New Finds

May. 3rd 2013

As we work towards opening Belle Grove Plantation, discoveries keep showing up at our door steps! As we have cleared the debris of the three trees we recently cut down, we have found some really nice artifacts! We have taken them to Ferry Farms to be reviewed by Mara. Here is what we found out!

Thimble Date unknown

Date unknown

Decorative handle, thin metal Date unknown

Decorative handle, thin metal
Date unknown

Hatchet Head, no handle Date unknown

Hatchet Head, no handle
Date unknown

Mara : Hatchet head is a carpenter’s or roofer’s hatchet:  They are fairly common and still in use today.  The notch was for tearing out nails.  No date on this, could be 19th century or from modern era.  I would say it has not been in the ground long, though, given that the wood is still present in the hole where it was hafted.

Library Head Large Copper One Cent Piece -Front Dated 1826

Liberty Head Large Copper One Cent Piece -Front
Dated 1826

Library Head Large Copper One Cent Piece - Back Dated 1826

Liberty Head Large Copper One Cent Piece – Back
Dated 1826

This is the second Large Copper One Cent Piece we have found at the plantation. The first was dated 1817 which is still our earliest artifact.

Lead Pieces Date Unknown

Lead Pieces
Date Unknown

As we are uncovering information around the Civil War and the Union Army’s encampment in and around Belle Grove and Port Conway, we are beginning to believe a lot of these lead pieces we are finding could be those that were carried by soldiers to make their own lead shots.

Unsure of artifact  Date Unknown

Unsure of artifact
Date Unknown

Looking at this piece, we are thinking it might be part of a spoon. But the one piece that has us stumped is there is a hallmark on it. It looks like a willow tree with a circle around it. We will need to do more research to find out what it truly is.

Pottery and Blue Plate Shard Dated from 1816 to 1860

Pottery and Blue Plate Shard
Dated from 1816 to 1860

Mara: Ceramic shard with blue transfer print:  Blue print on early whiteware.  Dates to between 1815 and 1860.  Likely flatware.

Pocket Watch - Front Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch – Front
Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch - Back Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch – Back
Dated after 1916

Mara: Pocket watch with plastic crystal (watch cover:  Plastic crystals made their appearance in 1916 so this watch post-dates that.  The motif appears to be art deco so one can assume it predates WWII, after which time Art Deco as a style dies out. 

Can you guess what this is?

Can you guess what this is?

This one I wanted to see if anyone could guess what it is. Make your best guess than go to our Facebook Fan Page and look at our Artifact Album to see if you are right!

On a different front, we received a new map from Elizabeth, curator of the King George History Museum. It is a survey map of our area (Belle Grove and Port Conway) in 1856. What is so exciting about it is that it places the enslaved quarters for us! I have long thought that the enslaved quarters ran along the road way leading to what use to be a barn. Now it is confirmed! These quarters were later turned into tenant farmer houses. You can also see in the field at least two more enslaved homes. This is something we have always heard, that there were homes in the field.

1856 Rappahannock Survey003 (1)

1856 Rappahannock Survey Close up of Belle Grove and Port Conway

1856 Rappahannock Survey
Close up of Belle Grove and Port Conway

In 1856, Carolinus Turner owned Belle Grove. According to a Federal Census in 1860, he owned 92 slaves. This is the largest number of enslaved people we have been able to confirm on the plantation.

To see more artifacts we have discovered and to find out if you know what the mystery artifact is

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You will find them in our Albums under Artifacts

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 26 Comments »

Chatham Manor – The Civil War Years

Apr. 6th 2013
Chatham after the Civil War

after the Civil War

Continuing from Wikipedia:

The Civil War brought change and destruction to Chatham. At the time the house was owned by James Horace Lacy {1823-1906}, a former schoolteacher who had married Churchill Jones’s niece. As a planter, Lacy sympathized with the South, and at the age of 37 he left Chatham to serve the Confederacy as a staff officer. His wife and children remained at the house until the spring of 1862, when the arrival of Union troops forced them to abandon the building and move in with relatives across the river in the beleaguered city of Fredericksburg. For much of the next thirteen months, Chatham would be occupied by the Union army; they referred to it as the “Lacy House” in their orders and reports, as well as diaries and letters.

General Irvin McDowell

General Irvin McDowell

Northern officers initially used the mansion as a headquarters. In April 1862, General Irvin McDowell brought 30,000 men to Fredericksburg. From his Chatham headquarters, the general supervised the repair of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad and the construction of several bridges across the Rappahannock River. Once that work was complete, McDowell planned to march south and join forces with the Army of the Potomac outside Richmond.

President Abraham Lincoln journeyed to Fredericksburg to confer with McDowell about the movement, meeting with the general and his staff at Chatham. His visit gave Chatham the distinction of being one of three houses visited by both Lincoln and Washington (the other two are Mount Vernon and Berkeley Plantation on the James River east of Richmond.) While at Chatham, Lincoln went to Fredericksburg, walked its streets, and visited a New York regiment encamped on what would become known as “Marye’s Heights” during the later battle.

General Ambrose E. Burnside

General Ambrose E. Burnside

Seven months after Lincoln’s visit to Chatham, fighting erupted at Fredericksburg. In November 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside brought the 120,000-man Army of the Potomac to Fredericksburg. Using pontoon bridges, Burnside crossed the Rappahannock River below Chatham, seized Fredericksburg, and launched a series of bloody assaults against Lee’s Confederates, who held the high ground behind the town. One of Burnside’s top generals, Edwin Sumner, observed the battle from Chatham, while Union artillery batteries shelled the Confederates from adjacent bluffs.

