Riverside Balcony. No, that isn’t the Potomac you are seeing, it is the Rappahannock River that flows past this grand mansion and plantation.
To see this wonderful film, please visit our Press page at
You will find the “When America Met China” under Films.
We wish to thank Meng Wang, Xuan Zhao and their crew for selecting us for their location. We also wish to thank the Young Friends of George Washington for coming and participating in the film at the last minute! Thank you to James Manship and JoAnn Abbott for their wonderful performances!
Directors: Meng Wang and Xuan Zhao
Producers: Cynthia Miller and Meng Wang
Scriptwriters: Cynthia Miller and Xuan Zhao
Director of Photography: Xuan Zhao
Art Director: Jiayi Lu
Production Assistant: Elizabeth Linares
Camera Operator: Zhenping Zhao
Narrator A: John Douglass
Narrator B: Ali Abadi
Animator: Meng Wang
Editor: Xuan Xhao
Expert Advisor: Pan Pan
George Washington: James Manship
Martha Washington: JoAnn Abbott
Reenactor A: Robert Bailey
Reenactor B: Susan H. Bailey
Reenactor C: Skip Nolan
Reenactor D: Diane Nolan
Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Filming | Comments Off on When America Met China Documentary
The funds for this event are for the restoration of our 1720 Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse. These outbuildings were standing here at Belle Grove Plantation and were in use when James Madison was born here! Today they are about to fall in and are in bad need of help.
Thanks to our Corporate Sponsors
People’s Community Bank
NARFE Credit Union
Community Bank of the Chesapeake
Long & Foster
Ice Cream Nook
Richard Green Entertainment
we were able to create this wonderful event where families could come and listen to amazing music of Alexis P Suter and enjoy good food and fun. After all was said and done, we raised $661.73. Yes, I know that isn’t much, but you have to start somewhere. And we truly appreciate all that came out in support and those that gave to help us get started.
But the need is still great and we ask you to make a donation to help us.
You can make an online donation through our website at
or mail us a check or money order to
Belle Grove Plantation
9221 Belle Grove Drive
King George, Virginia 22485
Thank you to all who have supported us and our efforts!
After seeing a Facebook status from the History Channel saying
“John Adams believed that Independence Day should be July 2nd and refused to attend July 4th events in protest”
I became curious. I mean I have never heard about this. And knowing how much I love history, I had to find out.
I came across this article from the National Constitution Center. So let me share enlighten you.
When is the real Independence Day: July 2 or July 4?
by Scott Bomboy
There’s no doubt the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. But which date has the legitimate claim on Independence Day: July 2 or July 4?
If John Adams were alive today, he would tell you July 2nd. Other Founders would say July 4th, the day that is currently recognized as a federal holiday by our national government. And still other Founders would say, “what Independence Day?” since the holiday wasn’t widely celebrated until many of the Founders had passed away.
Here is the evidence, so you can decide which Independence Day is really Independence Day!
Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Britain on July 2, 1776, when it approved a resolution and delegates from New York were given permission to make it a unanimous vote.
John Adams thought July 2 would be marked as a national holiday for generations to come.
“The most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more,” Adams said about what he envisioned as a July 2nd national holiday.
After voting on independence on July 2, the Continental Congress needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public. It had been proposed in draft form by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) and it took two days for the Congress to agree on the edits.
Once the Congress approved the actual Declaration on Independence document on July 4, it ordered that it be sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed, with John Hancock’s name printed at the bottom. Today, 26 copies remain.
That is why the Declaration has the words, “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at its top, because that is the day the approved last version was signed in Philadelphia.
On July 8, 1776, Colonel John Nixon of Philadelphia read a printed Declaration of Independence to the public for the first time on what is now called Independence Square.
(Most of the members of the Continental Congress signed a version of the Declaration on August 2, 1776 in Philadelphia. The names of the signers were released publicly in early 1777. So that famous painting showing the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776 is a bit of an exaggeration.)
The late historian Pauline Maier said in her 1997 book about the Declaration that no member of Congress recalled in early July 1777 that it was almost a year since they declared their freedom from the British. They finally remembered the event on July 3, 1777, and July 4th became the day that seemed to make sense for celebrating independence.
