Virginia: The Old Dominion
Frank W. Hutchins and Cortelle Hutchins
Part 2 out of 4
Despite a nation's shameful neglect, time has spared to her some relics
of the community that gave her birth--a few broken tombs and the
crumbling, tower of the old village church. Every year come many of our
people to look upon these ancient ruins and to pause in the midst of
hurried lives to recall again their story.
[Illustration: AN EXCURSION DAY AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND.]
GOOD-BYE TO OLD JAMES TOWNE
Two or three times we ran the houseboat around in front of the island.
On one occasion we took the notion to stop at places of interest along
the way. Upon coming out from Back River, we spent some time poking
about in the water for the old-time isthmus. We were not successful at
first and almost feared that, after raising it for our own selfish
purposes some days before, we had let it go down again in the wrong
This troubled us the more because we had hoped to settle a vexed
question as to how wide an isthmus had once connected the island with
the mainland. Nautica insisted that the width had been ten paces
because a woman, Mrs. An. Cotton, who once lived near James Towne, had
said so. But the Commodore pointed out that we had never seen Mrs.
Cotton, and that we did not know whether she was a tall woman or a
little dumpy woman; and so could not have the slightest idea of how far
ten paces would carry her. On his part, he pinned his faith to the
statement of Strachey, a man who had lived in James Towne and who had
said that the isthmus was no broader than "a man will quaite a
tileshard." But this Nautica refused to accept as satisfactory because
we did not know what a "tileshard" was nor how far a man would "quaite"
one. So we were naturally anxious to see which of us was right.
[Illustration: GADABOUT LOOKING FOR THE LOST ISTHMUS.]
[Illustration: A VISIT TO THE "LONE CYPRESS."]
After a while we found traces of the isthmus. And the matter turned out
just as most disputes will, if both parties patiently wait until the
facts are all in--that is, both sides were right. The soundings showed
the isthmus to shelve off so gradually at the sides that we found we
could put the stakes, marking its edges, almost any distance apart. So,
the width across the isthmus could very well be ten of Mrs. Cotton's
paces, no matter what sort of a woman she was; and it could just as
well be the distance that "a man will quaite a tileshard," be a
tileshard what it may.
Now, coasting along the end of the island, we had designs on the "Lone
Cypress" for a sort of novel sensation. We approached the hoary old
sentinel carefully, for it would be a sin to even bark its shaggy
sides; and, dropping a rope over a projecting broken "knee," we enjoyed
a striking object lesson on the effects of erosion. In several feet of
water, and nearly three hundred feet from land, our houseboat was tied
to a tree; tied to a tree that a hundred years before stood on the
shore--a tree that likely, in the early days of the colony (for who
knows the age of the "Lone Cypress"?), stood hundreds of yards back on
the island. But it may never be farther from shore than we found it;
for there, glistening in the sunshine, stood the sea-wall holding the
hungry river at bay.
Carefully slipping our rope from the tree, we let the tide carry us out
a little way before starting an engine. Then, bidding goodbye to the
old cypress, we moved on along the shore. We were aware from our map of
ancient holdings that we were ruthlessly cutting across lots over the
colonial acres of one Captain Edward Ross; but, seeing neither dogs nor
trespass signs, we sailed right on. The Captain would not have to
resort to irrigation on his lands to-day.
While dawdling about this submerged portion of old James Towne, we
thought we would make a stop at the spot where those first settlers
landed. After consulting the map, we manoeuvred the houseboat so as to
enable us to do some rough sort of triangulation with the compass, and
finally dropped anchor, satisfied that we were at the historic spot,
even though it was too wet to get out and look for the footprints. And
there, well out on the yellow waters of the James, Gadabout lay lazily
in the sunshine where Sarah Constant was once tied to the bank; where
those first settlers stepped ashore; where America began.
After following the island a little farther down stream, we cast anchor
in a hollow of the shore-line near the steamboat pier. It was not much
of a hollow after all and really formed no harbour. When the west wind
came howling down the James, picking up the water for miles and hurling
it at Gadabout, our only consolation lay in knowing that it could not
have done that if we had only got there two or three centuries earlier.
At that time, the point, or headland, upon which the colonists landed
reached out and protected this shallow bay below. Doubtless, throughout
James Towne days, the smaller vessels found fair harbour where Gadabout
one night rolled many of her possessions into fragments, and her proud
commander into something very weak and wan and unhappy.
In the last few years, there has been an awakening of interest in
long-forgotten James Towne. To Mrs. Edward E. Barney for her generous
gift of the southwest corner of the island to the Association for the
Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and to that Society for its work
in staying the course of decay and the hand of vandalism, our country
The recent researches of Mr. Samuel H. Yonge too have added new
interest. It had long been supposed that almost the entire site of the
ancient village was lost in the river. Mr. Yonge has shown that in fact
but a small part of it is gone. He has even located on the island the
exact sites of so many of the more important village buildings that, it
is said, old James Towne could be practically reproduced in wood and
brick from his map, based upon the ancient records.
To verify his work, Mr. Yonge undertook (in 1903) to discover the
buried ruins of a certain row of buildings that the records described
as made up of a State-house, a "country house," and three dwellings.
The search was begun with a steel probe, which struck the hidden
foundations within twenty-five feet of their position as indicated on
his plat. Then the Association began excavating; the foundations were
uncovered, and are now among the things to see on the island.
[Illustration: ONE OF THE EARLIEST EXCAVATIONS.]
[Illustration: HUNTING FOR THE FIRST STATE HOUSE.]
As Mr. Yonge's map shows the larger part of the site of James Towne to
be lying to the east of the church tower and outside of the A.P.V.A.
grounds, the Daughter of the Island was interested too in seeing what
probe and pick and shovel could do.
It was at one of James Towne's old homes that we next met her. The
meeting, judging from our map of the village, was probably at Captain
Roger Smith's, though one could not be sure. There was no name on the
door, nor indeed any door to put a name on, nor indeed any house to put
a door on--just an ancient basement that the Daughter of the Island had
discovered and was having cleaned out. It badly needed it, nothing of
the kind having been done perhaps for over two hundred years.
"Come and see my find," she cried.
The testing probe having struck something that indicated a buried
foundation, there in the black pea field, this young antiquarian had
put men at work and was being rewarded by finding the ruins of some
ancient house. Portions of two rooms had been disclosed and the
stairway leading down into one of them.
"Come down the stairs," said the proud lady in the cellar.
"Oh, what narrow steps!" Nautica exclaimed.
"They used to build out those brick treads with wood to make them
wider," explained our hostess. "You can see where the wooden parts have
been burned away."
The two rooms were paved with brick, and in one a chimney-place had
come to light. Everywhere were bits of charred wood. Did no place in
James Towne escape the scourge of fire? A kitten came springing over
the mounds of excavated earth and began to prowl about the old
fireplace. Except for a skittish pebble that she chased across the
empty front, she found nothing of interest; no hint of savoury odours
from the great spit over the blazing logs that may have caused a James
Towne cat to sit and gaze and sniff some two centuries or more ago.
But we suddenly left the frivolous kitten upon being told of what had
been found in the other room just before we came. It was a heavy
earthen pot sunk below the floor. We crouched about it with great
interest, chiefly because we did not know what it was for. Perhaps it
was merely to collect the drainage. Anyway it was not what the Daughter
of the Island had fondly thought when it was first uncovered.
"I was sure," she laughed, "that I had found a pot of money."
Standing down there in the ruins we wondered what was the story of the
old house. What feet had trod those paved floors? What had those walls
seen and known of being and loving, of hopes and fears, of joys and
griefs, of life and death? Of all this the uncovered ruin told nothing.
While we were at the island, three or four excavations were made and we
watched them all with interest. When the steel probe had located the
ruin, the digging and the excitement began. Slowly the buried walls
came to light. Within the walls was usually a mass of debris to be
thrown out--bricks of various sizes, shapes, and colours; cakes of the
ancient shell lime; pieces of charred wood, and relics of all sorts.
Some of the bricks were quite imperfectly made and had a greenish hue.
We supposed them to be the oldest ones and to have been baked or dried
in the sun before the colonists had kilns. Some of them had
indentations that were evidently finger imprints.
"I wants to fin' dey ole papahs," said big John, digging heartily. "Dis
hyer is a histoyacal ole place; an' I rathah fin' a box of dey ole
papahs than three hunderd dollahs."
Among the coloured people was an unquenchable hope of finding a pot
full of money.
It was a most interesting experience to sit in the brick rubbish and
watch for the queer little relics that were thrown out now and then. No
great finds were made, but the small ones did very well. There appeared
an endless number of pieces of broken pottery; and the design of a blue
dog chasing a blue fox was evidently a popular one for such ware in
But where was the blue dog's head? The question grew to be an absorbing
one. Each handful of dirt began or ended with a wrong piece of the blue
dog mixed with bits of brass and iron and pottery that brought vividly
to mind the scenes and the folk of that vanished village. Handful after
handful of dirt ran through our ringers like hourglass sands of ancient
days, and the clicking relics were left in our hands in the quest of
the blue dog's head.
And this was the way things went. A piece of a bowl bearing most of the
blue dog's tail; a woman's spur, gilt and broken, worn when merry eyes
peeped through silken riding masks; a bit of Indian pottery with
basketry marks upon it; a blue fox and the fore legs of the blue dog; a
shoe-buckle, silver too--must have been people of "qualitye" here; a
piece of a cream white cup that may have been a "lily pot" such as the
colonist kept his pipe tobacco in; pieces and pieces of the blue dog,
but never a bit of a head; a tiny red pipe and a piece of a white
one--so that must have been a "lily pot"; a door key, some rusty
scissors, and a blue head--of the fox; glass beads, blue beads, such as
John Smith told Powhatan were worn by great kings, thus obtaining a
hundred bushels of corn for a handful of the beads; a pewter spoon, a
bent thimble, and a whole blue dog--no, his miserable head was off.
We never became discouraged and are quite sure yet that we should have
found the blue dog's head if we could have gone on searching. But by
this time the summer was waning, and on up the river was much yet for
Gadabout to see. It was a long visit that we had made at the island,
yet one that had grown in interest as in days. Indeed only in the
passing of many days could such interest come--could old James Towne so
seem to live again.
Lingeringly we had dreamed along its forgotten ways, by its ruined
hearthstones, and among its nameless tombs; and so dreaming had seemed
to draw close to the little old-time hamlet and to the scenes of hope
and of fear, of joy and of despair, that had marked the planting of our
race in America. Now, on the last evening of our stay at the island, we
walked again the familiar paths; looked for the hundredth time down the
great brown river that had borne our people to this place of beginning;
stood once more beside the graveyard wall; then started toward the
houseboat, turning for a last look at the broken church tower and to
bid good night and good-bye to old James Towne.
A SHORT SAIL AND AN OLD ROMANCE
Next day, bustling about with making all things shipshape, we could
scarcely realize that we were actually getting under way again. But
when our mooring-lines were hauled in, Gadabout backed away from her
old friend, the bridge, swung around in the narrow marsh-channel, and
soon carried us from Back River out into the James.