Frederickburg after the Civil War

Frederickburg after the Civil War

Wounded Solders

Wounded Solders

Fredericksburg was a disastrous Union defeat. Burnside suffered 12,600 casualties in the battle, many of whom were brought back to Chatham for care. For several days, army surgeons operated on hundreds of soldiers inside the house. Assisting them were volunteers, including the poet Walt Whitman and Clara Barton, who later founded the American chapter of the International Red Cross.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Whitman came to Chatham searching for a brother who was wounded in the fighting. He was shocked by the carnage. Outside the house, at the foot of a tree, he noticed “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc.-about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near,” he added, “each covered with its brown woolen blanket.” In all, more than 130 Union soldiers died at Chatham and were buried on the grounds. After the war, their bodies were removed to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Years later when three additional bodies were discovered, the remains were buried at Chatham, in graves marked by granite stones lying flush to the ground.

Burying the dead in Fredericksburg

Burying the dead in Fredericksburg

In the winter following the battle, the Union army camped in Stafford County, behind Chatham. The Confederate army occupied Spotsylvania County, across the river. Opposing pickets patrolled the riverfront, keeping a wary eye on their foe. Occasionally the men would trade newspapers and other articles by means of miniature sailboats. When not on duty, Union pickets slept at Chatham; Dorothea Dix of the United States Sanitary Commission operated a soup kitchen in the house. As the winter progressed and firewood became scarce, some soldiers tore paneling from the walls for fuel, exposing the underlying plaster. Some of the soldiers’ pencil graffiti is still visible, with additional scrawls being deciphered by Park Service staff.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker served the wounded at Chatham. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor, the only woman from the Civil War to be so recognized, for her meritorious service to the wounded during several battles. When the law for the Medal of Honor was changed to restrict the medal to combat veterans, the US government asked her to return hers. She refused and died with the medal in her possession. Her family continued to petition for the full restoration of the honor. In 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter signed the Congressional bill into law that restored Dr. Walker’s medal.

General Joseph Hooker

General Joseph Hooker

Military activity resumed in the spring. In April, the new Union commander, General Joseph Hooker, led most of the army upriver, crossing behind Lee’s troops. Other portions remained in Stafford County, including John Gibbons’ division at Chatham. The Confederates marched out to meet Hooker’s main force and for a week fighting raged around a country crossroad known as Chancellorsville. At the same time, Union troops crossed the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg and drove a Confederate force off Marye’s Heights, behind the town. Many of 1,000 casualties suffered by the Union army in that 1863 engagement were sent back to Chatham which again served as a hospital.

Fredericksburg after the Civil War

Fredericksburg after the Civil War

By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, Chatham was desolate and severely damaged. Blood stains spotted the floors, graffiti marred its bare plaster walls and sections of the interior wood paneling had been removed for firewood. In addition to the damaged house, the grounds had suffered. The surrounding forests had been cut down for fuel, the gardens and several of the outbuildings where damaged or destroyed, and the lawn had been used as a graveyard. In 1868 the Lacys returned to their home. Unable to maintain it properly, they moved to their house known as “Ellwood” and sold Chatham in 1872.

Part Three – The Later Years

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Chatham Manor

Apr. 5th 2013


On Tuesday before I visited Wegman’s, I finally got to see one of Fredericksburg many Historic Homes, Chatham Manor.

If you have been following our blog for a while, you may remember two of the decedents from the Conway Family got into an argument at Chatham over Nelly Madison, daughter of Ambrose Madison and niece to James Madison. Francis Fitzhugh Conway was the son of Captain Francis Conway and his wife, Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway. Captain Conway was the last of the Conway family to own Belle Grove Plantation. He sold it in 1790 and moved to Mt. Sion Plantation just outside of Fredericksburg. The other man was William Thornton, a cousin of Francis Fitzhugh Conway. William and Francis share a common forefather in Francis and Alice Savage Thornton, second owners of Belle Grove Plantation.

Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway

Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway

Francis and William were both smitten with Nelly Madison. All three were visiting Chatham Manor for a Christmas party. Trying to impress her, Francis had purchased a new saddle (0r bridle, the story isn’t clear which) and had the groomsman place it on his horse. For some reason, the new saddle (or bridle) ended up on William Thornton’s horse instead of Francis’s. When the horses were brought around, Francis was angry. He challenged William to a dual the next month. The two met at Alum Springs Park and drew pistols. Both were wounded in the stomach area. William survived for two days and it is believe Francis died shortly after the dual.

Nelly Madison would go on to marry Dr. Willis and would be by the side of James Madison at his death. She was the last to speak to James Madison just before he died.

So you can see my interest in this Virginia Historic Home.

Here is some information I pulled from Wikipedia:


Chatham Manor is the Georgian-style home completed in 1771 by William Fitzhugh on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Virginia, opposite Fredericksburg The 1,280-acre estate included an orchard, mill, and a race track where Fitzhugh’s horses vied with those of other planters for prize money. Fizhugh named the mansion after the British parliamentarian William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, who championed many of the opinions held by American colonists prior to the Revolutionary War.

William Fitzhugh

William Fitzhugh

Ann Randolph Fitzhugh

Ann Randolph Fitzhugh

Fitzhugh was a friend and colleague of George Washington, whose family’s farm was just down the Rappahannock River from Chatham. Washington’s diaries note that he was a frequent guest at Chatham. He and Fitzhugh had served together in the House of Burgesses prior to the American Revolution, and they shared a love of farming and horses. Fitzhugh’s daughter, Mary Lee, would marry the first president’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Their daughter wed the future Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Evidence supports that Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe also visited at Chatham, making a veritable “Who’s Who” of important Americans who stopped in to enjoy Fitzhugh’s hospitality. (A letter was recently discovered among Jefferson’s papers being catalogued at Princeton University; in that 1792 note, TJ writes, “…stopped at friend Fitzhugh’s in Fredericksburg…” He appeared to have been traveling between the new Capital City in Philadelphia and Monticello.)[citation needed] William Henry Harrison stopped by Chatham in 1841 on his way to be inaugurated as President.

