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WESTOVER

Prepared for The Garden Club of Virginia


Krista Reimer, 2017 William D. Rieley Fellow
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Copyright © 2018 by The Garden Club of Virginia.
All Rights Reserved.

Images: Images included in this report without other credits were made by the
author.

Reproduction: All material contained herein is the intellectual property of the Garden
Club of Virginia except where noted.
Permission for reproduction, except for personal use, must be obtained from:

The Fellowship Committee, Chair


The Garden Club of Virginia
The Kent-Valentine House
12 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA
23219

www.gcvirginia.org

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Table of Contents

Introduction 6
Historic Overview 10
Evolution of the Westover Landscape
LARGE SCALE 44
ARRIVING TO THE MAIN HOUSE 78
THE MAIN HOUSE AND ITS SURROUNDINGS 88
Conclusion 162
Appendices
EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAM BYRD II'S DIARIES 164
SIGNIFICANT TREES AND PLANTS 172
ACCURACY OF 1931 AND 1978 PLAN DRAWINGS 180
JOURNALS AND LETTERS RELATING TO WESTOVER 184
Bibliography 206
Further Sources 212

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Introduction

The plantation referred to as Westover is situated along the James River in Charles
City County roughly seventy miles northeast of where the Chesapeake Bay meets the
Atlantic Ocean.
Charles City County is within the Tidewater region of Virginia. The region
comprises the low-lying land between the coast and the fall line where the rivers are
still affected by the tide. The fall line not only creates a limit on the tidal influence,
but also a limit on navigation. The major rivers remain navigable from the Atlantic
Ocean throughout the Tidewater region. This greatly influenced colonial expansion
within the region. Where the James River passes Westover, it is nearly three-quarters
of a mile wide and towards it center up to 25 feet deep. (NOAA 2017)
Although the James River is undoubtedly the most significant water
body bordering Westover, indeed essential to its existence, it is only one of the water
courses which surrounds it. On the east, Westover is bordered by Herring Creek and
its surrounding swampy lowlands. Herring Creek turns west just north of Westover,
effectively making Westover the tip of a peninsula. From Westover's position at the
center of a straight, six-mile stretch of river and atop a twenty foot bluff, one has an
extensive view of the river. It is these geographic features which made the land so
desirable to early English colonists and prompted the establishment of what we now
know as Westover. Writing in 1907, Terhune went so far as to say, “The location of
the Westover residence is, I think, unequalled by any other home upon the river.”
Opposite
(Terhune 1907, 41)
Westover's geographic context
Over the last four centuries the river has maintained its course while Westover
Modified Google Earth image

6 Introduction
CHESEPEAKE BAY

WESTOVER

JAMES RIVER ATLANTIC OCEAN

FALL LINE

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has evolved. This report runs chronologically through Westover’s history in three
rounds, each one separated into its own chapter. The first round provides a historical
overview of Westover, focusing on the social, economic, and political aspects of
Westover to establish the necessary context for studying its landscape. The general
approaches and attitude towards the landscape throughout the various eras are also
described in this chapter.
The second and third chapters look at the specific spatial evolution of the
Westover landscape brought about by the changing socio-economic conditions and
landscape approaches. The evolution of the Westover landscape at a large scale is
described in Chapter 2, including the overall layout of the plantation, the location of
buildings and graveyards, and the productive activities of agriculture, forestry, and
fishing. The third chapter chronicles the evolution of the landscape immediately
surrounding the main plantation house.
There are several appendices providing more depth of information on various
topics. In addition to the bibliography, there is a list of further sources which are
expected to have significant information relating to the Westover landscape, but
which were not accessed for this project. These would be helpful resources for
anyone looking to further this research.

Opposite
The James River, Westover, and
Herring Creek
Modified Google Earth image

8 Introduction
WESTOVER HERRING CREEK

JAMES RIVER

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Historic Overview

The establishment of a colonial settlement at Westover occurred just over four


centuries ago; the oldest recorded mention of Westover, albeit by a slightly different
name, is from 1616. This chapter runs chronologically through the history of
Westover focusing on the people who lived there, their social, political, and economic
conditions, and their attitudes toward the landscape.
The Westover history has been divided into periods, which for the most
part have been decided by dates of ownership. This choice aligns with the fact that
Westover's owners, having typically been the most powerful figures within the
Westover community, have held the most influence over the landscape and have set
the tone for how the landscape was approached. For those brief periods in which the
owners did not have significant influence or were overpowered, for example during
the Civil War, the periods have been arranged around other criteria.
That Westover has remained since English colonization almost entirely under
the ownership of landholders wealthy enough to ensure at minimum its maintenance
is significant to its landscape history. Having experienced very few periods of neglect,
very old portions of the Westover landscape have remained intact and can still be
found among newer additions. Moreover, while significant changes have occurred
over time, no owner alone has dramatically altered the overall landscape. Westover’s
landscape today therefore retains residue from many major periods in the history of
American landscape design: from the neoclassical tastes of Virginia’s elite plantation
Opposite
owners through to the creation of infrastructure supporting historic tourism over the
Cedars bordering the Westover
last century. driveway, 2017

