On the last day of our trip (in fact, on the drive back home), we stopped at Berkeley Plantation. Berkeley is a very interesting site, because it touches a lot of different periods of history. The 1726 house itself is famous because it is the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a former governor of Virginia, and William Henry Harrison, the ninth US president.
The land that the plantation was later built on also served as a landing site for English settlers in late 1619. Indeed, the settlers are believed to have engaged in a short prayer service upon disembarking, which Berkeley today terms America’s “First Thanksgiving.”
Skipping forward, the land that would form Berkeley was purchased in the 1690s by Benjamin Harrison III as a plantation and a tobacco shipping operation via the James River. Benjamin Harrison IV built the manor house in the 1720s, which later passed to Benjamin Harrison V.
As time passed, a number of the Harrison family, particularly younger sons like William Henry Harrison, moved west, becoming involved in the settlement of the Northwest Territories. The plantation was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, and afterwards fell into disrepair.
In the early 1900s the plantation was purchased by John Jamieson, and his son Malcom with his wife Grace dedicated themselves to restoring the house and grounds. Today the house is run as a museum.
I enjoyed the visit to Berkeley. Tours are led by costumed guides, and I will admit that their attire is a bit cheesy. But despite that, our guide was quite knowledgeable about the house and the Harrison family history. He was frank and honest about which parts of the house had been changed from the original Georgian designs, and which furniture and artifacts were original versus not. The grounds are beautiful. There is nothing like seeing the vast views of the James River on a sunny day.
1726 date stone