Fitzhugh owned upwards of 100 slaves, with anywhere from 60 to 90 being used at Chatham, depending on the season. Most worked as field hands or house servants, but he also employed skilled tradesmen such as millers, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Little physical evidence remains to show where slaves lived; until recently, most knowledge of slaves at Chatham is from written records.


In January 1805, a number of Fitzhugh’s slaves rebelled after an overseer ordered slaves back to work at what they considered was too short an interval after the Christmas holidays. The slaves overpowered and whipped their overseer and four others who tried to make them return to work. An armed posse put down the rebellion and punished those involved. One black man was executed, two died while trying to escape, and two others were deported, perhaps to a slave colony in the Caribbean.

Slave Quarters at Chatham

Slave Quarters at Chatham

Hannah Coulter

Hannah Coulter

A later owner of Chatham,, who acquired the plantation in the 1850s, tried to free her slaves through her will upon her death. Her will provided that her slaves would have the choice of being freed and migrating to Liberia, with passage paid for, or of remaining as slaves with any of her family members they might choose.


J. Horace Lacy

Betty Churchill Jones Lacy

Betty Churchill Jones Lacy

Chatham’s new owner, J. Horace Lacy, took the will to court to challenge it and had it overturned. The court denied Coulter’s slaves any chance of freedom by ruling that the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that slaves were property—without choice—and not persons with choice.

Ellen Mitchell was the enslaved laundress at “Chatham” who knew of and counted on Mrs. Coulter’s promise of manumission. When Lacy’s court case took her freedom away, Mitchell was irate and loudly proclaimed how unfair this denial was. Lacy sold her to a slave trader, James Ayler, in Fredericksburg.

Ellen Mitchell continued to loudly protest the unfairness of her situation. Ayler gave her a 90-day pass to leave Fredericksburg in early 1860 on a tour during which she attempted to raise money to buy her freedom. He sent her on her way with the understanding that she would return. She gave speeches in Washington City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, raising enough money to return to Fredericskburg and buy not only her freedom but that of her children, as well. Ayler was so impressed that he also freed Mitchell’s mother. The Mitchell family moved to Cincinnati in the free state of Ohio. In the 1860 census, Ellen Mitchell was listed as running a laundry business. Today, some of her descendants still live in that area of Ohio.

Part Two – the Civil War Years tomorrow

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The Hunt

Mar. 30th 2013
Last Saturday, we allowed someone to come to the plantation to do a little metal detecting. We don’t normally allow this, but because we are about to grade the grounds, we were worried we would lose or even damage priceless artifacts.
We do have a “No Trespass” rule for metal detectors on any parts of the 694 acres. We fear by allowing others to come, we would lose valuable artifacts and wouldn’t know where they came from. 
We didn’t know what we would find and the individual we allowed on the plantation agreed to leave all the items with us.
What an adventure it turned out to be!
We have asked him to please write a guest blog for us talking about his adventures in Virginia.
We hope you enjoy!
Saturday was the continuation of my three state relic hunting expedition.
Now, before I go any further I am going to put out this disclaimer to all.
This relic hunt was a one time deal. The only reason that I  mention the location is because they will posting a similar post on their blog site. The property is clearly marked “No Trespassing” and the proprietors do not, and will not permit, anyone to access the grounds for relic hunting purposes. I was provided this one time opportunity to relic hunt here only to provide the home with relics for them to display to guests that will visit there. I repeat: The proprietors do not, and will not, permit anyone to access the grounds for relic hunting purposes. Please respect their wishes.
Okay, back to the day’s hunt.
Mama Bear had done a lot of leg work and communication with the proprietors of the Belle Grove Plantation in Port Conway, VA ), which was the birth place of James Madison. I cannot thank my wife enough for what she did to make this happen. The plantation house has been converted into a guest house of sorts and I was more than happy to help them in their quest to find relics related to the plantation.

Upon arriving, I met with the proprietors, Michelle, Brett and their son Tyler. Both Michelle and Brett had been in the military so we chatted about our experiences. Brett was retired from the military and, like myself, did not miss it. Michelle took me for a two hour tour of the house and grounds, to include the slave quarters, smoke house and ice house. I will come back to these three buildings later. While it may seem like a long time, it actually flew by. I was shown area’s that guests will never see. It was an amazing tour to be given and I am very grateful for the experience.