10 Historic Overview
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Precolonial Prior to the colonization of Virginia by the English, the Tidewater
region was inhabited by indigenous people of Algonquin origin whom the English
referred to as the Powhatans. From English colonists’ accounts and archaeological
digs, it is understood that the Powhatan people were relatively transient, moving
their encampments to follow food sources. Despite their transience they did grow
crops, notably tobacco, which later became important to the success of English
colonization. (Woodlief 1985)

Opposite
Map in which the James River is
labeled as the Powhatan River,
Detail, 1624, John Smith
The Library of Congress (North to
right)

12 Historic Overview
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Early colonial: 1607 - 1688 Within a decade of the English colonists' arrival
at what would become Jamestown in 1607, there was a settlement at Westover.
In 1616 John Rolfe wrote that “at West and Shirley Hundred, … are twenty-five
[persons], commanded by Capt. Isaac Maddeson, who are employed only in planting
and curing tobacco-with the profits thereof to clothe themselves and all those who
labor about the general business.” (Tyler 1896, 151) It is understood that the West
and Shirley Hundred settlement was established by a private corporation lead by
Capt. Francis West, Master John West, and Capt. Nathaniel West, three brothers of
Lord Delaware, whose patronymic was West. (Tyler 1896, 151) After earlier attempts
at finding exports to trade with England which would make the new Virginia Colony
viable, the English colonists began growing tobacco. It was this commodity, which
became popular in Europe and was easy to transport across the Atlantic Ocean, that
became essential to the economic viability of the colony.
By 1616 the community at West and Shirley Hundred was already cultivating
a lucrative crop and, despite early difficulties and the resistance of the Powhatan
people during the first half of the seventeenth century, the population of the
settlement at Westover continued to grow; forty-five people were recorded in 1623-
24 and sixty-one in 1625. (Tyler 1868, 151)
Sometime between 1625 and 1629 West and Shirley Hundred must have
dissolved into two separate settlements for in 1629 Westover was represented by
Above
Cristopher Woodward in the House of Burgesses as a distinct Hundred from Shirley.
Tobacco field in Virginia, 1941
(Tyler 1896, 151) The Library of Congress

14 Historic Overview
Over the next sixty years, little is known about and Powhatan Indians was restricted within Virginia. The
Westover other than the sequence of its ownership. Powhatan Indians had to give up all their claims to the
Until 1634 when counties were formed and became James River below the Fall line. Despite the more stable
the basis for representation in the House of Burgesses, condition for the colonists within the Tidewater region
the ownership of Westover is known from the records following the treaty, Westover did not for another forty
of the legislative assembly. The records show that in years come into a family which would retain ownership
both February 1631-32 and September 1632, Westover for a considerable amount of time, as became the case
was represented by John Flood, who also represented for many of the most profitable and powerful plantations
Flowerdew Hundred and in the first instance Weyanoke. along the James River.
By February 1632-33 it was represented by Captain Sir John Lord Pawlett retained Westover for
Thomas Pawlett who, like Flood, also represented twenty years, receiving full rights to it on November 12,
Flowerdew Hundred. (Tyler 1896, 151) 1661 when then governor Sir William Berkeley released
Captain Thomas Pawlett likely remained the the rights he had in the property. In 1665-66, Sir John
owner of Westover over the next decade for it is recorded sold the property to Theodorick Bland, Esq., of Berkeley
that on January 15, 1637 he received a patent for “2,000 Hundred who, upon his death in 1671, bequeathed
acres of the plantation called Westover” and the will left Westover to his son of the same name. Theodorick’s
at his death in 1644 bequeathed Westover to his brother brother Richard joined him in ownership of Westover
Sir John Lord Pawlett. For as long as Sir John owned until 1688 when they sold 1,200 acres to William Byrd,
Westover he did not live there but had Otho Southcot Esq., the first of the well-known Byrd family to own
live there on his behalf. (Tyler 1896, 151-153) Westover. (Tyler 1896, 153)
Following the 1646 Treaty ending the Third
Anglo-Powhatan War, the movement of English colonists

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The Byrd family: 1688 - 1814 The Byrd family members are the most
well-known residents of Westover and, due to their influential position in eighteenth
century Virginia, are in large part the reason Westover itself is known.
When William Byrd I and his wife Mary Horsmander purchased Westover in
1688, they moved there from the then frontier of colonial expansion at the fall line
near present day Richmond. In Virginia, William Byrd I had been immensely successful
in acquiring land, some of which had come from a large inheritance from his Uncle
Thomas Stegge Junior, and accumulating wealth through planting and trading. He
had also gained political prestige within the colonies, in part for his work trading with
the indigenous people. This wealth allowed him to purchase Westover, which would
have been a very desirable estate at the time. The planters that had direct access
to the James River were at a substantial advantage to those who held land farther
inland. They were able to manage their own small ports which provided the vital
connection to England, a privilege not had by inland planters. (Woodlief 1985, 70-71)
The plat from 1701 at right shows a chapel, brew house, and court house
indicating that in the early part of the Byrd family's ownership, Westover was still
operating as its own village, separated in daily life from other colonists living on the
river by the inefficiency of travel. A glimpse at the social hierarchy of the plantation is
also provided by the plat. While there was undoubtedly a small community of people
living at Westover, only the house occupied by the Byrds is indicated. By this time
Opposite
slave labor was relatively common in the colonies, and it is likely the community at
Westover Plat, 1701
Westover would have consisted of a slave labor force, indentured servants, and free Virginia Historical Society