Maier also said that the Declaration (and celebrating its signing) was stuck in an early feud between the Federalists (of John Adams) and the Republicans (of Thomas Jefferson). The Declaration and its anniversary day weren’t widely celebrated until the Federalists faded away from the political scene after 1812.
In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, Congress made it a paid holiday for them.
In the last letter he ever wrote, Thomas Jefferson spoke in 1826 of the importance of the day. “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them,” he said.
Two days later, Jefferson and Adams both passed away on the Fourth of July.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
Tammy will be joining us as our New Wedding Coordinator!
Tammy Anderson has been involved with Event Management for many years and has a strong background in customer service.
With an energetic, positive and detailed oriented coordinating style, she strives to give each couple and family the highest level of attention they deserve. Tammy makes each wedding a magical and memorable experience knowing it is a privilege to be part of one of the most important days in someone’s life and appreciates the trust it takes to do so.
We are excited to have Tammy join us at Belle Grove Plantation!
We invite you to contact Tammy and see why Belle Grove Plantation is fast becoming one of the premier locations for weddings!
Let us provide the perfect backdrop for your civil ceremony, small intimate wedding or large wedding gathering!
You may contact Tammy via email at
or call her at
Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Weddings at Belle Grove Plantation
We are so excited to announce that we will be receiving one of the most amazing donations to date from the James Madison Museum in Orange, Virginia.
The Board of Directors have donated an American, Sheraton style, square pianoforte. This amazing pianoforte was made by Loud & Brothers of Philadelphia. It has beautiful gold script above the keyboard which reads:
“Loud & Brothers Cabinet and Square Pianoforte Manufacturers Philadelphia”
It is made of mahogany and treated to look like rosewood. There are engravings inside on the upper right panel as you open the lid, which date back to 1832/33 for repairs and one from 1941 when it was scripted as “rebuilt”. However. much of the internal and external piece are original. It appears that the note pads (pieces of wood with felt) are younger than the 1800’s. The green painted “cover” for the strings are original. It had all of its legs at the time of the donation to the James Madison Museum in 1983, but is now missing one of the legs. There are no records of what happened and no one on the current Board of Directors has been around beyond 5 or 6 years. The pianoforte is in need of repair for both the missing leg and for the instrument. It currently does not play.
This pianoforte was given as a gift to the James Madison Museum by Mrs. Audette Kimball on February 1, 1983 and has been residing at the museum since that time. It was appraised at $3,000 by Lionbridge Antiques and Fine Arts of Charlottesville on January 31, 1983.
The pianoforte is currently at the James Madison Museum at 129 Caroline Street, Orange, Virginia 22960. If you would like to see it before it is moved to Belle Grove Plantation, please stop in and ask Bethany, the Museum Administrator to show it to you. While you are there, make sure you view all the wonderful exhibitions they have there! This is a museum that is seriously overlooked when people are traveling through. With Montpelier just down the road, most miss the opportunity to see the wonderful collection of James and Dolley Madison’s personal items as well as many other wonderful collection pieces. We have written about this many times and love going there as often as we can. Please make sure you tell Bethany that Belle Grove sent you!
We would also like to ask for any volunteers to help us move this amazing piece to Belle Grove Plantation. We do not have the means to do so and would very much appreciate any assistance we could get. This piece is very heavy and will require the legs to be removed while in route to Belle Grove.
We would like to extend a warm and much appreciated thank you to the Board of Directors and the James Madison Museum for such a generous donation. It will grace Belle Grove and be loved for years to come!
Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on New Arrival Donation
Belle Grove’s July 4 event supports effort to restore outbuildings
June 25th, 2014
Belle Grove Plantation is hosting a July 4th picnic and concert on the lawn to celebrate Independence Day and to begin raising money to restore three historic outbuildings.
Belle Grove is the birthplace of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. It was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River as a tobacco plantation.
The property fell into disrepair over time. The mansion was restored in 1997, and Brett and Michelle Darnell opened a bed and breakfast on the property last year.