And by this time how impressed we had become with the significance of
that wide, brown flood--that Nestor of American rivers! When is the
James to find its rightful place in American song and story? Our oldest
colonial waterway--upon whose banks the foundations of our country were
laid, along whose shores our earliest homes and home-sites can still be
pointed out--and yet almost without a place in our literature. Other
rivers, historically lesser rivers, have had their stories told again
and again, their beauties lauded, and their praises sung. But this
great pioneer waterway, fit theme for an ode, is to-day our unsung
Gadabout, with the wind in her favour and all the buoys leaning her
way, made good progress. It was not long before we were looking back
catching the last glimpses of the white sea-wall of Jamestown Island.
We now were on our way to pick up other bits of the river story, and
especially those concerning the peculiar colonial home life on the
James. When tobacco culture, with its ceaseless demand for virgin soil,
led many of the colonists to abandon James Towne and to build up great
individual estates, each estate had to have its water front; and old
Powhatan became lined on both sides with vast plantations. Later, the
lands along other rivers were similarly occupied. So pronounced was the
development of plantation life that it affected, even controlled, the
character of the colony and determined the type of civilization in
The great estates became so many independent, self-sufficient
communities--almost kingdoms. Each had its own permanent population
including, besides slaves and common labourers, many mechanics,
carpenters, coopers, and artisans of various kinds. An unbroken water
highway stretched from each plantation wharf to the wharves of London.
Directly from his own pier, each planter shipped his tobacco to
England; and in return there was unloaded upon his own pier the
commodities needed for his plantation community.
Thus was established the peculiar type of Virginia society, the
aristocracy of planters, that dotted the Old Dominion with lordly
manor-houses and filled them with gay, ample life--a life almost feudal
in its pride and power. In this day of our nation's tardy awakening to
an appreciation of its colonial homes, a particular interest attaches
to these old Virginia mansions, once the centres of those proud little
principalities in the wilderness.
And the particular interest of Gadabout's people, as Jamestown Island
faded from sight, attached to a few of the earliest and most typical of
those colonial homes that we knew yet stood on the banks of the "King's
River." From kindly responses to our notes of inquiry, we also knew
that long-suffering Virginia courtesy was not yet quite exhausted, and
that it still swung wide the doors of those old manor-houses to even
the passing stranger. Our next harbour was to be Chippoak Creek, which
empties into the river about twelve miles above Jamestown Island. There
we should be near two or three colonial homes including the well-known
It seemed good to be under way again. There was music in the chug of
our engines and in the purl of the water about our homely bows. The
touch of the wind in our faces was tonic, and we could almost persuade
ourselves that there was fragrance in the occasional whiffs of
We soon came to an opening in the shore to starboard where the James
receives one of its chief tributaries, the Chickahominy, memorable for
its association with the first American romance. Though the tale is
perhaps a trifle hackneyed, yet the duty of every good American is to
listen whenever it is told. So here it is.
Of course the hero was Captain John Smith. How that man does brighten
up the record of those old times! Well, one day the Captain with a
small party from James Towne was hunting in the marshes of the
Chickahominy for food, or adventure, or the South Sea, or something,
and some Indians were hunting there also; and the Indians captured the
Captain. They took him before the great chief Powhatan; and as John lay
there, with a large stone under his head and some clubs waving above
him, the general impression was that he was going to die. But that was
not John's way in those days; he was always in trouble but he never
died. Suddenly, just as the clubs were about to descend, soft arms were
about the Captain's head, and Pocahontas, the favourite daughter of the
old chief, was pleading for the ever-lucky Smith. The dramatic
requirements of the case were apparent to everybody. Powhatan spared
the pale-face; and our country had its first romance.
To be sure, some people say that all this never happened. Indeed the
growing skepticism about this precious bit of our history, this
international romance that began in the marshes of the Chickahominy, is
our chief reason for repeating it here. It is time for the story to be
told by those who can vouch for it--those who have actually seen the
river that flows by the marshes that the Captain was captured in.
On we went with tide, wind, and engines carrying us up the James.
Dancing Point reached sharply out as if to intercept us. But the owner
of those strong dark hands that happened to be at the wheel knew the
story of Dancing Point--of how many an ebony Tam O'Shanter had seen
ghostly revelry there; and Gadabout was held well out in the river.
Again, how completely we had the James to ourselves! We thought of how,
even back in those old colonial days, our little craft would have had
more company. Here, with slender bows pushing down stream, the Indian
canoes went on their way to trade with the settlers at James Towne;
their cargoes varying with the seasons--fish from their weirs in the
moon of blossoms, and, in the moon of cohonks, limp furred and
feathered things and reed-woven baskets of golden maize. Returning, the
red men would have the axes, hatchets, and strange articles that the
pale-faces used, and the cherished "blew" beads that the Cape Merchant
had given them in barter.
Here sailed the little shallops of the colonists as they explored and
charted this unknown land. A few years later and, with rhythmic sway of
black bodies and dip of many oars, came the barges of the river
planters. Right royally came the lords of the wilderness--members of
the Council perhaps, and in brave gold-laced attire--dropping down with
the ebb tide to the tiny capital in the island marshes. And up the
stream came ships from "London Towne," spreading soft white clouds of
canvas where sail was never seen before; and carrying past the naked
Indian in his tepee the sweet-scented powders and the rose brocade that
the weed of his peace-pipe had bought for the Lady of the Manor.
Now, Gadabout began to sidle toward the port bank of the river as our
next harbour, Chippoak Creek, was on that side. Here the shore grew
steep; and at one point high up we caught glimpses of the little
village of Claremont. At its pier lay a three-masted schooner and
several barges and smaller boats. Along the water's edge were mills,
their steam and smoke drifting lazily across the face of the bluffs.
On a little farther, we came to the mouth of Chippoak Creek with the
bluffs of Claremont on one hand, the sweeping, wooded shores of Brandon
on the other, and, in between, a beautiful expanse of water, wide
enough for a river and possibly deep enough for a heavy dew. We
scurried for chart and sounding-pole. Following the narrow, crooked
channel indicated on the chart, we worked our way well into the mouth
of the stream and cast anchor near a point of woods. From the chart we
could tell that somewhere beyond that forest wall, over near the bank
of the river, was the old manor-house that we had come chiefly to
see--Brandon, one of America's most noted colonial homes.
Next morning we were ready for a visit to Brandon. But first, we had to
let the sailor make a foraging trip to the village. One of the troubles
about living in a home that wanders on the waters, is that each time
you change anchorage you must hunt up new places for getting things and
getting things done.
While it is charming to drop anchor every now and then in a snug, new
harbour, where Nature, as she tucks you in with woodland green, has
smiles and graces that you never saw before, yet the houseboater soon
learns that each delightful, new-found pocket in the watery world means
necessity for several other new-found things. There must be a new-found
washerwoman, and new-found somebodies who can supply meats, eggs,
vegetables, ice, milk, and water--the last two separate if possible.
True, the little harbour is beautiful; but as you lie there day after
day watching waving trees and rippling water, the soiled-clothes bags
are growing fatter; and then too, even in the midst of beauty, one
wearies of a life fed wholly out of tin cans.
[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO CHIPPOAK CREEK.]
[Illustration: COVE IN CHIPPOAK CREEK.]
Henry was a good forager; and we were confident, as his strong strokes
carried him from the houseboat shoreward, that he would soon put us in
touch with all the necessary sources of supply, so that in the
afternoon we could make our visit to the old manor-house. And he did
not fail us. His little boat came back well loaded, and he bore the
welcome news that "Sally" (whoever she might be) would take the
But now, a matter of religion got in between us and Brandon. A launch
came down the creek; and, as we were nearly out of gasoline, the
Commodore hailed the craft and made inquiry as to where we could get
some. One of the two men aboard proved to deal in gasoline, and
appeared to be the only one about who did. He had some of it then on
the pier at Claremont; and would sell it any day in the week except
Saturday. The rather puzzling exception he explained by saying that he
was a Seventh-day Adventist. To be sure, it was then only Thursday; but
as it seemed making up for bad weather that might prevent our running
down to the pier next day, we arranged to take on a barrel of the
gasoline that afternoon.
We started after a rather late dinner; and ran back down the river to
where we had seen the schooner and the barges the day before. Just as
the Commodore made a nice, soft-bump landing at the pier, a man
informed him that the gasoline had been carried to the Adventist's mill
by mistake. So, we cast off our ropes again, and went farther down to
where the little mills steamed away at the foot of the bluffs.
Off shore, several sloops and rowboats were tied to tall stakes in the
water. We went as close to shore as we dared; and Gadabout crept
cautiously up to one of the stakes, so as not to knock it over, and was
tied to it. Then, the Commodore went ashore and arranged to have the
gasoline brought out to us.
Presently, two negroes rolled the barrel into a lighter. They poled
their awkward craft out to Gadabout and made fast to a cleat. It took a
long time to pump the gasoline into cans, and then to strain it into
our tank on the upper deck. The day was about over. Relinquishing our
plan of visiting Brandon, we ran back to our Chippoak harbour, and our
anchor went to bed in the creek as the sun went down.
AT THE PIER MARKED "BRANDON"
It was late on the following afternoon when Gadabout was out of the
creek, out in the river, and bound for the little pier marked
A belated steamboat was swashing down stream, and a schooner, having
but little of wind and less of tide to help it along, was rocking
listlessly in the long swell. In the shadow of the slack sails a man
sprawled upon the schooner's deck, while against the old-fashioned
tiller another leaned lazily.
Gadabout had to make quite a detour to get around some shad-net poles
before she could head in toward the Brandon wharf; and her roundabout
course gave time for a thought or two upon the famous old river
Starting but a few years after those first colonists landed at
Jamestown Island, the story of Brandon is naturally a long one. But,
working on the scale of a few words to a century, we may get the gist
of it in here.
Among those first settlers was one Captain John Martin, a considerable
figure of those days and a member of the Council appointed by the King
for the government of the colony. He seems to have been the only man
who believed in holding on at James Towne after the horrors of the
"Starving Time." He made vigorous protest when the settlers took to the
ships and abandoned the settlement.
About 1616, he secured a grant of several thousand acres of land in the
neighbourhood of this creek that we were now lying in, and the estate
became known as Brandon--Martin's Brandon. The terms of the grant were
so unusually favourable that they came near making the Captain a little
lord in the wilderness. He was to "enjoye his landes in as large and
ample manner to all intentes and purposes as any Lord of any Manours in
England dothe holde his grounde." And he certainly started out to do
But soon the General Assembly attacked the lordly prerogatives of the
owner of Martin's Brandon. It did not relish the idea of making laws
for everybody in the colony except John Martin, and he was requested to
relinquish certain of his high privileges. This he refused to do,
saying, "I hold my patente for my service don, which noe newe or late
comers can meritt or challenge." After a while, however, he was induced
to surrender the objectionable "parte of his patente," and manorial
Brandon became like any other great estate in the colony.