16 Historic Overview
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community members such as the priest.
While it was William Byrd I who established the family's fortune and prestige
in Virginia, it was William Byrd II, his son, who began a significant project of modifying
the Westover landscape to demonstrate their wealth and social position. William
Byrd II inherited Westover upon his father's death in 1701. He was at the time in
London, having lived there for most of his life with relatives of his mother's, attending
school and afterward building a career as a lawyer. He was therefore accustomed to
the lifestyle of the English elite and aware of the symbols which indicated good taste
and prestige.
By the time Byrd II inherited Westover, his own family as well as others
within Virginia's wealthy planter class were well established and the monoculture
production of tobacco by slave labor was immensely lucrative. Peter Martin writes
how, afforded these conditions, the desire among Virginia's social and financial elites
to "cultivate a sense of civilized living and grace" began in earnest in the 1720s and
1730s (Martin 2001, XIX). The Westover plantation layout, architecture, and garden
became powerful symbols by which William Byrd II was able to display his social
position.
William Byrd II returned from London to take over Westover but continued
to take extended trips to England until 1726. He married his first wife, Lucy Parke,
while back in Virginia in 1706. Upon their first trip back to London she died in 1716.
Maria Taylor married the widowed Byrd during his last trip to England and returned
to Virginia with him.

18 Historic Overview
Under William Byrd II, the plantation saw the II, like others of Virginia's wealthy planter class and their
centrality of the main plantation house within the contemporaries in England, strove to present themselves
property grow. In the 1701 plat, the village and main as heirs of the patriarchs of classical antiquity and the
plantation house occupy two ends of the prominent axis. associated pastoral ideal. William Byrd II writing to
As Charles City became more established, the village Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, on February 2, 1726/7
quality of Westover became weaker as such institutions wrote: ”Our plants have juices more refined and better
as the church and courthouse moved away from the digested, our fruits are more sprightly flavoured, our
property to the town. Concurrently, dependencies were meats are more savoury, and I doubt not but when we
erected surrounding the main plantation house. The come to find them, our metals will prove all ripened into
Westover community had become exclusively about gold and silver. Thus nature is very indulgent to us, and
producing wealth for and supporting the lifestyle of the produces its good things almost spontaneously. Our men
Byrd family. evade the original curse of hard labour, and sweat as
Unlike poorer planters, William and Maria were much with eating their bread, as with getting it." (Tinling
able to distance themselves from manual labor. A group 1977 v.1, 357)
of four women were in charge of household chores, The historical connection to the classical
minimizing the effort Maria needed to exert around the patriarchs and Italian Villa life relied on a rhetoric not
house: Anaka, a slave woman, and a white women Byrd only of natural abundance and ease of work, but also one
referred to as "Nurse" cared for the children, two other of describing the plantation, as Kathleen M. Brown put it,
slaves Jenny and Moll had the responsibility of taking as a "personal arena for mastery". (Brown 1996, 265) In
general care of the household and cooking respectively. 1726 William Byrd II wrote "Like one of the patriarchs, I
(Brown 1996, 263) The entries of William Byrd II's diary have my flocks and my herds, my bond-men, and bond-
express his own distance from hard labor. William Byrd women, and every soart of trade amongst my own

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servants, so that I live in a kind of independence on every one, but Providence. How
ever tho' this soart of life is without expence yet it is attended with a great deal of
trouble. I must take care to keep all my people to their duty, to set all the springs in
motion, and to make every one draw his equal share to carry the machine forward."
(Tinling 1977 v.1, 355)
Upon William Byrd II's death in 1744, the ownership of Westover, according
to his will, was passed to Maria Taylor Byrd until William Byrd III reached his "full
age" of twenty-one; William Byrd III, Byrd II's only son, was sixteen at the time of his
father's death. (Tinling 1977 v.2, 598, 603) Once ownership passed to Byrd III, Byrd
II intended that Maria receive a "yearly summ of two hundred pounds sterling" and
have, for as long as she remained alive and unmarried, "the use of [his] plantation at
Westover, as likewise of all the working slaves that shall remain upon it at the time
of my death, and also the use of all my plate, linnen, household-goods, and other
personal estate remaining on my said plantation". (Tinling 1977 v.2, 598-600)
Unlike his father, William Byrd III had spent his entire childhood at Westover
and was living there, along with his mother and other siblings, at the time of his
father's death. (Tinling 1977 v.2, 603) Though he turned twenty-one in 1749, he did
not take over the management of Westover from his mother. Byrd III had married
Elizabeth Hill Carter one year earlier in 1748 and together they lived at the Byrd family's
plantation by the name of Belvidere (spelled also Belvedere or Belvidera) in what is Above
now Richmond. (Tinling 1977 v.2, 603) (Ryan 1931, 139) Although William Byrd III and Belvidere, detail, ca 1796
Elizabeth Hill Carter may have built the mansion at Belvidere, the plantation already Henry Latrobe
Donald W. Reynolds Museum

