This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Secrets of Beautiful Shirley Plantation

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

This past month we visited Shirley Plantation on the James River in Virginia. It dates back to 1613, but the current structure was built in 1723. This is Virginia's oldest plantation, and the wonder of it, is the place survived the Revolutionary War, nearby skirmishes and wars with Indians, the Civil War even though the Union Army used the house for a couple of days, and the depression in the 1930's.

The 12th generation heir still owns it, lives in it, and operates the running of the plantation. Shirley began as one of the first a tobacco plantation and is the place where Robert E. Lee's mother was born and raised. She married Robert E. Lee's father in front of the fireplace where I stood with my family. The ladies in this family started a tradition when they married. They would carve their initials in the glass windows in the dining room as a way to test the diamond of their wedding rings, Robert E. Lee's mother included. The last initials carved in the glass are dated in the year 1995.

We couldn't take photos of the inside of the house, but I assure you it it is beautiful. One of the most rewarding things about it, is the original furniture and paintings in the rooms, since it has always been in the same family. Many plantation homes I've visited had "period pieces" that were actually collected from auction sites and other antique dealers. Shirley Plantation is original in every since of the word.

As I browsed through the house marveling in its wonderful history that God has preserved for this family, I felt a since of loss, like a slight grieving for all my family lost during the Civil War. Based on our family records, we had a nice size plantation in Hartsville, SC that we weren't able to hold onto after the war. While it grieves me that my own historical family home wasn't preserved, I'm thrilled to know that this one has not only survived, but has flourished in its preservation.

Here is the backyard view of the James River. The house was particularly vulnerable to Yankee invasion during the Civil War. The Union Army sailed up the James river to go after Richmond, the capital of the South. What saved this home was the family's compassion for humans regardless what side of the war they were on. Even though members were serving in the Confederate Army, when the Union soldiers embarked on the property, the family tended to the wounded by ripping up bed sheets, petticoats, and binding up the soldiers' wounds and tending to them. When the soldiers left for Berkley Plantation up the river, the owner at that time begged them to leave two cows. His daughter was in the family way. General McClellan not only left the two cows, but he granted a Federal Order of Safeguard protecting Shirley for their care.

This is an old carriage that is stored in the stables. The photo below it is of my daughter walking away from the stables. If you appreciate history and enjoy seeing beautiful plantations I would recommend a trip to Shirley Plantation. Keep in mind that tours are only given of the first floor since the family still lives there and occupies the second and third floors.