After several changes of ownership, Brandon came into the possession of
another prominent colonial family, the Harrisons. The founder of this
Virginia house (the various branches of which have given us so many men
prominent in our colonial and national life) was Benjamin Harrison, one
of the early settlers, a large land holder, and a member of the
Council. His son Benjamin (also a man of position in the colony and a
member of the Council) was probably the first of the family to hold
lands at Brandon.
But it was not until the third generation that the Harrisons became
thoroughly identified with the two great plantations that have ever
since been associated with the name; Benjamin Harrison, the third,
acquiring Berkeley, and his brother Nathaniel completing the
acquisition of the broad acres of Brandon. Berkeley passed to strangers
many years ago; but Brandon has come down through unbroken succession
from the Harrisons of over two centuries ago to the Harrisons of
That makes a great many Harrisons. And as it happened, while Gadabout
was on her way that day to visit their ancestral home, a genealogical
chart with its maze of family ramifications was lying on a table in the
forward cabin, and Henry saw it.
"King's sake!" he exclaimed. "That must be the host they couldn't
count. Don't you know John say how he saw a host no man could number?
That's cert'nly them!"
As we approached the Brandon pier, we saw a man on it who proved to be
the gardener and who helped to handle our ropes as we made our landing.
Then, with the aid of a beautiful collie, he led us up the slope toward
the still invisible homestead.
Entering the wooded grounds through quaint, old-fashioned gateways, we
followed our guide along a trail that topped the river bluff, where
honeysuckle ran riot in the shrubbery and tumbled in confusion to the
beach below. The trail ended in a cleared spot on the crest of the
bluff--a river lookout, where one could rest upon the rustic seat and
enjoy the ever-varying picture of water, sky, and shore.
[Illustration: RIVERWARD FRONT OF BRANDON.]
But we turned our backs upon it all, for to us it was not yet Brandon.
Now, our course lay directly away from the river along a broad avenue
of yielding turf, straight through an aged garden. Above were the
arching boughs of giant trees; below and all about, a wealth of
old-fashioned bloom. The sunlight drifted through shadowing
fringe-trees, mimosas, magnolias, and oaks. Hoary old age marked the
garden in the breadth of the box, in the height of the slow-growing
yews, and in the denseness of the ivy that swathed the great-girthed
trees. It all lay basking in the soft, mellow light of sunset, in the
hush of coming twilight, like some garden of sleep.
Suddenly, the grove and the garden ended and we were over the threshold
of a square of sward, an out-of-door reception room, no tree or shrub
encroaching. Beyond this was a row of sentinel trees; and then a
massive hedge of box with a break in the middle where stood the white
portal of Brandon. We could tell little about the building. The eye
could catch only a charming confusion: foliage-broken lines of wall and
roof; ivy-framed windows; and, topping all, just above the deep green
of a magnolia tree, the white carved pineapple of welcome and
In the softened light of evening, the charm of the place was upon
us--old Brandon, standing tree-shadowed and dim, its storied walls in
time-toned tints, its seams and crannies traced in the greens of moss
and lichen, its ancient air suggestive, secretive,
"In green old gardens hidden away
From sight of revel and sound of strife."
We entered a large, dusky hall with white pillars and arches midway,
and with two rooms opening off from it--the dining-room on the one
hand, the drawing-room on the other. In the old chimney-pieces, fire
leaped behind quaint andirons taking the chill from the evening air.
And there in the dusk and the fire-glow, where shadows half hid and
half revealed, where old mahogany now loomed dark and now flashed back
the flickering light, where old-time worthies fitfully came and went
upon the shadowy, panelled walls--we made our acquaintance with Brandon
and with the gracious lady of the manor. Our talk ran one with the hour
and the dusk and the firelight--old days, old ways, and all that
Brandon stands for.
When our twilight call was over, it was with dreamy thoughts on the far
days of Queen Anne and of the Georges that we went from the
white-pillared portico down the worn stone steps and followed a side
path back toward our boat. In the gloaming the side-lights were being
put in place, and Gadabout turned a baleful green eye upon us, as
though overhearing our talk of such unnautical things as gardens and
heirlooms and ancestral halls.
Next morning there was much puffing of engines and ringing of signal
bells down in Chippoak Creek. Gadabout went ahead and backed and
sidled. And it was all to find a new way to go to Brandon. Mrs.
Harrison had told us of a landing-place in the woods at the creek side
from which a sort of roadway led to the house. Fortunately, our charts
indicated, near this landing, a small depression in the bed of the
creek where there would be sufficient depth of water for our houseboat
to float even at low tide. At last, we got over the flats and into the
hole in the bottom of the creek that seemed to have been made for us.
We rowed ashore to a yellow crescent of sandy beach shaded by cypresses
where a cart-path led off through the woods. We called it the woods-way
to Brandon. It followed the shore of the creek a little way, and
through the leafy screen we caught glimpses of Gadabout out in the
stream, now with a cone-tipped branch of pine and again with a
star-leaved limb of sweet gum for a foreground setting.
Farther along were many dogwood trees; and in the springtime these
woods must be dotted with those white blossom-tents that so charmed the
first settlers on their way up the river. Here, for the first time, we
came upon the trailing cedar spreading its feathery carpet under the
trees. Ferns lifted their fronds in thick, wavy clusters. The freshness
from a night storm was upon every growing thing; a clearing northwest
wind was in the tree-tops; and the air was filled with the spicy
sweetness of the woodland.
The way led out of the shadow of the trees into the open, and we came
upon "the quarters"--long, low buildings with patches of corn and sweet
potatoes about them. Two coloured women were digging in the gardens and
another was busy over an out-of-door washtub. A group of picaninnies
played about a steaming kettle swung upon a cross-stick above an
open-air fire. One fat brown baby sat in a doorway poking a pudgy thumb
into a saucer of food and keeping very watchful eyes on the strangers.
Beyond the quarters were barns and some small houses.
[Illustration: A SIDE PATH TO THE MANOR-HOUSE.]
[Illustration: THE WOODS-WAY TO BRANDON.]
And here was our first reminder of a distressing chapter in the story
of Brandon. We knew that but few of these buildings were old-time
outbuildings of the estate. The Civil War bore hard upon this as upon
other homes along the James. It left little upon the plantation except
the old manor-house itself, and that injured and defaced.
On ahead, we could see the great grove in which the manor-house stands,
looming up in the midst of the cleared land like a small forest
reservation. Our route this time brought us to the homestead from the
landward side through an open park, and we got a better view of the
building than the dense foliage on the other side had permitted. The
house is of the long colonial type, consisting of a square central
building, two large flanking wings, and two connecting corridors. It is
built of brick laid in Flemish bond, showing a broken pattern of glazed
headers. Each front has its wide central porch and double-door
The emblem of hospitality that tops the central roof is truly
characteristic of the spirit within. Old colonial worthies, foreign
dignitaries, presidents and their cabinets, house-parties of "Virginia
cousins," and "strangers within the gates"--all have known the open
hospitality of Brandon. And the two latest strangers now moved on
assured of kindly welcome at the doorway.
Entering Brandon from the landward front, we found ourselves again in
the large central hall. It is divided midway by arches resting on
fluted Ionic columns and has a fine example of the colonial staircase.
This hall and the drawing-room and the dining-room on either side of it
cover the entire ground floor of the central building. Offices and
bedrooms occupy the wings. The rooms are lofty, and most of them have
fireplaces and panelled walls.
Through the east doorway one looks down a long vista to the river. In
the sunlight it is striking: the shadows from the dense foliage before
the portal lie black upon the grass; beyond is the stretch of sunny
sward; and then the turf walk under meeting boughs, a green tunnel
through whose far opening one sees a bit of brown river and perhaps a
white glint of sail.
In drawing-room and dining-room are gathered numerous paintings forming
a collection well known as the Brandon Gallery. It represents the work
of celebrated old court painters and of notable early American artists.
[Illustration: IN THE DRAWING-ROOM.]
In the drawing-room, a canvas by Charles Wilson Peale may be regarded
as the portrait-host among the shadowy figures gathered there, its
subject being Colonel Benjamin Harrison. He was friend and college
roommate of Thomas Jefferson, and a member of the first State Executive
Council in 1776. Against the dense background is shown a slender
gentleman of the old school, with an intellectual, kindly face and
About him is a distinguished gathering--dames and damsels in rich
attire and languid elegance; gallants and nobles in court costume and
dashing pose, jewelled hand on jewelled sword.
In the dining-room, the portrait hostess is found, the wife of the
Colonel Harrison who presides in the drawing-room. She was the
granddaughter of the noted colonial exquisite and man of letters,
Colonel William Byrd, whose old home, Westover, we should soon visit on
our way up the river. It was through her marriage to Colonel Harrison
that there were added to the Brandon collection many of the paintings
and other art treasures of the Byrd family, including a certain,
well-known canvas that carries a story with it.
It is an old, old story--indeed the painting itself is dimmed by the
passing of nearly two centuries; but just as the sweet face looks out
from its frame ever girlish, so does perennial youth seem to dwell in
the romance of the "Fair Maid of the James." The portrait is by Sir
Godfrey Kneller. It shows a beautiful young woman. Her gray-blue gown
is cut in a stiff, long-waisted style of the eighteenth century, yet
still showing the slim grace of the maiden. The head is daintily
poised. A red rose is in her hair and one dark curl falls across a
white shoulder. Her face is oval and delicately tinted. She follows you
with her soft, brown eyes, and her lips have the thought of a smile.
Such was the colonial beauty, Evelyn Byrd, daughter of Colonel William
Byrd. Though her home was not here but at Westover, and there she
sleeps under her altar-tomb, yet the girlish presence seems at Brandon
too, where the winsome face looks down from the wall, and where we must
pause to tell her story.
This Virginia girl was educated in London where she had most of her
social triumphs. There she was presented at court and there began the
pitiful romance of her life in her meeting with Charles Mordaunt. In
all youth's happy heedlessness these two fell in love--the daughter of
"the baron of the James" and the grandson and heir of London's social
leader, Lord Peterborough.
It seemed a pretty knot of Cupid's tying; but just here William Byrd
cast himself in the role of Fate. Some say because of religious
differences, some say because of an old family feud, he refused to
permit the marriage. He brought his daughter back to Virginia where, as
the old records say, "refusing all offers from other gentlemen, she
died of a broken heart."
That day when we left the manor-house, we started homeward, or
boatward, with our faces set the wrong way; for we wandered first into
the old garden.
It is a typical colonial garden that lies down by the river--a great
roomy garden where trees and fruit bushes stand among the blossoming
shrubs and vines and plants. It is a garden to wander in, to sit in, to
dream in. All is very quiet here and the world seems a great way off.