After my education into the history of the plantation I was free to hunt the grounds. Now back in the 1980’s this place was an abandoned property and, from the large number of 40oz beer bottle screw caps I was digging up at first, it showed. I moved to the area between the slave quarters and ice house and things started looking up…
I dug up this flattened thimble at about 6 inches deep.
Caly Marble
Shortly afterwards, in the same area, I found this clay marble. Okay, I can hear the questions. How did I find a clay marble with a metal detector? Actually I was digging a signal and sitting on top of a piece of rusty iron was this marble. To think that a child, who likely grew up to adulthood and has long passed, was most likely the last one to touch this marble really brings a personal touch to this hobby.
I moved to the area in front of the plantation house and found more relics.
The old folding knife still had part of the wood furniture on it.
Minie Balls
I found two Civil War era Minie Balls. The one on the right was found less than a foot from the steps to the front of the plantation house. For Michelle, this really reenforced her belief that the Union forces used the house as a headquarters during the Civil War.
And now the best for last….
Large Cent
A 1817 Large Cent with 15 Stars ( . The signal on this was a solid tone and I knew instantly I was not on any trash. I dug the plug out and it was sitting at about 4 inches down. When I saw the coin I made enough of an exclamation that Brett, who was working on a project on the front steps, came running over to see what I had found. We soon had Michelle out there. The date and stars were only visible when the coin was wet and viewed at a sharp angle. The really cool thing about this coin was that James Madison was President in 1817.
Total finds
All in all, the day ended up being a success! I also found some period pottery shards, square nails and part of a period garden hoe. Michelle, Brett and Tyler were all very thankful for the service I had provided, for which I was very thankful to have given the opportunity to provide such a service.
I was glad to have helped them in finding some relic to display.
Slave Qtrs
Slave Quarters
Now back to the Slave Quarters ( that I mentioned earlier. While the plantation house is to be a guest house, there is nothing budgeted by the investors for the preservation of the three outbuildings. Michelle and Brett are both hoping to turn the biggest of the three outbuildings into a walk in museum for guests and visitors, while preserving and restoring the other two buildings back to what they looked like 200 years ago. In the top left of their blogsite is a donate button. All donations go to the cost of restoring of these buildings. If you believe in preserving as I do, then I ask that you make a donation.
Thank you. PB
Brett and I would like to thank Papa Bear for all his hard work and for this wonderful post!
And to thank Mama Bear for reaching out to us from our blog to arrange it for him!
We will soon have more pictures for our day of hunting on Facebook!

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Belle Grove Plantation Makes Press… Again!

Mar. 13th 2013
The entry drive to the Mansion

The entry drive to the Mansion

Just a few weeks ago, I did an interview for the King George Journal, a local newspaper in King George, Virginia. The article ran in their March 8, 2013 paper in a section for their 24th Annual Home & Craft Show. We were so excited and can’t tell you how much we appreciated the coverage!

The photos on this post were the ones that ran with the article.

You can read the piece below:

The Riverside of the Mansion at Sunset

The Riverside of the Mansion at Sunset

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Carolinus Turner, a Virginia planter who grew Belle Grove Plantation into a successful and grand estate, would gather friends and family on the mansion’s upstairs balcony overlooking the Rappahannock River for conversation and drinks at 5pm.

If Brett and Michelle Darnell have their way, and the King George Board of Supervisors approves their application for a special exception permit at their March 19th meeting, those 5pm gatherings on the balcony at Belle Grove will once again be filled with laughter, music and tales of old.

“Our goal is to be open May 1st, said Michelle Darnell, who is leaving her position at Wells Fargo Bank to move with her husband, full-time to Belle Grove, the birthplace of President James Madison. “We will establish residence and prepare to receive house guest.”

“Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast will have four guest suites. In addition to the guest suites, Belle Grove will also be available as a venue for catered events on the scenic grounds.” Mrs. Darnell said. “Our business plan projects one to three catered events per month during the fair weather months.”

The Darnells have been looking for a special Virginia mansion to turn into a bed and breakfast since 2010. “Everything we looked at was either too expensive or needed too many improvements. Then we came across this listing.” Michelle said.

Belle Grove 1937 Riverview side

Belle Grove
1937 Riverview side

The Darnells are leasing the Belle Grove estate from Haas Belle Grove, Inc. which bought the plantation in 1987 and spent $3.5 million in historical renovation which was completed in 2003. If they received their permit from the Board of Supervisors, the Darnells will be making their own improvements including repairing the road to the historic plantation, building a parking lot and landscaping.

Belle Grove is one of the most historic homes in King George County. The Belle Grove property on the North side of the Rappahannock River was purchased by Captain Anthony Savage in 1670. The house and acreage were later acquired by Francis Conway and Rebecca Catlett Conway, James Madison’s grandparents.

Their daughter, Eleanor Rose Conway returned to the riverside plantation in December 1750 for the birth of her child, the nation’s fourth President, on March 16, 1751. The plantation was named Belle Grove by Rebecca Conway’s second husband, John Moore.

Belle Grove1906

Belle Grove

Belle Grove1906

Belle Grove

Over the decades, the stately home passed through several members of the Conway family and their descendents. Captain Francis Conway III, James Madison’s cousin set aside 13 acres in 1788 for the newly formed Town of Port Conway and a “burying ground”.

The plantation and its acreage were purchased by John Hipkins and Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins in 1790. Hipkins built the current Belle Grove mansion before passing along the tree laden site to his descendents who eventually sold the home and farm land to Carolinus Turner in 1839. Turner successfully developed Belle Grove. He also donated land for the near-by Emmanuel Episcopal Church in 1859.

First known photo of Belle Grove 1894

First known photo of Belle Grove

The plantation is believed to have been used as a Union Army headquarters during the Civil War, which explain why it was undamaged by Union gunboats moving up and down the Rappahannock during the war.

J T Hearn on steps of Belle Grove 1920s

J T Hearn on steps of Belle Grove 1920s

After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and John Wilkes Booth used the Port Conway ferry in his ill-fated attempt to escape, Union soldiers in pursuit of Booth rested and ate at Belle Grove before crossing the river to trap Booth in the Garrett family barn near Port Royal.

Over the next century, Belle Grove would have a series of owners and overseers. But in 1987, the Fraz Haas Corporation bought the property and embarked on its historical restoration. The Darnells signed their lease on the property in 2012 with their dream of turning it into a bed and breakfast.

Smokehouse and Summer Kitchen Outbuildings

Smokehouse and Summer Kitchen Outbuildings

Among other things, they want to restore three plantation outbuildings, an ice house, a smokehouse and a summer kitchen. “Our hope is to turn the summer kitchen into a small museum to house all the artifacts we have found and tell the family and plantation history,” Michelle said. Part of the summer kitchen was used as a slave quarters and the Darnells plan to use that space to tell the story of the slaves who worked, lived and died at Belle Grove.

