Five Old Houses Of Tidewater, Virginia


The five houses mentioned briefly in this chapter are noteworthy, not only because of their beauty, but be-cause the stories of those who lived in them show how the leading families of old Virginia intermarried until the various relationships became a puzzle that delights the genealogist.

On the Rappahannock, in Richmond County, Virginia, Landon Carter, son of Robert (” King “) Carter, the ancestor of the Carter family of Virginia, built Sabine Hall in 1730. He was a great lover of the works of Horace, and it was quite natural that he should adopt for his mansion the name of the Roman poet’s Sabine Farm.

Until his death in 1778 he was a recognized leader in both Church and State. Robert A. Lancaster quotes an unnamed writer who says that he was ” a high-minded public servant and a finished scholar, indulging a taste for science and a love for letters,” and was considered “one of the most notable of the pre-Revolutionary statesmen of the Colony,” and was ” looked up to by the younger generation as a Nestor among his compatriots.” He was a friend of Washington, and received many letters from him, some of which have been preserved.

Landon Carter’s second wife was Maria Byrd, of Westover. Her portrait, as well as those of the other two wives, the husband and ” King ” Carter, are hanging to-day on the walls of Sabine Hall. The estate of four thousand acres descended to his son by his third marriage with Elizabeth Beale, Robert Wormeley Carter, who was a member of the Virginia Assembly. The property is still in the possession of the descendants of the original owner.

Westover, where Landon Carter courted Maria Byrd, is on the James in Charles City County, not far south of Sabine Hall. The mansion was built in the same year as Sabine Hall, 1730, by William Byrd, II, whose father came from England about 1674.

William Byrd, of Westover, was famous as a literary man and as a statesman. At one time he was President of His Majesty’s Council. But perhaps his greatest fame came to him because he was the father of Evelyn Byrd, who was a reigning belle. When, at the age of eighteen, she was presented at Court, it was reported that the king of England complimented her by saying he was glad Virginia could produce such ” beautiful Byrds.”

Evelyn’s brother, William Byrd, III, was the heir of the estate. He married Elizabeth Hill Carter, of Shirley, a neighboring estate. He was a member of the Virginia Council and attained distinction by his service as a colonel in the French and Indian War.

During the siege of Yorktown some of the French officers made frequent visits to Westover. One of them, Marquis de Chastellux, said that this was the most beautiful place in America.

Two armies have halted at Westover. In April, 1781, Cornwallis passed that way, and, during the Civil War McClellan’s army camped on the grounds. A war-time picture shows something of the havoc wrought by the soldiers.

When Elizabeth Hill Carter, of Shirley, came to West-over, she gave up one beautiful home for another. Her father’s Charles City County mansion was probably built late in the seventeenth century, though the exact date is not known. One of the estate’s claims to distinction is that it has never been offered for sale. Colonel Edward Hill, the builder, Colonel Edward Hill, II, his son, and Colonel Edward Hill, III, his grandson, were leaders in the life of the county. At the death of Colonel Hill, III, his sister, Elizabeth Hill, became heir to the estate. She married John Carter, of Corotoman, son of Robert (” King “) Carter, who was Secretary of the Colony. It was his daughter who married William Byrd, III, of Westover. Her brother, Charles Carter, who was a patriot of prominence, was the father-in-law of Light Horse Harry Lee, and the grandfather of General Robert E. Lee.

Carter’s Grove, another seat of the Carter family, is also on the James, in Charles City County, not far from Shirley. The builder was Carter Burwell, and the house dates from 1751. The work was done by slaves, under the direction of a foreman who received £140 for his work. In the construction of the house 25,000 feet of lumber, 40,000 shingles, 15,000 laths, and 460,000 bricks were used. The total cost was only £500.

Carter Burwell was the son of Elizabeth, daughter of Robert (” King “) Carter, who married Colonel Nathaniel Burwell.

Across the James, in Prince George County, is Bran-don, whose builder was Nathaniel Harrison. The house dates from early in the eighteenth century. His son, also Nathaniel Harrison, married, as his second wife, Lucy the daughter of Robert (” King “) Carter of Corotoman. Benjamin Harrison, the son by the first wife, Mary Digges, married Evelyn Taylor Byrd, of Westover. When she went to Brandon she took with her the Byrd portraits, which are to-day one of the at-tractions of the mansion.

Brandon has always been in the possession of descendants of the original owner.