20 Historic Overview
belonged to the Byrd family; an inventory accompanying grounds. She also mentioned his instructions and sought
William Byrd II's will includes Belvidere. (Tinling 1977 his advice, indicating that despite his absence Byrd III
v.2, 599) In 1756, Byrd III left his wife and two children remained marginally involved in managing Westover.
to fight for the British army against the French. John (Tinling 1977 v.2, 623, 628 (wheat, horses), 686 (windmill)
Kirkpatrick wrote to George Washington on August 14, 699, 737, 752)
1756: "Col. Bird I am told has repudiated his Wife, who When Maria Taylor died in 1771, William Byrd III
is now in a Delirium for his Behaviour, and is Resolved to came into full possession of Westover. Though born into
make a Campaign under Lord Loudon- he has committed a considerable fortune, Byrd III managed it poorly, and
his Estate to the Charge of Some Friends, & Settled all w a by the time he passed away in 1777 the family was in a
design never to return to Virginia." (Hamilton 1898, 335) substantial amount of debt.
He remained away for five years, during which, in 1760, Despite the precarious financial situation she
Elizabeth Hill Carter died. (Tinling 1977 v.2, 609) Shortly was left with following Byrd III's death, Mary Willing
after returning, William Byrd III married Mary Willing managed to keep and maintain Westover until her death.
of Philadelphia in 1761. After living for brief periods in From the reports of various travelers, it appears she was
Philadelphia and Belvidere, they moved to Westover in moreover able to keep the plantation in an impressive
the fall of 1762. (Tinling 1977 v.2, 610, 763) state. The Marquis de Chastellux, a French major general
Throughout William Byrd III's absence from who travelled in America after fighting in the American
Westover, Maria Taylor Byrd remained in charge of Revolution wrote while visiting Westover in 1782 that
managing Westover. In letters she wrote to Byrd III during "the banks of James river form the garden of Virginia.
this period she included brief notes on her handling of That of Mrs. Bird, to which I was going, surpasses them
horse purchases, selling of the wheat harvests, managing all in the magnificence of the buildings, the beauty of
slaves and employees, and upkeep of the house and its situation, and the pleasures of society. … She has

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preserved his beautiful house, situated on James river, a large personal property,
a considerable number of slaves, and some plantations which she has rendered
valuable." (Chastellux 1828, 280)
During the American Revolution, while many other properties within the
region were destroyed, Westover received only minimal damage. This may have
been since Mary Willing was a distant relative of Benedict Arnold. She was accused
of treason for the fact that Benedict Arnold had landed at Westover on more than
one occasion, however she was able to defend herself against these charges.
Two later travelers, William Wirt in 1803 and J. S. Glennie in 1811, both give
the impression that Westover was still well maintained at the time of their visits. In
letters they both, like the Marquis de Chastellux, speak of the hospitality and care
with which they were hosted. Wirt, who visited while the Byrd family was away,
was hosted by two servants, Mr. West and Mr. White. Other than the mention of
these two servants and the children of Mary Willing Byrd who were also living at
Westover, very little is known about the rest of the Westover community at the time,
the majority of which would have been enslaved.
With the death of Mary Willing in 1814, Westover fell out of the Byrd family.
Her will indicates her expectation that the children to which she bequeathed the Opposite
property would sell it. This must not have happened immediately following her View across the river from Westover
(top) and view of Westover from the
death, however, as it is noted in a published copy of her will that her son Richard river (bottom) 1811, J. S. Glennie
Willing Byrd, died at Westover in October 1815. (1899 Will of Mrs. Mary Willing, 356) Princeton University Library,
Department of Rare Books and
Special Collections Manuscripts

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Several short ownerships: 1814-1829 Following the Byrd family's long
ownership, Westover passed through several short ownerships. William Carter owned
Westover from 1814 - 1821. After having apparently won a lottery in Philadelphia,
Robert Douthat purchased Westover in 1821. He lived there with his wife who was
the daughter of Mr. Lewis, the owner of Weyanoke plantation at the time. (Dunlap
1834, 99)
William Dunlap, who later wrote A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts
of Design in the United States, visited in 1822 and from the description of Westover
he included in his book we have a glimpse into the state of Westover at the time. He
wrote: "There was more costly magnificence in and about the house at Westover
than I had seen anywhere in our country, but all had become dilapidated, and was
under the repairing hand of the present possessor." (Dunlap 1834, 101)
Letters from travelers who visited Westover almost up until Mary Willing's
death in 1814 uniformly describe Westover being in an impressive state and so it
Opposite
seems likely that the dilapidation Dunlap was referring to came about during William
View of Westover from the river
Carter's ownership. Other than Dunlop's description, the only information potentially
1825 or 1838, Lucy(?) Harrison
available from this period is a painting made either in 1825 or 1838 by a member of (1825) ArtStor
the Harrison family who would have likely lived nearby at Berkeley plantation. Copies (1838) Westover private collection,
of this image are held both by ArtStor and at Westover, each with a different date. note on rear " 1838 Photograph of
Douthat sold Westover to William Carter of the well-known Carter family in Westover. Collins Denny owns the
picture from which this photograph
1828. Carter kept Westover for only one year, selling the plantation to John Selden in
was made. Original at the Takewell
1829. Elletts."