Only the birds come to share the beauty with you, and their singing
seems a part of the very peace and quiet of it all. The old-fashioned
flowers are set out in the old-fashioned way. There are (or once were)
the prim squares, each with its cowslip border, and the stiffly regular
little hedgerows. One may hunt them all out now; but for so many
generations have shrub and vine and plant lived together here, that a
good deal of formality has been dispensed with, and across old lines
bloom mingles with bloom.
The old garden calendars the seasons as they come and go. As an early
blossom fades, a later one takes its place through all the flowery way
from crocus to aster.
Trifling, cold, and unfriendly seem most gardens of to-day in
comparison with these old-fashioned ones. Perhaps the entire display in
the modern garden comes fresh from the florist in the spring, and is
allowed to die out in the fall, to be replaced the next spring by
plants not only new but even of different varieties from those of the
year before. Not so at Brandon. Here, the garden is one of exclusive
old families. Its flower people can trace their pedigrees back to the
floral emigrants from England. The young plants that may replace some
dead ones are scions of the old stock. Strange blossoms, changing every
spring like dwellers in a city flat, would not be in good standing with
the blue flags that great- (many times great-) grandmother planted, nor
with the venerable peonies and day lilies, the lilacs and syringas that
remember the day when the elms and magnolias above them were puny
saplings. Even a huge pecan tree, twenty-one feet around, whose
planting was recorded in the "plantation book" over a century ago, is
considered rather a new-comer by the ancient family of English
Here is restful permanence in this world of restless change. Loved ones
may pass away, friends may fail, neighbours may come and go; but here
in the quiet old garden, the dear flower faces that look up to cheer
are the same that have given heart and comfort to generations so remote
that they lie half-forgotten beneath gray, crumbling stones with quaint
HARBOUR DAYS AND A FOGGY NIGHT
Day after day, we lay in our beautiful harbour of Chippoak Creek as the
last of the summer-time went by and as autumn began to fly her bright
signal flags in the trees along the shore.
Sometimes we moored in the little depression that Nature had scooped
out for us close by the Brandon woods; sometimes we scrambled out from
it at high tide and went across and cast anchor by the Claremont shore.
Now and then we would go for a run up the creek, or out for a while on
the broad James.
It is well to stay in a pretty harbour long enough to get acquainted
with it. By the time we could tell the stage of the tide by a glance at
the lily pads, and could get in and out over the flats in the dark, and
could go right to the deep place in Brandon cove without sounding, we
had learned where the late wild flowers grew, that the washing would
get scorched on one side of the creek and lost on the other, that the
best place for fishing was around behind the island, and that the
Claremont "butcher" had fresh meat on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Gradually, our neighbours of marsh and woodland lost their shyness, and
some of them paid us the compliment of simply ignoring us. Most of the
blue herons flew high or curved widely past Gadabout--long necks
stretched straight before, long legs stretched straight behind. But the
Tragedian (he was the longest and the lankest) minded us not at all. At
the last of the ebb, a snag over near the shore would suddenly add on
another angle and jab down in the water, coming up again with a shiver
and a fish. Then, it would approach the houseboat and stalk the waters
beside our windows. The stage stride of the creature won for it the
name of the Tragedian. Knowing the shyness of his kind we felt
especially pleased by a still further proof of his confidence. One
morning, in response to a cautious whisper from the sailor, we stole
stealthily upon the after deck and saw that the Tragedian was, truly
enough, "settin' on an awnin'-pole pickin' hisself."
There was a dead tree on our Brandon shore-line. It stood among tall
pines and sweet gums and beeches as far up as they went, after that it
stood alone in the blue. We called it Old Lookout. A bald eagle used it
for a watch-tower. Lesser birds dared plume themselves up there when
the king was away: crows cawed and sidled along the smooth branches;
hawks and buzzards came on tippy wing and lighted there; and even
little birds perched pompously where the big eagle's claws had been.
But when the snowy head above the dark, square shoulders tipped Old
Lookout, the national emblem had it all to himself. Occasionally he
preened his feathers; but he did it in a bored, awkward way, as if
forced on account of his valet's absence into unfamiliar details of
toilet quite beneath his dignity. Now and then he would scream. It is
hard to believe that such a bird can have such a voice. He always lost
caste in our eyes when he had his little, choked-up penny whistle
The attractions of harbour life did not keep us away from the old
manor-house. Once when Gadabout ran around to the river front, she
found a yacht from Philadelphia at the pier; and so passed on a little
way and cast anchor in a cove opposite the garden.
Few other notable houses in America, still used as homes, are the
objects of so many pilgrimages as the historic places on the James.
Indeed, few people but the hospitable Virginians would so frequently
and so courteously fling wide their doors to strangers.
When the yachting visitors were gone that day and we were at the old
home engrossed in the architecture of the Harrison colonial cradle,
there came the long blasts of the steamer Pocahontas blowing for the
Brandon landing. Not that she had any passengers or freight for Brandon
perhaps, or Brandon for her, but because all these river estates are
postoffices and the Pocahontas carries the river mail. After a
considerable time (for even the United States mail moves slowly through
the sleepy old garden), a coloured boy brought in a bag with most
promising knobs and bulges all over it.
The postoffice at Brandon is over in the south wing where there are
pigeon-holes and desks and such things. But the family mail is brought
into the great dining-room and there, in the good plantation way, it is
opened on the old mahogany.
The mail that morning made a very good directory of the present-day
family at Brandon. There were letters and packages for the mistress of
the plantation and for the daughter and the son living in the
manor-house with her, and also for the other daughter and her husband,
Mr. Randolph Cuyler, who live across the lawn in Brandon Cottage with
its dormer windows and wistaria-draped veranda. Mrs. Harrison is the
widow of Mr. George Evelyn Harrison, and the daughter of the late
William Washington Gordon, who was the first president of the Central
Railroad of Georgia and one of the most prominent men in that state.
[Illustration: "VENERABLE FOUR-POSTERS, RICHLY CARVED AND DARK."]
Brandon to-day keeps up correspondence with relatives and friends in
England and on the Continent, reads English papers and magazines, sends
cuttings from rosebushes and shrubs across seas, makes visits there and
is visited in turn. So, it was pleasant to have the reading of our own
welcome letters diversified by bits of foreign news that came out of
the bag for Brandon. We could imagine an expression of personal
interest on the handsome face of Colonel Byrd, as he stood in court
costume on the wall above us, when the wrappings were taken from a
volume containing the correspondence of his old friend, the Earl of
Orrery, and sent by the present Earl to Mrs. Harrison. In it were some
of the Colonel's letters written from his James River home, and in
which he spoke of how his daughters missed the gaieties of the English
Court. The torn wrappings and bits of string were gathered up and a
little blaze was made of them behind the old fire-dogs. Then we were
shown more of Brandon.
Up quaint staircases in the wings we went to the roomy bedrooms with
their ivy-cased windows, mellow-toned panelling, and old open
fireplaces. As daily living at Brandon is truly in the paths of
ancestral worthies, so, at night, there are venerable four-posters,
richly carved and dark, to induce eighteenth century dreams in the
twentieth century Harrisons. Massive mahogany wardrobes, bureaus, and
washstands are as generations of forebears have used them.
Some of the bedrooms once had small rooms opening off from them, one on
either side of the fireplace, each having a window. An English
kinswoman of the family says that such rooms were called "powdering
rooms." Through holes in the doors, the colonial belles and beaux used
to thrust their elaborately dressed heads into these rooms, that they
might be powdered in there without the sweet-scented clouds enveloping
silks and velvets too.
From bedrooms to basement is a long way; but we would see the old stone
bench down there where used to sit the row of black boys to answer
bells from these rooms above. Just over the bench hangs still a tangle
of the broken bell wires. When colonial Brandon was filled with guests,
there must often have been a merry jangle above the old stone bench and
a swift patter of feet on the flags. Standing there to-day, one can
almost fancy an impatient tinkle. Is it from some high-coiffured beauty
in the south wing with a message that must go post-haste--a missive
sanded, scented, and sealed by a trembling hand and to be opened by one
no steadier? or is it perhaps from some bewigged councillor with
knee-buckles glinting in the firelight as he waits for the subtle
heart-warming of an apple toddy?
Now, we were ready to go home; but we did not start at once. A stranger
going anywhere from Brandon should imitate the cautious railways and
have his schedule subject to change without notice. At the last moment,
some new old thing is bound to get between him and the door. In our
case, two or three of them did.
Somebody spoke of a secret panel. That sounded well; and even though we
were assured that nothing had been found behind it, we went to the
south wing to look at the hole in the wall. At one side of a fireplace,
a bit of metal had been found under the molding of a panel in the
wainscoting. It was evidently a secret spring, but one that had long
since lost its cunning; stiff with age and rust, it failed to respond
to the discovering touch. In the end, the panel had to be just
prosaically pried out. And, worst of all, the dim recess behind it was
When we had peered within the roomy secret space and had wondered what
had been concealed there and what hands had pressed the hidden spring,
we might really have started for the houseboat if it had not been for
the skull story. But there, just underneath a window of the
secret-panel room, was another place of secrets. It was a brick
projection from the wall of such peculiar form as to have invited
investigation. When some bricks had been removed and some earth taken
out, a human skull showed white and ghastly. Then, at the touch of
moving air, it crumbled away. That was no story to start anywhere on,
even in broad daylight; so we had another.
We were taken into the drawing-room and there, sharing honours with the
portraits, was a little gold ring hanging high from the chandelier
rosette. While not a work of art like one of the canvases on the wall,
it has its own sufficient charm--it is a mystery. The dainty gold band
has hung above the heads of generations of Harrisons, and somewhere in
the long line its story has been lost. Who placed the ring where it
hangs, and whether in joy or in grief, nobody longer knows. But it will
swing safely there while Brandon stands, for in this ancient house,
down the ages undisturbed, come the mysteries and the ghosts.
That evening a wind came up and rain set in from a depressing
dark-blue-calico sky. Gadabout did not take the trouble to run back
into her creek harbour; but put down a heavier anchor and made herself
comfortable for the night in the cove above the Brandon pier. The
cradling boat and the patter upon the roof soon put us to sleep. Then
something put us very wide awake again. We listened, but there was
nothing to hear. The wind had died out and the boat had stopped
rolling. In a moment, the long blast of a steamer whistle told what was
the matter. In blanket-robe and slippers, the Commodore got quickly to
a window, and found the river world all gone--swallowed up in fog.
[Illustration: A CORNER IN THE DINING--ROOM.]
[Illustration: THE DRAWING-ROOM FIREPLACE.]
Another weird, warning call out of the mysterious, impenetrable mist;
the steamer for Richmond was groping her way up the river. To be sure,
anchored as we were so far inshore of the channel, we were well clear
of the steamer's course; but in such heavy fogs the river boats often
go astray. As succeeding blasts sounded nearer, the Commodore became
anxious and, without waiting to turn out the crew, he started for the
But where was the fog-bell? Not where it ought to be, we well knew.