To turn the elegant and historic plantation into a successful bed and breakfast, and a event and wedding venue, will required a lot of hard work by the Darnells and even more of their time and money. But they are excited by the prospect of returning Belle Grove to glory. “It’s a living piece of history,” Michelle Darnell said. “We want to honor it.”

Postcard of Belle Grove1950s

Postcard of Belle Grove

Don’t forget to get  your Cookie Recipes in!


Our deadline is coming on March 31st

Click on James Madison below to see how you can enter and become

“The Official Cookie of Belle Grove”

Cookie Contest Image

No Entry Fee

But please consider making a donation to our “Restoration Fund” to save our priceless outbuildings!

Just a few dollars can make a big difference!


Check Facebook for your chance to help us

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One Week!

Feb. 5th 2013

important date

A week from today, almost to the minute, Brett and I will be heading to our first public hearing for the Planning Commission for our Zoning Permit. I can’t tell you how long this has felt like, but I can tell you that we are so excited! We are asking anyone in the area of Belle Grove (Fredericksburg, Stafford, King George, Port Royal and others) to please consider coming to support us! The Meeting will be held at the follow:

King George County Planning Commission Meeting

Board Room of the Revercomb Building

10459 Courthouse Drive

King George, Virginia 22485

 7:00 pm

Thumbs Up

We could use all the support we can get!


Want to see the Plantation before we open?

Here’s  you chance!

This weekend we are heading up to the plantation on late Friday night. Then on Saturday we are going to be tackling the bricks that lay around the house in the old walkways. We are going to pull them and stage them for use in walkways and the front gate entry when we start working on the landscaping. Anyone that would like to join us, we welcome the help! Just come by the plantation! We should be getting started around 11am. Who knows, we may find an artifact or two! Free tour of the plantation to those that join us!


Donations Needed!

We have added a donation button located at the top left side of our blog! We are working really hard to put together funds to do the needed improvements on the outbuildings. These priceless pieces of living history are still standing and have an awesome story to tell! We have three buildings; Ice House, Smokehouse (in the worse condition) and Summer Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen is half kitchen and half slave quarters. We hope to open the Summer Kitchen as a small museum. The kitchen side will tell the story of the plantation and the families that lived there. The slave quarter side will tell the story of the slaves that lived, served and died on this plantation. Please help us by making a donation, big or small, it means the world to us and this plantation!

The Donations are through Paypal. But if you don’t have a Paypal account, look to the bottom left side of the Paypal page. You can may a donation using your credit card! Secure and Safe!

Thank you for any help!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Hurley | 33 Comments »

More Progress

Jan. 4th 2013
Landscape Plan dating back to the restoration in 2003. This will give you an idea of the lay of the grounds at Belle Grove. We aren't using all these ideas, just some.

Landscape Plan dating back to the restoration in 2003. This will give you an idea of the lay of the grounds at Belle Grove. We aren’t using all these ideas, just some.

Tomorrow we head back to the plantation… YAY!

We are meeting with the landscape contractor we have selected to help us turn Belle Grove Plantation back into the showplace it once was. I was very excited to find out that the person who is going to help us design the landscape is a licensed horticulturist. She is able to tell us what we have and how to best use it. She is also able to help us know what we need and what will look best. I am very excited!

Our goal is to use as many Virginia native plants as possible. We have several trees, but sadly a few are going to have to go. We are going to try and preserve as many ancient trees that we can.

Trees on the Bowling Green

Trees on the Bowling Green

But we have to look at the placement and remove those that might threaten the house. We have one just in front of the front entry. If a good wind came along, it could end up in the front hallway. So we are going to have to sacrifice this one. I don’t think I can be there when they do it though. After doing so much research and knowing about how long it has been there, I would be in tears as it came down. But don’t worry. It won’t be going far. The tree is large enough that we can have it milled to make boards to use on the Smokehouse or Summer Kitchen. So it won’t be gone, just changed in form.

The Tree that will need to be removed is to the right of the horse and buggy.1906

The Tree that will need to be removed is to the right of the horse and buggy.

The Bowling Green looking toward Mansion1906

The Bowling Green looking toward Mansion

So what kind of plants would you recommend? I love crepe myrtles. I am looking to use them around the Bowling Green (the large circle of grass on the Carriage side of the house). I also love flowering plants and want to use ones that will keep the yard filled all year around if possible. We are also looking at putting in a Formal Walking Garden. In the center of this garden will be a smaller version of Montpelier’s Temple. It is our way of remembering James Madison in the yard. It will also be a great place to take wedding pictures!

3D Drawing of grounds ideas dating back to 2003We are not going to follow all the ideas, but use it as a starting point.

3D Drawing of grounds ideas dating back to 2003
We are not going to follow all the ideas, but use it as a starting point.

Here is a copy of the landscape plan that was done back in 2003. This was just an idea of what they were thinking about doing.  The walking garden at the Riverside of the house isn’t going in at that place. We are thinking of moving it to the right of the house behind the garage area. This will leave open the grounds between the house and the river. We want this to be a three terrace step from the main grounds to the bluff over looking the water. It will also leave space for weddings at the Riverside with a view of the river and wooded area across the river. It is so beautiful.

If you look to the left of the house, you will see a pool. The three buildings around the pool are the three 1790s outbuildings, the Smokehouse, Ice House and Summer Kitchen. The pool isn’t there yet. Right now, there is only open ground. Under that open ground is an older inground pool that runs from the side of the house to the Ice House. But it was filled in for some reason years ago. So before we can put in the new pool, we will have to dig up the old one and remove it.