Slaves once lived in half of the summer kitchen,
which has slid off its foundation and needs considerable work.
Now, the two are turning their focus to the oldest structures there: the summer kitchen, ice house and smokehouse. The three were built between 1720 and 1750 and were in use when Madison was born there in 1751.
The kitchen, half of which was used as slave quarters, is falling off its foundation, and portions of the inner wall have fallen away. The fireplace on the kitchen side still has the iron rod on the back fire wall, along with the rods that hung down and held pots.
“It really blows my mind to think what meals would have been prepared there and who they served,” said Michelle Darnell in an email.
The condition of the smokehouse is just as bad. Two walls already have fallen away. The icehouse is in the best condition, but its bricks have come loose and fallen around the window and back wall. Along with the kitchen, it’s suffered damage from animals making their dens there as well as from the weather.
The Darnells want to raise money to restore the buildings and to create a living museum where visitors could experience life on a plantation. Any artifacts found in the restoration would be placed in the summer kitchen, along with a memorial, naming those who were enslaved at Belle Grove over the years.
The Darnells have enlisted the help of a volunteer intern, Lauren Souza, to head up the restoration and preservation project. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation and has worked at Mount Vernon and Montpelier as a restoration specialist.
Initial estimates suggest the work will cost between $50,000 and $75,000, the Darnells said.
“It is killing us to stand by and watch as the board start popping [and] bricks start dropping away,” Michelle Darnell said. “The only thing stopping us from rescuing these historic treasures is funding.”
Belle Grove will begin the drive to raise money with its “Red, White and Blues” concert and picnic under the stars on July 4. The concert begins at 6 p.m. with Mike Mallick of Maryland and his old-school rock band. They’ll be followed by the Alexis Suter blues band from New York City.
Through Friday, tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. After that day, the prices go up to $25 for adults and $15 for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Tickets are available on Belle Grove Plantation’s website, by calling 540/621-7340 and at the event.
Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.
To see the online article and to leave comments, please visit:
We put out call for some volunteer help at the plantation and the call was answered!
We would like to introduce you to some very wonderful people!
Master Garden Volunteer
Carol has been volunteering with Belle Grove Plantation for over two months! She started in the spring helping us get our flower beds and grounds into shape. Each Monday, Carol can be found weeding, raking, trimming, shoveling or planting in and around the mansion. When Dominion Power sent people over to the entrance to cut back the branches around the power lines, Carol and her husband took two weeks to clean up the mess they left behind. It required a lot of wood cutting and even a control burn to clean up the mess! But today, you can see better as you pull away from the entrance and it doesn’t look like a war zone. Carol helps Brett and I understand the needs of our landscape and what we need to get to improve on it. We are very glad that she has stepped up to help us and appreciate her hard work in helping us keep this historic landmark beautiful.
Lauren started working with us just a few weeks ago and came from one of our preferred vendors. Lauren has a masters degree in Architectural Preservation and has worked as an assistant at Mount Vernon and Montpelier. We will be using Lauren’s experience and expertise in preservation as we start our restoration and preservation of our three priceless outbuildings. The Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are her main focus and she will lead the project through each of the steps needed to bring them back to their 1720 time period. While she is working on this project, she will also be helping us as an assistant to Michelle during the week. We are excited that Lauren has come to the plantation and look forward to her helping us preserve the past here at Belle Grove Plantation!
John came to us through our Easter Dinner, when his family joined us for a wonderful meal and tour. During the meal, we discovered John love of history and architecture. It wasn’t hard for us to see that he would be a great asset as a Summer Docent. John received our history and script just a couple of weeks ago. He did his first “tour” with Michelle last Thursday. John was so impressive that we turned over the tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to him as the lead docent. After just one day, Brett and Michelle have already decided to make John a trainer for any new docents that may come aboard! But docent work is not all of John’s talents! He is also a wonderful artist and will be working on a drawing of Belle Grove Plantation for us! Be on the look out for his work!