Some changes in the cockpit had crowded it from its place, and for some
time it had been stowed away--but where? The Commodore scurried from
locker to locker.
"Couldn't we just as well whistle?" asked Nautica.
"No, no. A boat under way whistles in a fog, but one at anchor must
ring a bell."
One more locker, and, "I've found it!" triumphantly cried the
Commodore; but then, in dismay, "There goes the tongue out of the
Suddenly came another blast from the steamer. She sounded almost atop
of us, and the whistling was followed by a swashing of water as though
her propeller had been reversed.
"Why don't you call Henry?" asked Nautica.
"No time now," said the Commodore. "I must find something to pound this
Of course there seemed nothing available. The Commodore seized a whisk
broom, but dropped that in favour of a hair-brush; and then in the
excitement some harder object was thrust into his hand and he started
for the door.
Nautica hurried to a window, and now saw a blur of light through the
fog, showing that the steamer had safely passed us; but, though she
called joyously, she was not in time to stay the Commodore, who had
already dashed into the cockpit beating the tongueless bell with her
When he was at last caught and silenced, we could hear voices on the
steamer, orders being given, and then the rattle of running chain. She
had given up trying to make headway in the fog, and was coming to
anchor just above us.
We heartened up the hickory fire and dressed after a fashion; and sat
down to talk things over. The steamer did not ring her bell, so we did
not summon the sailor to apply dressing-table accessories to ours.
Going to a window now and then, we noticed that the fog was thinning;
and at one place there seemed a luminous blur, indicating perhaps where
the steamer lay. We wondered whether running so close upon Gadabout was
what had determined the captain to cast anchor. And then we wondered
other things about fogs and mists and bewildered ships.
Nautica sat studying the firelight (not exactly in a dreamy old
fireplace, but through a damper-hole in the stove), and at length
voiced the inspiration that she got.
"If only one could see things in a fog, it wouldn't be so bad," she
"No," came the answer dryly, "a fog that one could see in would be
quite an improvement."
"Wait a moment," laughed Nautica. "I mean it isn't merely the dangers
lurking in a fog, but the way you go into them that is so terrible. The
dangers of a storm you can meet, looking them straight in the face; but
those of a fog you have to meet blindfold."
"I thought of that when I got up to-night and stood by the window,"
said the Commodore. "As the steamer's whistle kept sounding nearer, I
could imagine the great, blinded creature slowly groping its way up the
river. I think I quite agree that it would be nicer to have fogs that
people could see in."
And we felt that Gadabout would be of the same way of thinking. Indeed,
could we not hear her joining in as we talked, and good naturedly
grumbling that if we couldn't have that kind of fogs, why then we ought
to get close in shore among the crabs and the sand-fiddlers, where the
big boats could not come; or else go into a quiet little creek with a
sleepy little houseboat.
But by this time no one was listening to Gadabout. Any further fussy
complaining of this little craft was drowned by the Commodore reading
aloud. He had bethought him of a book containing some chapters on
Brandon that we had got from the manor-house. And reading made us
hungry; and there were two apple tarts on the upper shelf of the
refrigerator (for had not the cook provided them "in case an' you
should wish 'em befo' you retiah"?); and by the time the tarts were
gone, so was the fog; and the steamer headed again for Richmond and we
OLD SILVER, OLD PAPERS, AND AN OLD COURT GOWN
Toward the last of our stay in Chippoak Creek, the weather was bad; but
it was surprising how agreeable disagreeable days could be at Brandon.
It was dark and gloomy that afternoon when we got to looking at the old
family silver, and even raining dismally by the time we were carefully
unfolding the faded court gown; but on we went from treasure to
treasure oblivious of the weather.
Fine and quaint pieces of old silver are among the family plate. Many
of them bear the Harrison crest--a demi-lion rampant supporting a
laurel wreath. And who would know what the weather was doing, when
those ancient pieces were passing from hand to hand, and the
fascinating study of hall marks was revealing dates more than two
centuries past? There is even some ecclesiastical silver in the old
home--the communion service once used in the Martin's Brandon Church, a
building no longer standing. The inscription tells that the service was
the gift of Major John Westhrope, and the marks give date of about
But no one form of the antique can hold you long at Brandon. From out
some drawer or chest or closet, another treasure will appear and lure
you away with another story of the long ago. With the inimitable sheen
of old silver still in our eyes, our ears caught the crackle of ancient
parchment; and we turned to the fascinations of venerable records and
dingy red seals and queer blue tax stamps. The papers were delightfully
quaint and yellow and worn, but from their very age a little awesome
The most valued one of them all is the original grant of Martin's
Brandon bearing date 1616--four years before the Pilgrims landed at
Plymouth. The grant covers a page and a half of the large sheets of
heavy parchment, and the ink is a stronger black than that on records a
[Illustration: TREASURED PARCHMENTS, INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL GRANT OF
On a worn paper dated 1702 is a plat of Brandon plantation. It shows
that at that time the central portion of the manor-house had not been
built as only two disconnected buildings (the present wings) are given.
A part of the sketch is marked "a corner of the garden." So, for two
hundred years (and who knows how much longer?) there has been that
garden by the river. Off at one side of the old map, we found our
landing-place in the woods beside some wavy lines that, a neat clerkly
hand informed us in pale brown ink, were the "meanderings of Chippoak
Poring so intently over those ancient papers with their great Old
English capitals, their stiff flourishes, their quaint abbreviations,
we should scarcely have been startled to see a peruked head bend above
them and a hand with noisy quill go tracing along the lines of those
long-ago "Whereases" and "Be it knowns."
But, instead, something quite different came out of the past: something
very soft and feminine fell over the blotched old papers--the treasured
silk brocade in which Evelyn Byrd was presented at the Court of George
I. Like a shadowy passing of that famous colonial belle, was the sweep
of the faint-flowered gown. A fabric of the patch-and-powder days is
this, with embroidered flowers in old blues and pinks clustered on its
deep cream ground. Its fashioning is quaint: the Watteau pleat in the
back with tiny tucks each side at the slim waist line, the square low
neck, the close elbow sleeves, the open front to display the quilted
Mingled feelings rise at sight of the soft brocade whose bodice once
throbbed with the happy heartbeats of this Virginia maiden, making
pretty curtsy in rosy pleasure, the admiration of the English Court.
Perhaps in this very gown she danced the stately minuet with young
Charles Mordaunt; perhaps hid beneath its fluttering laces his first
love sonnet. So, in those far colonial days it knew the life of her.
The grace of the young body seems still to linger in the pale,
shimmering folds; and the clinging touch of the old court gown is like
a timid appeal for remembrance.
After that rainy afternoon at the manorhouse, we were storm-bound
aboard Gadabout for a few days. At last the weather cleared and we
again thought of a trip ashore. There was yet a brisk wind; and for
some time our rowboat rocked alongside, industriously bumping the paint
off the houseboat, while we sat on the windlass box enjoying the fresh
breeze in our faces and watching the driftage catch on our anchor
chain. Of course one can sit right down on the bobby bow itself with
feet hanging over, and poke with a stick at the flotsam. But that is
only for moments of lazy leisure, not for a time when one is about to
At last, we were ashore and again in the "woods-way." That was the day
we got into trouble, all owing to Nautica's passion for ancient
tombstones. We were half way to Brandon when she concluded that it was
not the manor-house that she wished to visit first, but the old
graveyard. We stopped at the manager's house to inquire the way. The
road led inland. It soon dipped to a bridge over a little stream, where
the banks were masses of honeysuckle whose fragrance followed us up the
slope beyond. On a little farther was a field with a grove in the
centre of it that we knew, from the directions given us, contained the
We entered the field, and had got almost to the grove when Nautica
suddenly stopped, stared, and turned pale. The Commodore's glance
followed hers; whereupon, he uttered brave words calculated to reassure
the timid feminine heart, and in a voice that would have been steady
enough if his knees had kept still. The bull said nothing.
Very soon, and without his moving at all, that bull was far away from
us. We recognized at once that the field was properly his preserve and
that we really had no right there; but we trusted that our intrusion in
coming in would be atoned for by our promptness in getting out.
In the absorbing process of putting space between the bull and the
houseboaters, the restlessness of the Commodore's knees was really an
advantage. They moved so fast that he was able to keep in advance of
Nautica, and so be ready to protect her if another bull should appear
on ahead. When he felt satisfied that he need no longer expose himself
in the van (and, incidentally, that the bull in the rear had been left
out of sight), he slackened his pace. We managed to get down to a walk
in the course of half a mile or so; and at last approached Brandon at a
quite decorous gait.
There, we learned that we had gone to the wrong cemetery anyway--to the
one that had belonged to the old Brandon Church whose communion service
we had seen. The Harrison burying-ground was not far from the home.
So, with members of the household, we went out across the lawn and
around a corner of the garden to the family graveyard. The first
Benjamin Harrison, the emigrant, who died about 1649, is not buried
here. His tomb stands near the great sycamore tree in the churchyard at
James Towne. However, the tombs of his descendants, owners of Brandon,
are (with one exception) in this old plantation burying-ground.
[Illustration: THE ANCIENT GARRISON HOUSE.]
In the walk back to the house, we stopped to see what is probably the
oldest, and in many respects the most interesting, building on the
plantation. It is just an odd stubby brick house with a crumbling
cellar-hut at one end. But family tradition says that it is one of the
old garrison houses, or "defensible houses," built in early times for
protection against the Indians. It certainly looks the part, with its
heavy walls, its iron doors and shutters, and the indications of former
loopholes. Upon those first scattered plantations, a characteristic
feature was such a strong-house or "block-house" surrounded by a
stockade or "palisado" of logs.
While this strong-house at Brandon must have been built after the
terrible Indian massacre of 1622, yet it doubtless served as a place of
refuge in later attacks. Many a time that dread alarm may have spread
over this plantation. We thought of the hurrying to and fro; of the
gathering of weapons, ammunition, bullet-molds, food, and whatever
necessities there may have been time to catch up; and of the
panic-stricken men, women and children fleeing from field and cabin to
the shelter of the stockade and of the strong-house.
Back again in the manor-house, we spent our last hour at Brandon; for
Gadabout was to sail away next day. It was a colonial hour; for Brandon
clocks tick off no other, nor would any other seem natural within those
Sitting there in the old home, we slipped easily back into the
centuries; back perhaps to the day of the great mahogany sofa that we
sat upon. It all seemed very real. The afternoon sun--some eighteenth
century afternoon sun--came in through deep-casemented windows. It
lighted up the high, panelled room, falling warmly upon antique
furniture about us, upon by-gone worthies on the wall, and (quite as
naturally, it seemed) upon a colonial girl, who now smilingly appeared
in the doorway. Bringing the finishing touch of life to the old-time
setting, she came, a curl of her dark hair across a white shoulder and
her gown a quaintly fashioned silk brocade.