24 Historic Overview
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John Selden: 1829 - 1862 John Selden moved to Westover with his
family shortly after he purchased the plantation in 1829. His wife, Maria Pemberton,
also lived at Westover and over the course of his ownership, his eighteen children -
fifteen sons and three daughters - grew up there. Selden maintained a private school
at Westover for his children, and for this reason several other children lived there to
attend the school as well. (Kocher 1954, 65-66) To carry out the agricultural labor,
the household tasks, and to provide the labor for the extravagant parties of up to fifty
guests John Selden was known to have, slaves lived at Westover with John Selden's
family. Selden records owning 63 slaves in his journal on December 6, 1861. (Bassett
1921, 318)
By the time John Selden purchased Westover, the arable land along the
James River had become unsuitable for growing tobacco after years of monoculture
production of the crop had depleted the soil. A common situation within the Tidewater,
plantation owners were turning towards other crops and new farming methods. John
Selden appears to have been a leader in this agricultural reform. He employed a five-
crop rotation, planted clover, and used labor saving machinery. From his journal of
the years 1858-1862, we know that he was a member of the executive committee of
the Virginia Central Agricultural Society. In this same journal, in which he provides a
detailed account of daily activity on the plantation, he writes about the success of his Above
crops. Although he describes a failed corn crop in January of 1859, two of his wheat John Selden sitting with a child in
the river-front doorway of the main
crops around the same time were in his opinion very successful: in August 14, 1858
house, Detail, 1860-1862
he writes that his average on the bushels of wheat harvest, was "the best average I The Library of Congress

26 Historic Overview
have heard of." In June of the following year at the end chickens, fish, fodder, and hay from his own. For some
of the wheat harvest he wrote: "this is decidedly the best enslaved people, the changes were an improvement as
crop of wheat I have ever made or ever saw." (Bassett there were greater opportunities to earn money and
1921) therefore greater potential to buy their freedom. For
Edna Greene Medford has highlighted that not those slaves who were hired out to other plantations for
only does Selden's journal provide information on his long periods of time, however, the changes made their
farming techniques and the success of his crops, but it situations worse as they became separated from their
also demonstrates the changes the altered agricultural families and plantation communities. (Medford 1993)
work cycle had on slavery in the region. (Medford 1993) Unlike William Byrd II's journal, Selden makes very
While tobacco farming required almost consistent little mention in his journal of the grounds surrounding
work throughout the year, the labor needs of mixed the main house or the garden. The entries in his journal
farming were more variable. A system of slave hiring are focused on the agricultural activity of the property
developed in which slave owners who had a temporary and financial matters. This journal only covers the year
surplus labor force hired out slaves to other plantation 1858-1862, however, and it is possible that Selden was
owners who were temporarily short on workers or who more concerned about the grounds and garden earlier
did not own slaves with specific skills. Not only were the in his proprietorship. While visitor accounts provide
owners of hired slaves paid for their slaves' work, but the detailed descriptions in other periods, there are also no
hired workers also received a small remuneration. The known descriptions made by visitors from the period of
off-time created by the more variable work schedule also Selden's ownership. The first photograph of Westover
allowed slaves to raise poultry as well as gather fodder available from the archives consulted, however, is from
and hay. In his journal Selden recorded such instances of the later part of Selden's ownership.
him hiring other plantation owners' slaves and purchasing Selden's journal provides an account of the activity

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at Westover leading up to the Union Army's arrival there in July 1862. Selden himself
fled to Amelia Springs in the Piedmont with two of his daughters and seventeen of
his slaves. Selden's wife, and the remainder of his children and slaves remained at
Westover with the hope that this might keep them from losing everything to the
sweep of the Union Army. The plan did not succeed.

Opposite
The main house, 1860-1862
The Library of Congress

28 Historic Overview
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Civil War: 1862-1865 The Union Army arrived at Westover on July 1962,
retreating from the Seven Days battle in Richmond. The Union troops under General
McClellan occupied Westover and Berkeley for several weeks, recuperating from
the Seven Days battle. General McClellan had selected the two plantations for their
encampment because they were easily defended. They were not too extensive
and could easily be protected by the gunboats. Moreover, this location allowed for
uninterrupted communication with the river troops. (Allan 1892, 139)
McClellan had his headquarters at Berkeley. Westover served as the
headquarters for General Porter, an efficient commander of McClellan's who was
made Major-General of Volunteers for his work during the Seven Days battle. (Miller
1911, 334) The rest of the troops set up tents on both plantations. An oral interview
from 1937 with Sister Robinson, a woman who had been enslaved at Westover from
ca 1836 to 1862, gives an idea of the presence the Union troops had on the property.
She recalled: "A curse of caterpillars came and with them came the Yankees. Both of
them were so thick you couldn't hardly step for stepping on some of them. Yes sir, I
sure can remember those days. Yanks comes up river in them gunboats of theirs and
shoots all over all the plantation." (Perdue 1976, 241)
According to Selden's journal entry of September 7, 1862, his wife and
children left behind at Westover were unable to leave the yard for eight weeks while Opposite
the Union Army occupied the plantation. Despite their hope in staying, they had "Gen'l Fitz John Porter and staff,
at headquarters, Westover" 1862,
been powerless against the Union Army.
Mathew B. Brady
Upon visiting Westover in September 1862 following the Union occupation The Library of Congress