Current area around Outbuildings

Current area around Outbuildings

The pier you see at the waters edge isn’t there either. There use to be pier there many years ago. In fact I was told by a local man that he use to come to Belle Grove to swim in the pool with the owners son. He would travel from his plantation home downstream up to Belle Grove by boat. We hope in the future to add that pier back. It would be a great place for guests to get down to the water’s edge to watch the birds or do some fishing.

The trees around the Bowling Green aren’t all there yet either. Those will be the crepe myrtles that I love. This will be my touch on Belle Grove that came from my heart. There are also more trees on the Bowling Green that aren’t showing on this plan.

Trees that are still on the Bowling Green -picture date - 19061. Tree to be removed 2. Maple 3. Elm 4. Hickory

Trees that are still on the Bowling Green -picture date – 1906
1. Tree to be removed 2. Maple 3. Elm 4. Hickory

As you can see, we have a lot to talk over and a lot of work ahead of us! Our first task is driveway, sidewalks and grading. We also need to get some drainage work done on the guttering system. Right now it just comes down at the base of the house. This isn’t good for the foundation or the basement that dates back to the Conway period (1670 to 1790).

Whew.. just talking about it, I am already tired. But it will be a labor of love for us. And just think of the wonderful artifacts we are going to find! I can’t wait to get my hands dirty! Anyone what to come “play”?

To see more picture of Belle Grove Plantation

Please visit our Facebook  Page!

Facebook Link

We have also created a new “ABOUT BELLE GROVE PLANTATION” page!

Located just under the “About Us” page on the left hand column!

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Don’t forget to enter the “First Annual Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation” Cookie Contest!

Just Click on James Madison for entry information and rules!

Cookie Contest 2013

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 54 Comments »

Don’t Forget

Oct. 11th 2012

Have you enjoyed the wonderful historic artifacts we have discovered on the plantation?

Help us restore the Summer Kitchen so those wonderful artifacts will have a home!

Summer Kitchen
Built in 1790s
This building is half kitchen and half slave quarters

Don’t forget our Silent Auction Page!

< ———————————–    Find it just to the left side of our blog!

Look at some of the wonderful Vintage and Antique Items!

Lot 1
Blue Glass Inkwell
Late 19th Century
value est. $25.00
Gates Antique Ltd
12700 Old Buckingham Road
Midlothian, VA 23113
John A. Gates III Vice President 

Lot 32
Royal Albert Salad Plate – Bone China – Royal Doulton
Vintage – 1962
value est. $25.00
Siege City Antique Company – Bob
(804) 892-7531
Located in The Oaks Antique Mall
400 N. Sycamore Street
Petersburg, Virginia 23804

Lot 7
Oil Lamp
value est. $25.00
Nansemond Antique Shop
3533 Pruden Blvd
Suffolk, Virginia 23434
Open Wed – Fri from 10-4 and Sat 10-2
(757) 539-6269
Elsie Brinkley
Buy and Sell

Auction ends Friday, November 2nd

Want to place a bid?

Email us at virginiaplantation@gmail with the following information:

Your name, address, email address and blog address


the Item number and description with the amount you would like to bid!

All proceeds go to the restoration and preservation of the 1790s Dependencies and Museum for

the History of Belle Grove Plantation.

Thank you for your support!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 12 Comments »

Slavery in Virginia and Belle Grove

Sep. 10th 2012
Outbuildings at Belle Grove Plantation

Outbuildings at Belle Grove Plantation

When doing the research on the history of Belle Grove, I have come across a lot of wonderful surprises. Historic events and people that we as Americans need to remember. But with that research we have also come across darker times in our history. Not to include it in the history of the plantation would be a disservice to those who lived it and died by it. It is important to know where it came from and how it evolved and what impact it had on Belle Grove Plantation.

When looking at the history of slavery in Virginia, we can trace it back to the founding of the English colony by the London Virginia Company. The London Virginia Company was an English Joint Stock Company that was established by James I of England on April 10, 1606. The London Company, which was also known as the Charter of the Virginia Company of London was established by royal charter with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in the New World. It was through this company that a system called “Headright” was put in place to entice settlers to venture to North America.

A “headright” was a legal grant of land that was given to settlers. To obtain a “headright” the settler would not only have to travel to the New World, but also bring indentured servants with them. The amount of land given was determined by the number of indentured servants brought. Most “headrights” were for 1 to 100 acres of land. The most common amounts were 50 acres for someone newly moved to the area and 100 acres for those who previously living in the area. By giving land to the landowning masters, the indentured servants had little or no chance to gain their own land.

Indentured Servant Note

Indentured servitude was a historical practice of contracting an individual to work for a fixed period of time in exchange for transportation to the New World, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during their term of indenture. The general time period would be three to seven years. Most indentured servants were men and women under the age of 21. Generally their fathers would make the arrangements for them and sign their paperwork. There was no cash paid to the family for the individual. The labor markets were overcrowded in Europe and this system provided jobs to poor young people who wanted to come to the New World for work, but had no way to pay for it. In 1650, there were approximately 4000 white indentured servants working in Virginia. Many would earn their freedom and would receive a grant for 50 acres of land when released from their indentures. Here they would raise their own crops such as tobacco.


African workers were first imported to Virginia in 1619. By 1650, there were about 300 African workers living in Virginia. That was about 1% of the estimated 30,000 population. Some of these indentured servants would go on to earn their freedom and would be able to buy land for themselves.

Just to the south, there were Spanish colonies that had long been using slavery for labor. The first recorded instance of slavery in the Virginia Colony wasn’t until 1654. This was a lawsuit brought to court by Anthony Johnson of Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore against another land owner, Robert Parker over an indentured servant named John Casor. It was Anthony Johnson’s contention that John Casor, an African man, owed him lifetime services.