This eighteenth century presentment was in kindly compliance with a
wish that we had expressed on that rainy day when we were looking over
Brandon treasures. It was Brandon's daughter in the court gown of her
colonial aunt, Evelyn Byrd. And we thought in how few American homes
could this charming visitor from the colonies so find the colonial
waiting to receive her.
[Illustration: MISS HARRISON IN THE COURT GOWN OF HER COLONIAL AUNT,
Nowhere in the world, it is said, are there so many new, comfortable
homes built for the passing day as in America; but also in no civilized
country are there so few old homes. More and more, as this fact comes
to be realized, will Americans who care for the permanent and the
storied appreciate such colonial homesteads as Brandon, the ancestral
home of the Harrisons.
A ONE-ENGINE RUN AND A FOREST TOMB
By the time we had finished our visit at Brandon, we were in the midst
of the beautiful Virginia autumn. Though much of the warmth of summer
was yet in the midday hours, the mornings were often crisp and the
evenings seemed to lose heart and grow chill as they saw the sun go
Part of the houseboat was heated by oil stoves, but the forward cabin
had a wood stove, and above it on the upper deck was our little
sheet-iron chimney. It had a hood that turned with the wind and creaked
just enough for company. So, during mornings and evenings and wet days,
Gadabout smoked away, cozy and comfortable.
She was smoking vigorously on the day that we bade good-bye to Chippoak
Creek. That was a glorious morning--one of those mornings when the sun
tries to warm the northwest wind and the northwest wind tries to chill
the sun, and between the two a tonic gets into the air and people want
to do things. We wanted to "see the wheels go round" (not knowing then
that only one would go round); and we prepared to start for Kittewan
Creek, a few miles farther up the James.
Kittewan Creek is no place in particular, but near it are two old
plantations that historians and story-writers have talked a good deal
about. These two estates, Weyanoke and Fleur de Hundred, having no
longer pretentious colonial mansions, are often overlooked by the
traveller on the James, who thereby loses a worthy chapter of the river
When our anchors came up out of the friendly mud of Chippoak Creek, we
let the northwest wind push us across the flats and into the channel.
Then we summoned the engines to do their duty. The port one responded
promptly, but the other would do nothing; and as we ran out of the
creek and headed up the river, the Commodore was appealing to the
obdurate machine with a screwdriver and a monkey-wrench.
The tide was hurrying up-stream and the wind was hurrying down-stream,
and old Powhatan was much troubled. Gadabout rolled awkwardly among the
white-caps but continued to make headway. Pocahontas, the big river
steamer, was coming down-stream. We could see her making a landing at a
wharf above us where a little mill puffed away and a barge was loading.
Evidently, the steamer was to stop next at a landing that we were just
passing, for there men and mules were hurrying to get ready for her.
Now the starboard bank of the river grew high and sightly, but on the
port side there was only a great waste of marsh.
The Commodore spent much time with the ailing motor. Once he lost a
portion of the creature's anatomy in the bottom of the boat. Nautica
found him, inverted and full of emotion, fishing about in the
bilge-water for the lost piece. She offered him everything from the
toasting-rack to the pancake-turner to scrape about with; but he would
trust nothing of the sort, and kept searching until he found the piece
with his own black, oily fingers.
"I believe the man that built this boat was a prophet!" he exclaimed as
his face, flushed with triumph and congestion, appeared above the
floor. "He said that if we put gasoline motors in, we should have more
fun and more trouble than we ever had in our lives before; and we
surely are getting all he promised."
[Illustration: STURGEON POINT LANDING.]
[Illustration: AT THE MOUTH OF KITTEWAN CREEK.]
As we rounded the next bend in the river, we got the full force of the
wind and, with but one engine running, it was a question for a while
whether we were going to go on up the river or to drift back down
stream. Fortunately, the James narrowed at this point, thus increasing
the sweep of the tide that was helping us along, and slowly Gadabout
pushed on, slapping down hard on the big waves and holding steady.
A short distance beyond Sturgeon Point was the indentation in the shore
marking the mouth of Kittewan Creek. Old cypress trees stepped out into
the river on either side, while a row of stakes seemed to indicate the
channel of the little waterway. Sounding along we went in with four
feet of water under us.
Our plan was to find an anchorage a little way up the creek, and then
next day to start with the rising tide for a run on up to Weyanoke. Of
course Weyanoke fronted upon the James, but our idea was to make a sort
of back-door landing by running up this stream and in behind the
plantation. There was no sheltering cove to lie in on the river front;
and besides, to make the visit at the regular pier was so hopelessly
commonplace. Any of the ordinary palace yachts could do the thing that
way. But it took a gypsy craft like Gadabout to wriggle up the little
back-country creek and to land among the chickens and the geese
and--bulls perhaps; but then all explorers must take chances.
Kittewan Creek is a marsh stream; yet for some distance in from the
mouth tall cypresses stand along the reedy banks. These trees protected
us from the high wind and made it easy for us to take Gadabout up the
As she moved slowly along, we were looking for an ancient tomb that we
had been told stood on the left bank of the stream not far from the
mouth--"the mysterious tomb of the James" some one had called it. While
we could see nothing of it then, we resolved to search for it upon
returning from our run up the creek to visit Weyanoke. But we were
destined to see the tomb before seeing Weyanoke.
[Illustration: THE FOREST TOMB.]
[Illustration: THE OLD KITTEWAN HOUSE]
Upon reaching the first bend in the stream, our tree-protection failed
us and Gadabout became so absorbed in the antics of wind and tide that
she paid no further heed to any suggestions on our part as to the
proper way to navigate Kittewan Creek. Her notion seemed to be to run
down a few fish-nets whose corks were bobbing about on the water, and
then to go over and hang herself up on some cypress stumps at the edge
of the marsh. We insisted upon her going a little way farther up the
creek. But a compromise was all that could be effected; anchors were
dropped and operations temporarily suspended on both sides.
We had a much belated dinner, and then all went ashore to make
inquiries and to get supplies at a house that stood on a bluff above
the bend in the stream. It proved to be a very old building and quite a
landmark. It was called the Kittewan house. There, we learned that the
tomb we were looking for was on the bank almost opposite where our
We found it close to the creek. It was an altar-tomb, broken and
timeworn and almost covered with an accumulation of earth and moss and
leaves. One corner support and one side of the caving base were gone,
letting ferns and lichens find a home within, tender green fronds
touching the shadowing slab above them.
The strange, unremembered grave was that of a woman. For, when we had
scraped clear a little of the slab, we came upon the name Elizabeth.
Our floating home was near enough to lend shovel and broom; and we
undertook to free the tomb (that was itself being slowly buried) and to
bring to light again the chiseled story of the long-ago Elizabeth who
lay in this lonely place.
When the granite slab was uncovered and swept clean, we were able to
read most of the words upon it, although the stone was cut almost as
deep by the little fingers of rain and of frost as by the graver's
heavy hand that had itself gone to dust long ago. Slowly we found the
words telling that there rested the body of Elizabeth Hollingshorst,
whose husband, Thomas Hollingshorst, was a shipmaster; that her father
was Mr. Piner Gordon of the family of Tilliangus in Aberdeenshire,
Scotland; and that she died November 30, 1728.
The father's name, Gordon (so proud a one in Aberdeenshire), and the
use before it of the prefix Mr. (a term then synonymous with
"gentleman" and never lightly given in those days of well-defined rank)
show that this Elizabeth was of gentle birth. The words "Ship Master"
tell of how the breath of the old North Sea had called Thomas
Hollingshorst from the banks and braes and led him to point the bow of
his merchant ship across seas, bound for England's far-away colony.
Little would he dream--crowding canvas to speed his cargo to the
Virginia plantations--that his gentle-born Elizabeth was to find a
grave in that feared American wilderness.
The longer we worked over the ancient stone the more we came to feel
the pitiful meaning of it.
We felt that this Elizabeth was a true heart and a brave one, who
ventured the perilous sea-voyage of the early days with her shipmaster
husband. She did not come as other women came--to make a home in the
new land and to have friends and neighbours there. She came, a passing
stranger, upon her husband's trading ship; a ship that would anchor but
to exchange its English wares for the planter's tobacco, and then turn
prow again to the perils of the sea. When illness came in the new, wild
land, how distant must have seemed Aberdeenshire in those days of the
little ship and the slow sail! And here, longing for one more sight of
Scottish heather, this Elizabeth died.
Seeking for her a last resting-place, the stranger ship moved up the
river and came to anchor at the mouth of this creek. They lowered her
gently over the ship's side into a long-boat and then rowed up the
stream into the forest. Here by the creek's side they buried her, and
(doubtless by the ship's own compass) they orientated the forest grave.
Then again the ship sailed across seas and bore sad tidings to some
family of Gordons in Aberdeenshire.
In those days it must have been long before the returning vessel could
sail up the James, this time bearing the graven tomb from Scotland. For
a little while, the stillness of the forest was once more broken,
startling the timid woodland folk; and then these strangers from
overseas were gone. Again the great silence fell and the wilderness
took the grave to itself. Slowly it set upon the tomb its seal of moss
and lichen and vine. Unmindful of the mark of human loss and grief, the
wild folk came and went. Joyously the cardinal flashed his crimson wing
above the darkening stone; the deer came to drink from the stream and
lifted their heads to scent the breeze that came with the dawn through
the cypress trees, across a forgotten grave; hard and incurious, the
Weyanoke Indians slipped by like darker shadows in the forest gloom;
and only the little night birds seemed to know or to care as they
called plaintively in the marshes at twilight.
As we were about to leave the tomb, we bethought us that the
anniversary of the death of this Elizabeth was drawing near. We heaped
the holly with its glowing berries above the crumbling stone. And still
we lingered; for the Gordons of Tilliangus seemed very far away from
this daughter of their house. As the sunset lights were fading, we saw
a new moon pale on the tinted sky; and we thought of how for almost two
centuries crescent moons had trembled from silver to gold above this
forlorn grave on the bank of the Kittewan.
A short row in the dusk out upon the stream, and we stepped aboard
Gadabout. She never seemed more cozy and homelike. A great bowl of pink
and yellow chrysanthemums from Brandon's old garden and trailing cedar
and ferns and red-berried holly added to the cheer. Soon our
home-lights streamed from the broad windows out across the water, and
some faint glow must have touched that lonely tomb on shore.
NAVIGATING AN UNNAVIGABLE STREAM
In the morning the sun and the mist filled our little harbour with a
golden shimmer, and all the marsh reeds were quivering in the radiance.
The blue herons were winging out to the river, and the doves were
weaving spells round and round the dormer-windowed cottage on the hill.