30 Historic Overview
31
Selden wrote in his journal that he "Found the estate entirely ruined. Should not
have known it. ... The entire country ruined." Fourteen of his slaves had stayed at
Westover. Considerably more, thirty-six, had left with the Union Army. (Bassett 1921)
Sister Robinson was one of those who had left with the Union Army, taken by boat to
Newport News, Crane's Island, and finally to Hampton. (Perdue 1976, 241) The three
slaves who had gone to Amelia Springs with Selden had also escaped while there.
(Bassett 1921)
According to his journal, Selden sold the Westover estate on September 18,
1862 to "Messrs. Ellet and Drury, of Richmond, for the sum of fifty thousand dollars
cash-fifteen thousand dollars less that I had been offered for it before the war." They
seem not to have done anything with the property for several years as a group of
visitors travelling from Troy, N.Y. to Richmond noted in 1865 that the main plantation
house was occupied by Union refugees and the plantation still lay in disrepair. (One
of the Party 1871) Opposite
The paddock in front of the land
facing facade of the main house
ca 1862
The photographic History of the Civil
War, p 334

32 Historic Overview
33
This page
"Westover Landing, Virginia, View
of transports in James River", 1862
Alexander Gardner
The Library of Congress

Opposite
"Westover Landing, Va. Lt. Col.
Samuel W. Owen, 3d Pennsylvania
Cavalry, caught napping", 1862,
Alexander Gardner
The Library of Congress

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Major A. H. Drewry: 1865 - 1899 Major Augustus H. Drewry moved to
the property shortly after the end of the civil war in 1866. While the Civil War took
a large financial toll on many other Virginians, Drewry seems to have come out of
the war with enough money to set about repairing Westover. He was determined
to promote Virginia agriculture following the war and took on the task of making it
financially viable despite the radically altered socio-economic conditions.
He lost little time in this task. Already in 1869, he hosted a large agricultural
exhibition at Westover. At this time, a relatively large population of workers and their
families lived on the plantation in close proximity with each other and near the barns.
(Chapin 1871, 804)
Reports towards the end of Drewry's life all suggest he had been successful
in his endeavor. An article by the Southern Planter reported in 1892 that under his
ownership, the estate had received "his constant attention and care. The results
are seen on every hand." (1892 Farming at Westover) A year later in 1893, the
Washington Post wrote that Drewry "is one of the few large land-owners in Virginia
who have made farming pay." (1893 Drove Away the Terrapin) The writing of a friend
of Major Drewry and his wife, Miss Harrison, who visited them on several occasions
recalled that "The hospitality at Westover in Major Drewry’s days might vie with that
of any plantation in the palmiest years of Virginia’s commercial and social prosperity. Opposite
... The table was lavishly provided with whatever viands the plantation could produce Major A. H. Drewry (seated at
center) on the river-front lawn, 1888
... The broad acres were in clean and thrifty cultivation." (Terhune 1907, 49-50)
Huestis Cook
Following a period of poor health Major Drewry died in 1899. (New York Shadows in Silver, p 74

36 Historic Overview
37
Times, 1899) His widow, without anyone to help her take care of the estate, sold
Westover the same year to Mrs. Clarise Sears Ramsey and Mr. William McCreary
Ramsey. (Terhune 1907, 51)

Opposite
Major A. H. Drewry and guests on
the river-front stairs of the main
house, 1888, Huestis Cook
Shadows in Silver, p 73

38 Historic Overview
39
Clarise Sears Ramsey: 1899-1921 Mrs. Clarise Sears Ramsey's purchase
of Westover in 1899 fulfilled what had been a dream of hers since childhood. She
was of a collateral branch of the Byrd family and had grown up in Maryland at a home
which had been called Westover after the plantation on the James River.
Shortly after marrying William McCreary Ramsey, the couple purchased
Westover and moved from California to Virginia. Mrs. Ramsey's idea of Westover
during the colonial era was a romantic one and, with the wealth to do so, she set
about a large-scale renovation of the property. (Terhune 1907, 51)
The idealized image Mrs. Ramsey had of Westover's colonial past tended to
exclude its productive aspects. Changes made to the grounds surrounding the house
reflect this as does the fact that the fields were poorly tended. A Charles City resident
who knew Westover during Mrs. Ramsey's ownership wrote, "the farm lands, owing
to the want of careful management, have somewhat deteriorated in the last few
years." (Saunders 1929)
By 1910, William Ramsey was no longer living at Westover for unknown
reasons. Clarise Sears Ramsey lived there with three children, a son and two
daughters. (Hutchins 1910, 202) There are two other homes on the property which
date from this period suggesting that at least a few others, likely workers, were also
living on the property at the time. Opposite
Mrs. Ramsey sold Westover to Mr. Richard Crane in 1921. She afterward Rendering of renovations to the
main house, ca 1901
moved to London where she died in 1922.
M. J. Dimmock and G. R. Tolman
Virginia Historical Society

