Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!
Located outside Charles City, Virginia, Berkeley Plantation dates back to the 1600s. An original settlement, named after Berkeley, England, it survived just over 2 years before settlers were massacred by native Americans for violating the terms of their mutual agreement. It seems that the white settlers grew past their agreed upon “space” into areas occupied by the indigenous populations. A coordinated uprising occurred at Berkeley, Jamestown, and Yorktown. Berkeley was the most successful (from the Indian’s perspective that is). One hundred years later, the English tried again at Berkeley, this time successfully.
The manor house was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States. The former is buried on the property. The latter wrote his inaugural address in the manor house but had left 30 years prior after the death of his father. Benjamin Harrison VI left the estate to William’s brother, who apparently gave nothing to the younger Harrison. The future POTUS made his way in the military, becoming a hero fighting the indigenous populations at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. He went on to use the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” when he ran for the Presidency in 1840. He won but served only a month before dying of pneumonia or complications thereof after giving a 2-hour inaugural address on a cold, wet rainy Washington D.C. day. More on the brief Harrison administration when I visit his home in Vincennes, Indiana. He was, however, grandfather to Benjamin Henry Harrison, 23rd President of the U.S.
Not surprisingly, Berkeley was a tobacco plantation built and farmed by slaves.
Point of Interest
During the Revolutionary War, signers of the Declaration of Independence were marked men. King George wanted them dead and sent British troops and Benedict Arnold to do it. Arnold led the troops to Berkeley, but Harrison had been given a heads up and evacuated with his family. Arnold, angry that Harrison escaped, burned all of the furnishings in the front yard. The manor house escaped as George promised the plantation to Arnold as payment for his loyalty. Unfortunately for Benedict, the British lost the war and thus, Arnold lost the spoils of his treachery.
Other signers of the Declaration were not so lucky. This stone is situated in the Harrison cemetery. It tells the fate of many of those who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor at the dawn of the United States.
In the mid 19th century, the Harrison’s lost Berkeley Plantation to the bank. It seems that the Harrison patriarch at the time, although wealthy, wanted to be richer and decided to stop rotating crops and instead, planted tobacco on every available acre (which totaled between 7 – 8,000). Even I know that was stupid. Tobacco was considered the “golden leaf” but was incredibly damaging to the soil. Thus the need to rotate crops in order to replenish the soil with nutrients. Within 5 years, the ground became infertile and the family was forced to live on credit. In the 1840s, a recession hit and the bank called in their loans.
The home has an interesting story after the Harrison’s lost the plantation. I would encourage folks to stop by and visit. It’s a lovely spot on the bank of the James River. You can find details on the website.
Sherwood Forest Plantation
Sherwood Forest Plantation was the home of President John Tyler, 10th President of the United States. It was here that Tyler lived his retirement years after serving out William Henry Harrison’s single term in office (1841-1845). Tyler was Harrison’s vice-president, who then ascended to the presidency after POTUS’s inopportune death.
I really do not know much about John Tyler. I had planned to read his biography prior to this trip, but more pressing topics took priority (like current events). The grounds are open for self-guided tours, but the home is open by appointment only (and no one returned my email inquiry). The President’s grandson, Harrison Tyler lives in the house with his family, thus the need for an appointment.
The Sherwood Forest Plantation was maintained by slaves. Yes, John Tyler was a slaveholder. And yet, as you read through the brochure (your self-guided tour directory), there is no mention of the institution. There is an “overseer’s cabin” whose job was to “manage the field hands.” Field hands? Field hands are mentioned no less than 5 times on the 8 sided accordion brochure. When describing the Mapsico Road, the first dirt road on the property dating to the 1600s, the writer calls out its use during the “War Between the States” by “legendary Confederate calvary General J.E.B. Stuart.” I guess we should be pleased that the bloodiest carnage in American history was not referenced as “The War of Northern Aggression.” Perhaps the grandson has yet to come to terms with his family history of slave ownership. I’m not sure why that is so difficult. My lineage is German. For all I know, I have distant cousins who were Nazi’s. I’m not suggesting that I would openly brag about it at a family reunion, but I would not “dress them up” by describing Cousin Joe, as a “National Socialist Workers Party Member.” Uhm….that’s a Nazi. Fieldhands? You mean slaves.
This is not my first trip to Virginia, but in the past, I did not notice all of the “plantations turned wineries or bed & breakfasts.” Fortunately, there’s only been the one confederate flag sighting off Interstate 64 but it was HUGE – like football field huge.