Gadabout's household was early astir ready for the run up Kittewan
Creek. We had only to get a chicken or two at the house on the bluff,
and then we should be ready to start at the turn of the tide. Imagine,
then, our chagrin when the sailor returned with not only the chickens
but the information also that we could not get the houseboat any
farther up the stream, on account of numerous shallows and submerged
Once more the charts were got out and spread upon a table. We still
felt that if the sounding-marks were right Gadabout could navigate the
stream. However, at two places islands were shown where there seemed
scarcely room in the creek for islands and Gadabout too; and if we had
also to throw in a few cypress stumps for good measure, our prospects
for visiting Weyanoke by the chickens-and-geese route were indeed not
But we knew Gadabout and how we had taken the craft almost everywhere
that people had told us she could not go. For, to our minds, one of the
chief charms of houseboating lay in poking about in such out-of-the-way
Let the yacht reign supreme as the deep-water pleasure craft, that
trails its elegance perforce ever up and down the same prescribed
channels. The ideal houseboat is the light-draft water gypsy, that
turns often from the buoyed course and wanders off into the picturesque
world of little waters; along streamlets that lead in winding ways to
quaint bits of nowhere, and into quiet shallows of forgotten lagoons
that have fallen asleep to the lullaby of their own rushes.
So it was settled that our houseboat was to try to go up the creek to
Weyanoke's back door, and again we were waiting only for the turn of
the tide. When sticks and straws and frost-tinted leaves, floating down
past us toward the James, changed their minds and started back up the
Kittewan, Gadabout went with them.
After a while the creek began to shallow rapidly and we kept the sailor
on ahead in a shore-boat sounding, while we tried to keep the houseboat
from running over him. The southerly breeze was gradually freshening
and Gadabout began to show a corresponding partiality for the northern
bank of the stream. But, on the whole, she was behaving very well and
apparently the mutinous spirit of the day before had entirely
disappeared. We had to stop just before coming to an island standing in
a sharp turn of the little waterway.
"Looks like we can't make this bend, sir," called the sailor from the
shore-boat. "There's a sure enough bar 'cross here."
By keeping at it, he managed to find a channel for going round on the
port side of the island. Then he came aboard, started an engine, and we
moved on again. But Gadabout had been deceiving us; she still had no
notion of going up the creek. We were just starting to go around the
island when she suddenly transferred her allegiance from the
steering-wheel to the wind, and sidled off in the marshes till she
brought up hard aground. There was nothing to do but to wait for the
Nautica got out the chart again to see where we were. At Weyanoke there
are two plantations, an upper one and a lower one; and for a while she
was busy measuring between the stream and the little black dots that
indicated the plantation buildings. At last, after a final counting up
on her fingers, she announced, "If we can get around six more bends of
this curly stream, we shall be within less than half a mile of the
house at Lower Weyanoke."
As the water rose around the houseboat, we threw out a kedge anchor,
hauled off, and got under way again. Now, Gadabout started at once to
go around the island--but (mutiny again!) she was going around on the
wrong side. The Commodore and the sailor, with long poles, pushed
frantically in the mud striving to set the unruly craft in the way she
should go; but she was determined to take the wrong channel and was
slowly getting the better of us.
"She's gittin' away from us, sir," called the sailor.
"I see she is," said the Commodore, "and I don't believe she can get
around the island on this side."
But away she went, wind and tide carrying her up the wrong channel.
Laughing at the amusing persistence of the craft, all we could do was
to keep her away from the marshes and let her go.
The creek rapidly narrowed; the marsh gave way to woodland; and just
ahead was but a small passage between island and mainland for us to go
through. We pushed in between waving walls of autumn foliage. Branches
tapped on our windows, and crimson sweet gum leaves pressed against the
panes as if to make the most of their little moment for looking in.
Gadabout passed through the narrow opening without a stop, though
carrying twigs and bright leaves away with her. We ran the next
straight stretch of the creek, and at the bend came upon another
island. Here shoals and cypress stumps quite blocked the channel. In a
good, old landlubberly manner we hitched Gadabout to a tree and waited
to see if the rising tide would make a way for us.
[Illustration: HUNTING FOR THE CHANNEL.]
[Illustration: APPROACHING IN A NARROW PLACE.]
Houseboating was taking us into strange places. And yet what a
comfortable way to journey into the world in the rough! Many are the
advantages of houseboating over camping or any other form of outing. In
a floating home one goes into the wild without sacrificing the comforts
or even the essential refinements of life. For women it is an ideal way
to visit Dame Nature.
But now the houseboaters upon Gadabout were becoming fearful lest Dame
Nature had closed her doors on ahead of them and would not receive them
up the Kittewan. It was good news when the sailor called from his
rowboat that he had found a channel for going on around the island.
This tune Gadabout showed a willingness to go just where we wished her
to go, but insisted upon doing it stern-foremost or broadside. We ran
her forward and backward and poled most vigorously; but after all had
the humiliation of drifting around the island wrong end first.
After that there was little trouble in going up the stream. Before long
an old homestead came in sight on a hill to our left, and we knew that
it must be Lower Weyanoke. But an impassable marsh stretched along the
stream, and there was no sign of a landing or of a roadway that might
lead to the house. We kept on, curious now to see how far our houseboat
could go. Suddenly we found out. She turned a bend and, there ahead,
hummocks and stumps occupied about all there was left of Kittewan
The head of navigation had been reached for even our presumptuous
craft. An anchor was cast; whereupon Gadabout swung to one side, bumped
against a tree, and then settled herself comfortably in the marshes to
await our pleasure. It would not do to let the falling tide catch us in
that place. Fortunately, there was a marshy cove on one side of us, and
by backing into that we got turned around and headed down stream again.
We found a deep place that would do for an anchorage nearly opposite
Lower Weyanoke, and close beside a little company of trees that
showered Gadabout with red and yellow leaves.
When the tide fell, it disclosed many roots and stumps in the channel;
and the sight of each one added to our sense of importance in having
successfully navigated the stream. Later, some of the men from the
Kittewan farm came along in a rowboat.
"Well, you did make it after all," they said. "We've been looking for
you all along the creek, expecting to find you hung up on a cypress
IN WHICH WE GET TO WEYANOKE
As Gadabout lay moored in Kittewan Creek, the houses of Weyanoke were
not very far from us, and one of them was in plain sight; but the
question was how to get to them. Wide stretches of marsh bordered the
stream and a wire fence ran along the reedy edge. We began to be
impressed with the advantage of approaching such a plantation in the
customary way, by the river front.
But we had not lost zeal for the unconventional, and fortune favoured
us. A man passing in a skiff told us that a road leading to the
Weyanoke houses could be reached by rowing up a tiny bayou that joined
the creek a short distance above us.
This bayou, he explained, was not one of those ordinary waterways that
you can travel on just any time. In fact, for a good deal of the time
it was not a waterway at all. But usually, when a half tide or more was
in, a rowboat could be taken up to the landing near the road.
So, one afternoon an untenanted houseboat was left lying in the
sunshine and the marshes, all aboard having taken to the shore-boats
and gone in search of the more solid portions of Weyanoke. Weyanoke is
an Indian name and means "land of sassafras." In 1617 the Indian chief,
Opechancanough, gave this land of sassafras to Sir George Yeardley,
afterward governor-general of the colony; and his ownership gave early
prominence to the place, though he did not live upon the plantation
that he had here.
After several transfers of title, Weyanoke came into the possession of
Joseph Harwood in 1665. Through many generations both the upper
plantation and the lower one remained in the Harwood family; and Upper
Weyanoke is still owned by descendants of Joseph Harwood, the family of
the late Mr. Fielding Lewis Douthat.
[Illustration: LOWER WEYANOKE.]
In our search for this land of sassafras, a short row up the creek took
us to the opening into the bayou. Here, there was a break in the wire
fence along the creek guarded by a queer water-gate that hung across
the entrance to the side stream. Holding the water-gate open and
pushing our boats through, with what skill might be expected from
persons who had never seen a water-gate before, we started up the tiny,
On either hand the reeds were so tall that we were quite shut in by
them; but reeds are never so beautiful as when outlined against the
sky. Here and there, a stump or a cypress tree stood out in the water
almost barring the way. Ducks were swimming about or absurdly standing
on their heads in the shallows, and at our coming went paddling off
into the sedges quacking their disapproval. Before the water quite gave
out, we reached the little landing. Now our way led up from the lowland
between hazy autumn fields where crows were busily gleaning and insects
shrilled in shock and stubble.
The road ended in front of the house at Lower Weyanoke. The building is
a large frame one and very old. It has had its full share of
distinction, being for so many generations the home of the colonial
family of Harwoods and of their descendants, the Lewises and the
Douthats. Some years ago the plantation passed to strangers. From the
riverward portico, we saw traces of an old garden whose memory is kept
green by the straggling box that long ago bordered the fragrant
flower-beds. On beyond was a glint of the sun-lit river. A group of
towering cottonwood trees, standing in the dooryard, is so conspicuous
a feature of the landscape that it serves as a guide for the pilots on
the river boats.
Leaving the sailor here to do some foraging in the neighbourhood, we
went on to Upper Weyanoke. We followed a road that skirted corn fields
and pasture lands, busy plantation life on every hand. One could but
think of the very different scene that was here in the days of the
Civil War. Few places suffered at that time more than did Weyanoke.
Here, part of Grant's army crossed the James in the march upon
Petersburg. While bridges were building, the Federal forces were
scattered over the plantation; and when at last they crossed the river,
they left devastation behind.
As we came upon the outbuildings of the upper plantation, we heard
singing and laughter. Corn-husking was going on in the big barn. The
doors were open, and from the distant roadway we could see the negroes
at work, bits of their parti-coloured garb showing bright against the
And at last, truly enough, our pathway led among the chickens and the
geese. Indeed, one blustering gander "quite thought to bar our way."
But, taking courage from the stirring old couplet,
"We routed him: we scouted him,
Nor lost a single man."
There were other fowl in sight too; fowl that had a special
significance just then. For, despite the bright, warm days, the last
Thursday in November was near at hand; and we wondered whether our
Thanksgiving dinner could be found in this flock of plump, bronze
The early plantation house at Upper Wey-anoke was long ago destroyed by
fire, and a modern house of brick now stands upon the old site. A
broad, shaded lawn slopes to the river. Here one gets an impressive
view of the James as it broadens into a curving bay below Windmill
When we entered the home, our interest centred in its mistress, the
little lady of old-time grace and courtesy sitting by the open fire. It
was later that we noticed the two portraits hanging near her--one of
Chief-Justice Marshall and one of a beautiful dark-eyed young woman.
The relationship of these three--Mrs. Douthat, the Chief-Justice, and
the beautiful young woman--added to the charm of our talk. For the
great John Marshall had a son John who married Elizabeth Alexander, a
descendant of the colonial house of Thomas; and that Elizabeth
Alexander was the girl in the picture. John and Elizabeth had a
daughter, and that daughter was the sweet little lady sitting there
beneath the portraits. Her grandfather, the Chief-Justice, named her
Mary Willis in memory of his cherished, invalid wife.
This Mary Willis Marshall married Fielding Lewis Douthat, of the
Harwood family, and went as a bride to Lower Weyanoke when the home
there yet spoke bravely of colonial dignity, and the garden was still
fragrant with trim bordered beds of bloom. Some years later, they moved
to Upper Weyanoke where Mr. Douthat died. In the family circle as we
found it were Mrs. Douthat, three daughters, and two sons.