40 Historic Overview
41
The Crane family and descendants: 1921 - Richard Crane and his
wife Ellen Bruce Crane purchased Westover in 1921. Mr. Crane had formerly been
the American ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Since their ownership, Westover has
passed through their descendants.
After Mrs. Crane, predeceased by Mr. Crane in 1938, passed away in 1952
Westover fell to their daughter Mrs. Ellen Douglas Bruce Crane Fisher. In 1974 she
placed a historic easement on 636 acres of the property. Later in 1999, she transferred
her ownership to a family partnership. Her son Fred and his wife Muschi lived in the
main house and managed Westover until 2012. Since then, their daughter Andrea
Fisher Erda and her husband Rob Erda manage Westover and live in the main house
together with their three children. Fred and Muschi still live on the property, as does
the family of the groundskeeper, a retired farmer and his wife, and four other families
who rent homes there.
Since placing the preservation easement on the property, no substantial
changes have been made. The focus has been on maintenance and management
of the large historic landmark. Following other plantations who have opened their
grounds to the public, one of the most significant alterations to the landscape's
character over the past several decades, albeit still subtle, has come from the addition Opposite
of signage for tourists. Mr. Crane (center right) and Mrs.
Crane (far left front) with the Cuban
ambassador (center left) and other
guests, 1921-1938
The Valentine Museum Archives

42 Historic Overview
43
Evolution of the Westover Landscape
LARGE SCALE

Historical records of Westover tend to center on and around the main plantation
house. Early visitors, most impressed by these features, focused their journal entries
and letters on them. Historic writing on Westover in the twentieth century likewise
focused on the main plantation house and the surrounding grounds. Westover was
established first and foremost, however, as a tobacco plantation. Before the main
house, gardens, and grounds were established, fields were formed. And it was
because of the lucrative tobacco production on these fields that the house, garden,
and grounds were ever able to follow.
Westover's largescale landscape is therefore essential to its landscape history.
This chapter covers its evolution since English colonial settlement, including both the
spatial evolution as well as the activities which have taken place there.

Opposite
Aerial photograph of Westover
Google Earth imagery, 2017

44 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


45
Early village landscape and tobacco farming While the center of
Westover's landscape today is undoubtedly the main house, Westover life would
have at an earlier time centered dually around the small village and the main house.
In what order and how far apart in time the village buildings and first main plantation
house were built is unknown. It is possible that the village predated the main
plantation house by a considerable period and the earliest center of Westover was
the village itself.
Information on the early Westover Village is sparse. The oldest dated remnant
of the village is a 1637 grave stone of Captain William Perry. This gravestone is located
within the current graveyard. A source from 1896 claims that Captain Pawlett left
land to the church during his ownership from 1632-33 to 1644. (Tyler 1896, 152)
According to Edward Payson Terhune, a guest of both Major A. H. Drewry and Clarise
Sears Ramsey on several occasions, Theodorick Bland built a courthouse, church,
and prison on the property during his ownership in the late 17th century. (Terhune
1907, 43) A plat from 1701 is the first substantial document which gives information
about the village. By this time, the village included at least a "Brick Brew house",
"Courthouse", and "Old Church". Accompanying the courthouse was a ducking stool
located on a point of higher land jutting out into Herring Creek east of the main
house. It is labelled Ducking Stool Point on the plat. The ducking stool was a method
of punishment applied exclusively to women accused of slandering. According to
Opposite
Kathleen M. Brown, ducking stools such as these would have been used by local
Westover Plat, 1701
communities "to threaten women who failed to respect male political authority." Virginia Historical Society

46 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


47
(Brown 1996, 148) Houseboating travelers along the James River in 1910, noted
how unusually deep the water was off this point, making it a prime location for the
ducking stool. (Hutchins 1910, 224)
The 1701 plat is also the first indication of a main plantation house on the
property. It is unknown when this house was built. Many texts attribute the building
of this main plantation home to William Byrd I, however, it seems unlikely that earlier
owners, who likewise held significant political positions and had adequate wealth,
would not have built such a home for themselves. Regardless of who built the first
main plantation house, by 1701 it clearly occupied a prominent place in the Westover
landscape.
There are many parts of the early village landscape which undoubtedly
existed but for which no physical information is known. Despite the significance of
tobacco farming to Westover, the 1701 gives no information as to the boundaries of
fields, the location of drainage courses, or the location of the buildings which would
have been necessary to support the crops' production. Moreover, this drawing gives
no hint as to the location of buildings such as the prison, or the homes of those who
lived on the plantation beyond the main owner.
As Charles City county became more established, public buildings were
removed from Westover to Charles City in the 1730s. A courthouse was built in Above
Charles City at that time, and in 1731, the Westover church was moved to its current Sand beach at landing associated
location on Herring Creek. The land on which the church had stood was purchased with the early Westover village,
2017
by William Byrd II and absorbed into the Westover property. (Tyler 1896, 155)
Kathleen Conti