Anthony Johnson, also an African man, had been brought to Jamestown along with 19 other African men as indentured servants. In 1623, Anthony Johnson had earned his freedom and in 1651 had gained enough wealth to import five “servants” of his own. This import earned him 250 acres as a headright.

John Casor alleged that he had come to Virginia as an indentured servant and had sought to transfer his obligation to Robert Parker, a white farmer. Anthony Johnson claimed in court that “hee had ye Negro for his life”. The Northampton County Court ruled that Robert Parker had unjustly kept John Casor from Anthony Johnson. It was the Judgment of the Court that John Casor be returned to Anthony Johnson and that Robert Parker would make payments for all charges in the suit. John Casor did return to Anthony Johnson. This was the first known judicial approval of life servitude in Virginia with the exception as punishment for a crime. John Casor remained with Anthony Johnson for the rest of his life.

By the end of the 17th century, large numbers of slaves from Africa were brought to the Virginia Colony by Dutch and English ships. These slaves were placed on large tobacco plantations and would work as field labor, household and skilled workers. Slowly these slaves would replace the indentured servants. As slaves, they not no mutual agreement and no time limit for their labor. Even the children of these slaves were born to a lifetime of service. In 1661, Virginia passed a law that made the status of the mother determine the status of the child. In time, slavery would become an economic factor on labor-intensive tobacco and cotton plantations of the South.

In my research, the earliest record I have been able to uncover of slaves at Belle Grove Plantation dates back to the Will of Francis Thornton, husband of Alice Savage Thornton and third landowner of Belle Grove Plantation. Francis Thornton passed away in 1726. In his will he bequeath the following:

“I give and bequeath unto my grandson Francis Conway one mulatto girl names Bess. Item: I give and bequeath unto the within named George Riding son of my wife Ann, five slaves by name – Mullato James, Negro Dick, Negro Jane, Negro Nanny and a negro boy names Samuel. Item: I give and bequeath unto Margaret Riding, daughter to my wife Ann Thornton, six slaves by name – Negro Charles, a girl named Peggee, a Negro girl names Frank, Negro Susan, Negro Billy, a Mulatto Jacob. Item: The rest of my Negroes I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Ann Thornton during her natural life and after her decease I will and bequeath all my said Negros to be divided by equal portions between George & Margaret Riding, son and daughter of my wife Ann Thornton.”

Alice Savage Thornton passed away in 1692 and Ann Thornton was Francis Thornton’s second wife. His grandson, Francis Conway who received one mulatto girl named Bess would become Belle Grove’s fifth landowner and was Grandfather to James Madison.

The next record of slavery comes with the Will of Edwin Conway, husband of Elizabeth Thornton Conway and Great Grandfather of James Madison. His son was Francis Conway in the below paragraph. He passed away in 1698. In his will he bequeathed the following:

“I also give to my sd sone Francis, three negroes, Sam & Kate & Frank, their child, to him…Item, I give unto the child, or children, whereof my wife now goeth withall, the crop of sweet scented tobacco that is now below at my lower plantation, to be put into the hands of Henry and Edwin Thacker and sent for England, and when money is made from the sale of the same, They, to buy two negroes, such as in their discretion they shall think fit, and to bee delivered to their mother, for the saide child, or children. Item, I give to my sone Edwin, all that estate, both real and personal, which I formerly gave him by deed of gift, recorded in Lancaster Court, with all and every part and parcel of my estate in Lancaster County, not before given, except one negro man named Jack.”

The next Will that speaks of slavery is that of Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore. Her first husband was Francis Conway. Her second husband was John Moore. John Moore was who gave Belle Grove it’s name. She was mother to Nelly Conway Madison and Grandmother to James Madison. She passed away in 1761. In her will she bequeath the following:

“and by virtue of said will did on 16th day July last past make choice of the five Negroes •• I bequeath unto my son WILLIAM MOORE when he attains age of Twenty one and to my grandson JAMES MADDISON junr. when he attains Eighteen years of age to be equally divided between them.”

The last Will that speaks of slavery is that of  William Bernard Sr. He was husband of Fannie Hipkins-Bernard. Her father, John Hipkins built the center section of current manor house for her and her husband. In his will he bequeathed the following to his son William Bernard Jr:

“… to my beloved wife (Elizabeth Hooe)……the use of four of my Slaves that she may choose and the use of two female Slaves she may choose till they arrive to fourteen years of age…and if any of the Negroes she shall have chosen shall die or when the two negroe Girls shall have arrived to the age of fourteen my Executors Suffer her to choose others in their place except such as may be employed as house Servants by either of my Children…all my Negroes & Mulattos be divided……to my Son William I give all the Negroes and their Increase that came by his Mother together with the other half of such as I hold in my own Right.”

William Bernard Jr. never received this bequeath. William Bernard Jr. passed away in 1822 and was the last of the Hipkins-Bernard family to live at Belle Grove. His father wouldn’t pass until 1844.

The last records of slavery that I have found was that of Carolinus Turner. In Federal Census Records, I discovered the number of slaves that Carolinus Turner owned during his time at Belle Grove. The 1840 Federal Census lists Carolinus Turner, age 20-30, along with eleven male slaves under ten, eight aged 10-24, five aged 24-36, four aged 36-55, one aged 55-100, twelve female slaves under 10, eight aged 10-24, five aged 24-36, and three aged 36-55, for a total of 58 in the household, with 31 involved in agriculture. The 1850 Federal Census lists Carolinus Turner at 37, a farmer and worth $100,000. He owned 73 slaves at the time. The 1860 Federal Census lists Carolinus Turner at 47, farmer and worth $272,500. He owned 92 slaves.