[Illustration: AN ANCESTRESS OF WEYANOKE.]
[Illustration: CHIEF-JUSTICE JOHN MARSHALL.]
While the conversation ranged wide, from seventeenth century plantation
grants to twentieth century houseboats, we found our attention drawn
most to the reminiscences of Mrs. Douthat, told in the charming speech
of a day that had time for the art of conversation. She had childhood
recollections of the great Chief-Justice, and had treasured the family
traditions concerning him. We got all too little both of the personal
recollections and of the traditions; but they made it seem a very real
John Marshall that this granddaughter of his was talking about.
Mrs. Douthat could not add much to the little that we already knew
about a small brick building on the plantation that has long been
pointed out from the steamers' decks as one of the oldest buildings in
the country. It stands on the river bluff near the present home. If as
old as is usually supposed, it is doubtless one of the early garrison
houses, and must have seen desperate days on this Indian-harassed
In this house, up to the time of her death a few years ago, lived the
old mammy of the family. She was one of the last of a type developed
through generations of plantation life, and now disappearing with it.
Her place was at the end of a long line of dusky nurses, the first of
whom landed nearly three centuries ago at James Towne, and crooned to
the children of the royal governors the weird minor lullabies of
At present, Elias, a gray-haired negro, lives in the little old house.
Every morning he goes to see Mrs. Douthat; and he seldom varies the
greeting: "How is you dis mawnin', Miss Mary? I sut'n'y is glad to see
you able to be up an' 'roun'. You know you an' me is chil'en of de same
Weyanoke, like most of the large plantations on the James, has a
postoffice in the house. Our visit over, we gathered up quite a
promising lot of mail and started homeward with the Commodore looking
like a peripatetic branch of the rural free delivery. Evening was
gathering in as we walked back along the field roads. The air was warm,
a gentle breeze went rustling through the corn, and the autumn haze
just veiled field and marsh and distant woods.
Upon reaching our shore-boat, we pushed out upon the marsh waterway. In
our absence the tide had been slowly creeping up on reeds and rushes,
had reached its height, and (leaving a brown, bubbly line upon each
slender stalk to show that the law had been fulfilled) had started
slowly down again.
But the ebb had only begun. The marsh was yet almost tide-full, and all
its channels were water-lanes. Each little way was like every other,
and one could well wander amiss down between those winding walls of
We paddled very slowly, often stopping to let the boat drift on the ebb
tide. Why might we not find out the secret of the marshes if we went
very softly through the heart of them?--that secret of which the
slender reeds are always whispering; that mystery that keeps them
always a-shiver. Is it something they have hidden from the searching
tide? Is it known to the little marsh-hen that cunningly builds her
nest at the foot of the sedges? Is it guessed by the restless finny
folk that slip and search beneath the brown waters?
Holding our boat quiet in the ebbing bayou, we looked and listened.
There were sounds of sibilant dripping in the dim sedges; of alewives
jumping by the side of our boat; of a sudden rush of blackbird wings;
and of the evening breeze as it freshened in the bending blades. We
could see the many rivulets, wine-red now in the sunset light; and the
graceful swaying of great grasses, pale green and silver and tan; and
the red and golden sky above: ebbing rivulets, rippling reeds, drifting
clouds, and sunset shades. And that was all. Nor had we guessed the
secret of the marshes.
Yet, we should have been content still to look and to listen, down in
the hidden tiny ways of the marshland, but for the fading light that
warned us homeward. What would night be among the sedges with the
wandering rivulets full of twinkling stars, with the soft calling of
wakeful birds, and with the skurrying of little creatures in their
shadowy forest of reeds?
Slowly we paddled on in the twilight; on through the little water-gate
and out upon the Kittewan, where images of the bordering trees lay
sharp and black on the strangely purple water. From down-stream where
Gadabout waited, came such a fervent burst of song that we knew that
the entire crew was urging its soul to be on guard--
"Te-en thou-san' foes ah-rise."
ACROSS RIVER TO FLEUR DE HUNDRED
The next day we determined to run around to the river front of
Weyanoke. We were yet charmed with the idea of being back-door
neighbours of the old plantation; but not at quite such long range.
When the tide served, Gadabout dropped down the twisting Kittewan.
Though she paused involuntarily in trying to round the island where the
sweet gum flamed against the pines, and caught her propeller on a
cypress stump as she sighted the dormer windows of the old house on the
hill, yet she came in good time to the clear channel and, passing the
tangled underwood that hid the forsaken tomb, she reached the mouth of
the creek before the tide turned and started up the James on the last
of the flood.
Weyanoke plantation is a peninsula lying in a sharp elbow of the river,
so that it was a run of a few miles from the mouth of Kittewan Creek,
on one side of the peninsula, around to the Weyanoke pier on the other
Upon reaching the sharp bend in the river at the point of the
peninsula, we could see one reason anyway why Grant should have chosen
this as a place for crossing the James. Here, the banks of the river
suddenly draw close so that the stream is less than half a mile wide.
However, it makes up in depth what it has lost in width, the channel at
this point being from eighty to ninety feet deep. Even at the last of
the tide the water here flowed swiftly and with ugly swirls and oily
whirlpools that made the river seem vicious.
Now, we ran toward the southern shore to look at the ruins of a fort
built in the War of 1812. The sun was setting beyond the high bluff
that backed the fort, and the place lay blurred in the shadow; but
apparently time, and perhaps the hard knocks of war, had not left much
of Fort Powhatan. Two creeks that enter the James near the old fort
received our close scrutiny, for every side stream tempted us. We would
wonder how far Gadabout could follow each winding way, and what she
might find up there.
[Illustration: UPPER WEYANOKE.]
A short run farther up the river took us abreast the pier at Upper
Weyanoke; and, passing around it, we cast anchor within a stone's throw
of the plantation home.
[Illustration: AT ANCHOR OFF WEYANOKE.]
We sat out in the cockpit a long time that night enjoying the strangely
quiet mood of the Powhatan. The old river flowed so peacefully that it
mirrored all the sky above; and we looked down into a maze of stars
with the sea-tide running through. Then a blinding light put out all
our stars as the night boat from Richmond came down the river and
trained her searchlight so that it picked Gadabout out of the darkness.
Our whistle saluted with three good blasts. The searchlight responded
by making three profound bows--so profound that they reached from the
high heavens down to the water at our feet. Then, it suddenly whipped
to the front to pick out the steamer's course again through the
darkness of the night.
While lying at anchor in front of Upper Weyanoke, we made further
visits at the plantation home. Despite the ravages of war and of two
destructive fires, relics of old-time life are at this plantation too.
It was pitiful, but amusing as well, to hear how some of these escaped
the war-time vandalism. The soldiers who had stripped the home--even of
carpets--when they left the plantation to cross the James, would have
been chagrined could they have looked back over the river and have seen
old family treasures coming out from secret nooks and old family silver
from a hollow tree.
Mrs. Douthat told us how Nature favoured Grant in the crossing of the
James. Though comparatively the river is so narrow at the point of the
Weyanoke peninsula, yet to get to the stream at that point it was
necessary for the Federal forces to traverse an extensive swamp.
Apparently the swamp was impassable; but the officers found, running
through it, a most peculiar formation--a natural ridge of solid earth.
It was a ready-made military roadway upon which the troops could pass
through the swamp and reach the river. Mr. Douthat always declared that
"The Almighty had built it for them."
Across the James from Weyanoke lies Fleur de Hundred. One day, with a
daughter and a son of the Weyanoke household aboard, we sailed over to
visit the old plantation. We knew that we should find nothing in the
way of plantation life there, as the estate has long lain idle; and we
knew also that no mark was left on the broad acres to tell of the life
of colonial days. But the broad acres themselves were there, and they
would remember the old times no doubt; and perhaps, lying in the
sunshine and with nothing in the world to do, they might tell us
We knew somewhat about Fleur de Hundred ourselves. In 1618 Sir George
Yeardley, governor of the colony (the same who owned Weyanoke),
patented these lands and gave them the name that has scarcely been
spelled twice alike since. Sir George sold the plantation to Captain
We sought to trace the successive owners on beyond Abraham; but they
married and died at such a rate that we got lost in the confusion
somewhere between the altar and the tomb, and gave the matter up. Two
well established customs among the early colonists seem to have been to
die early and to marry often. Perhaps they usually reversed the order;
but, at any rate, dying in middle age after having married "thirdly" or
"fifthly"--yes, even "sixthly"--makes top-heavy family trees and
puzzling lines of descent.
In this instance, we were quite content to skip to the opening of the
nineteenth century when Fleur de Hundred became the property of John V.
Willcox, in whose descendants it has ever since remained.
Landing upon a pebbly beach beside the ruins of a pier, we took a long
walk inland to the present-day home. While historic Fleur de Hundred is
now allowed to lie idle, its plantation life all gone, yet its home
life continues and the old-time hospitality remains, as we found in
that afternoon visit. And when we set our faces toward Gadabout again,
Nautica had roses and lavender and violets from an old garden that
refused to stop blooming with the rest of the plantation, and the
Commodore treasured a rare pamphlet upon early Virginia that only
Virginia courtesy would have entrusted to a stranger.
Through the quiet of the sleeping plantation, we took our way toward
the river. Some bees had found late sweetness along the overgrown
roadway. The air was still and sweet with the scent of sun-drying
herbs. A lagging sail was on old Powhatan. About us on every hand lay
the historic soil of Fleur de Hundred. We wondered where the
manor-house had stood in those early colonial days when Sir George
Yeardley, the governor, made his home here, with many indented servants
and half the negroes in the colony to serve him; and where had been the
several dwellings and store-houses, stoutly palisaded, that had formed
quite a village for his day.
[Illustration: PRESENT-DAY FLEUR DE HUNDRED.]
It is not recorded that the Governor was a great smoker, but he was an
enthusiastic grower of tobacco and may almost be said to have been the
father of the industry. Doubtless, in his time, most of these fertile
acres were covered with the strange weed that the Englishmen had got
from the village gardens of the red man.
But here were grown maize and wheat also; and to grind these Sir George
built--over there on the point of the plantation--the first windmill in
In the eyes of the savages, he must have waxed to the stature of a
great medicine man, when he made of wood the long arms that beckoned to
the winds and made them come to grind his grain. Through all time, had
not their fathers (or rather their mothers) had to steep grain for
twelve hours; then laboriously pound it in stone mortars; and then sift
it through baskets woven of river reeds?
Less matter for wonderment was that long-armed creature on the point of
land to Hans Houten and Heinrich Elkens, sailing up the James in the
White Dove with good Holland sack for barter. These sturdy mariners
from the dyke-and-windmill country would regard the contrivance with
more critical eyes than could the red man from the bow-and-arrow
But we saw nothing of windmill or of palisaded village or of royal
governor; and field and meadow and woodland all seemed too sleepy to
Back to Full Books