Rachel has been with Belle Grove Plantation from the very beginning! In July, 2013, Belle Grove opened its doors for a July 4th Open House. Not truly advertised expect on Facebook, Brett and Michelle didn’t truly expect too many people to come. But to be on the safe side, asked Rachel and her mother to come as greeters. Boy we are so glad we did! We ended up with over 100 people showing for the tour! But Rachel handled it like a pro. Since then, Rachel has been available for any volunteer job we have needed. From wait-staff at dinners to door greeter at Christmas, we have been able to relay on her to back us up. We are excited that she will be joining us for the summer as a docent! She will be truly appreciated here!
We would like to thank each of our volunteer for giving of their time and talents! We have been so truly blessed not only by these volunteers, but by so many that have come to our aid in the past! We couldn’t have done it without you! You are truly appreciated!
If you would like to volunteer with us, please check out our Careers page on our website at:
One month ago, we received a call from a location scout from American University. She was scouting for locations for a doctoral film thesis for several students at the university. They had secured Mount Vernon and wanted to find a location that might “stand in” for the interior shots of Mount Vernon. Just a few days later, we received the email to let us know that we had been selected! What an honor to “stand in” for Mount Vernon!
The film, “When America Met China” is their documentary on how the import of porcelains from China in Early America had affects on how we lived and entertained. I was so excited to hear that we would have actors coming in period dress and that two of them would be President and Mrs. Washington.
The students arrived just a few days later to walk the location and to start working on their shooting schedule. Little did I know I would become a historic consultant for their dinner shoot! Of course it was easy since I had create two Colonial style meals for President and Mrs. Madison’s two dinner parties here.
Emails flew for the next couple of weeks as they asked questions about our china pieces, dishes we had that they could use, linens and such. They also asked us if we could help them locate four more actors in period costume to act in the film. I knew just who to go to for this one. We had met a group called George Washington’s Young Friends (http://www.gwyf.org/) at Stratford Hall last year. After a few more emails and getting their schedule together with the film makers, we finally had a film date.
First the production crew arrived and worked to set up each of the rooms they needed. They wanted to do a tea shot in the Parlor, a Library shot, a dinner shot in the Formal Dining Room and a Riverside Portico shot for George and Martha. Our actors from George Washington’s Young Friends arrived first. I placed them in rooms to allow them to rest and get ready. It’s not easy dressing in period costumes! Then Mrs. Washington arrived. Martha was played by actress JoAnn Abbott (facebook.com/joann.abbott). Then President Washington arrived. George was played by actor James Manship (facebook.com/Statesmanship).
Of course, I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to get some great photographs of period actors in the mansion so I made sure we had at least one photographer on site for the filming. I asked Bill Hutchins to come and take the photographs. You may remember our “Gone with the Wind” photo from our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. Bill was the one who took this photograph.
During the filming, Brett and I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. The production crew would come to us every now and then to as if they could move something or help them find something to use. But for the most part, we stayed outside or in our room. I would peak out every now and then to snap a few candid shots for history sake.
After the filming was over, the actors packed up and headed home. The production crew left and to tell you the truth, we wouldn’t have even known that they were there. They put the mansion back in place and cleaned up. As they said their goodbyes, the director handed us a small gift to say thank you.
The gift was a small kite from her hometown, Weifang. It is a small city in north east China. Handmade kites from Weifang are very famous in China. They hold an international kite festival every year in Weifang. It was a preious gift that Brett and I will treasure.
We would like to thank the students of American University for selecting us for filming. It was an honor to help you.
We would like to thank George Washington’s Young Friends for coming to our rescue! We appreciate you taking the time out of your Sunday to spend the day in costume at the last minute. We look forward to having you at the mansion more often!
We would like to thank James Manship and JoAnn Abbott for coming and playing George and Martha. Your performances were awe inspiring and truly show your love of history and respect for such great historical people. We would love to have you back at the plantation to meet and greet our visitors some day as well as help us with field trips during the school year.
We would like to give a special thank you to Bill Hutchins for coming and capturing the historic events with us! Your photographs are just perfect!
We look forward to being selected for many more films in the future. Maybe one day we might even be selected for a movie!
No autographs please…
Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Filming | Comments Off on When America Met China