Death Records of Slaves in King George County

Death Records of Slaves in King George County

From all the records I found, Carolinus Turner’s time period contained the best documentation. I was able to pull death records for King George and was able to put names to some of the slaves of the Turners. Here is some of the names from this list:

Warner Stuart, son of John and Susan Stuart died on November 20, 1853 at the age of one year, three months and four days of unknown causes.

Charles Washington, of unknown parents died on May 23, 1855 at the age of fifty-five of ulcer in hands.

Richard Martin, son of Joseph and Harriet Martin died on May 14, 1855 at an unknown age from Scarlett Fever. There were several children that died in 1855 from Scarlett Fever; three in the month of May.

I was also able to put a name to an overseer during the Turner period. His name was Baldwin Lee. He had an assistant named Francis Roach. Francis and his wife Ellen lost a child, Francis Roach Jr. to Scarlett Fever at the age of eleven on November 14, 1853. I don’t have much information on Baldwin Lee or Francis Roach. The only information I was able to find on Baldwin was that he took his own life in 1868.

During the Civil War, many slaves were taken by the Union Army. As I was looking through the archives, I came across a file of small sheets of paper. Written on each piece of paper was the number of slaves that were taken by the Union Army from an owner in the area. It was as if they expected to be reimbursed for their loses.

I have been searching for some records or maps of Belle Grove before or during the Civil War that might give me some idea where the slave quarters would have been. I was told that someone has a map that showed a slave quarters located in the middle of the field at Belle Grove. We have several dirt roadways, many dating back to the early 19th Century.

Map of Port Conway and Belle Grove - 1854

Map of Port Conway and Belle Grove – 1854

I have located one map that I feel might tell me that there were quarters even closer to the house than that. On this map, you can see where the manor house is and the roadways are. But in the field, which is now located behind the caretakers house, there looks to be a grouping of some sort. Some have told me it could have been an orchard. But this “orchard” extends down and around a roadway to what I think may have been a wharf for shipping at one time. Also when I was walking the plantation back in March, 2011, just beside this area between it and the driveway on the grassy area that separate it, I found two plate shards that date back to the late 1700s to early 1800s. My thought is that there could have been a trash pit nearby. Could it be one used by the slave quarter?

Summer Kitchenbuilt in 1790s

Summer Kitchen
built in 1790s

Our best record of slavery at Belle Grove is our 1790s Summer Kitchen. This kitchen was built with a small kitchen on the right and small living space on the left. What makes me think that it was living quarters instead of perhaps a laundry is the size of its fireplace. The kitchen side of the Summer Kitchen has a very large fireplace that still has the iron rod attached to the back of the fireplace wall and the iron hooks that were used to hang pots to cook. The living quarter side’s fireplace is much smaller and has no iron rod or hooks and has no mantle.

Fireplace on the kitchen side of the Summer Kitchen

Fireplace on the kitchen side of the Summer Kitchen

Fireplace on the living quarters side of the Summer Kitchen

Fireplace on the living quarters side of the Summer Kitchen

Iron Rod with Cooking HooksFireplace on the kitchen side of the Summer Kitchen

Iron Rod with Cooking Hooks
Fireplace on the kitchen side of the Summer Kitchen

My research is not done and I am sure I will find more on the families that lived there. It is our hope that we can restore the Summer Kitchen and convert it into a small museum of what life was like at Belle Grove. Our plan is to house the artifacts and information we uncover on the owners and house in the kitchen side. We would like to devote the living quarters on the left side to the slaves that served Belle Grove. It isn’t the best part of history of the plantation, but it needs to be remembered, lest we forget.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 204 Comments »

See Belle Grove Video!

Jul. 11th 2012

Check out our Belle Grove Plantation Video!

See what it looks like as you drive up to the Manor today. Watch for our resident osprey to fly over the house as you approach the front door. See the grounds as they are today, before we start the landscaping. Get a close look at the Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse.

Experience Living History that spans 221 years!

Our Indiegogo campaign is 12 days from ending. We ask that you please consider making a small contribution to help us save our three dependencies.

What can $5.oo buy you today?

Depending on where you are, maybe a gallon of gas, or an expensive cup of coffee or even a $5 foot long sub!

But what would $5 alone do for our dependencies? Alone not much, but together with many it can:

  • Remove the remodel damage that the previous owner has done to the Summer Kitchen.
  • Repair the foundations, walls and floors.
  • Replace the walls of the Smokehouse that are now exposed and are only just framing.
  • Repair the chimney and replace the mortar between the bricks that has worn away
  • Uncover the Ice Pit in the Ice House
  • Can fund Archaeological Digs around the dependencies to ensure that past artifacts can be preserved
  • Create a learning environment that will teach children and adults about the lives of our Founding Fathers as well as those families and slaves that came after.
  • Will ensure that we won’t lose these important living examples of our American history.

Won’t you please go to our Indiegogo site and give just $5.oo (or more, if you can)? A $5.00 foot long sub once eaten is gone. But a contribution to our campaign will live on for generations. Please Help Us Save our History today!

Yesterday we had some technical issues with our Indiegogo site. We were informed that we are not able to offer lottery or raffle tickets on the campaign. We have had to adjust the perks to reflect this change. However, we will honor our perks and still offer the following if you chose to make a contribution.

  • $10.00:     Preserve History Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 2 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway
  • $25.00:     Plantation Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 5 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.
  • $50.00:     James Madison Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 10 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.
  • $100.00:   Colonial Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 20 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.

For each level, you will also have your name, state or county, and your blog listed on our Patron page under your level of support.

Thank you for your support in Saving our Living History!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 10 Comments »