48 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


What remains of the early village today are Later the same year in July and August, William
several gravestones and a deep cut in the steep river Byrd II made several notes about work on the granary.
bank leading down to the river's shore. There is also a On July 28th, 1712 he "walked to see the carpenter at
low brick wall with a plaque claiming that it marks the work about the granary and then went to the store which
former location of the Westover church. It is uncertain was much out of order." A few days later, on August first,
on what information this is based. It seems unlikely that it he "took a walk to see the granary" and again on August
marks an accurate location for the church as the earliest 5th "the Colonel and I took a walk to see the granary."
gravestones would have been placed in the floor of the (Wright 1941)
church, yet they are at a considerable distance from the
present low wall. For the 350th anniversary of Charles
City County in 1984, the corner of the courthouse was
probed for and found. The location was marked for the
day but has since been forgotten. (Conversation with
Fred and Muschi Fisher)
Entries from William Byrd II's diaries in 1712 give
some information about tobacco farming at Westover.
On May 9th, 1712 he wrote that "In the afternoon it
began to rain and grew very cold so that all my people
went to plant the tobacco and planted 4,000 plants."
Despite cold rain and wind again the next day slaves
"went to plant tobacco again and planted 26,000 this
day." (Wright 1941)

49
A glimpse of Westover in 1783 The next substantial glimpse of the
Westover landscape beyond the main plantation house comes from a letter written
by Thomas Lee Shippen, a young relative of Mary Lee Shippen, who visited Westover
in 1783 from Philadelphia. In a letter he wrote back to his parents describing his visit,
he relayed in detail his experience of the plantation.
From his letter it is clear that the driveway as well as the irrigation channels
coming from Herring Creek, both major structuring elements of the landscape, were
already in the position they are today in 1783. The northernmost portion of the
property during Shippen's visit was also forested as it is today, and the land south of
that was mostly under cultivation.
Major differences from 1783 coincide with the social and technical differences
of agricultural production. According to the letter, there was a village of slave quarters
visible from the driveway as soon as one left the forest. The farmyard, substantially
bigger than it is today, ran from the gates at the sharp turn in the road until it
reached the grounds surrounding the house. The wealth generated through tobacco
production was apparently evident not only within the main plantation house but
even in the farmyard, as Shippen described the stables within the farmyard as the Opposite
"most commodious stable for the stock" that he had ever seen. General location of slave quarters
Thomas Shippen also wrote about the main plantation house and its and farm yard as seen by Thomas
surrounding yard. This information is included in Chapter 3. Lee Shippen in 1783 marked on
contemporary aerial photograph of
Westover
Google Earth imagery, 2017

50 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


SLAVE QUARTERS

FARM YARD

51
Selden's changes to Westover Selden's Journal from 1858 to 1862
provides an extended window into the agricultural activity at Westover during those
years. By this time his five-crop rotation of clover, wheat, corn, peas, and again
wheat would have already been well established, and although it occupied the same
fields, it would have dramatically changed the Westover landscape from the tobacco
monoculture which had predated it.
To keep up with the needs of his family, slave labour force and livestock,
Selden records several additions to the Westover property during these years. For
instance, in January of 1859 he notes that both of his ice houses were filled, one of
which was a "new house on the river". Later the same month he hired Mrs. Mary
Mumford's slave Lewis to assist building new slave quarters and a barn. Selden gives
no indication as to the location of the new slave quarters. It is possible they were
located within the farm yard complex Thomas Shippen had already noted in his 1783
letter. A Harper's magazine writer who visited Westover in 1869 following the Civil
War wrote about coming across worker's quarters on his way to the grave yard along
the river. Crossing a stile, he entered the quarters where there were "a row of new and
very comfortable two-story frame buildings, each one containing accommodations
for four families". Men were at work fishing under the bank, and "[w]ithin the same
enclosure, but at some distance back from the river, were the immense barns of the Opposite
estate." (Chapin 1871, 803-804). Considering the immense quantity of work there Copy of Map of Westover made for
Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
was to repair Westover following the civil war, it seems unlikely Major A. H. Drewry
Powell C. Johnson, 1865
would have undertaken building new workers quarters in the first few years of his Westover private collection

52 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


53
ownership. These workers quarters might therefore have been those built by Selden
in 1858. It is also possible, however, that those quarters had been destroyed during
the Civil War and new ones had indeed been built following the war. Regardless of
when they were built, traces of cuts through the steep bank leading down to the
river in two locations, evident in the contour lines laid over the map at right, suggest
where these quarters would have likely been.

Opposite
Estimated location of workers
quarters and barn complex as seen
by Harper's magazine writer in 1869
marked on contemporary aerial
photograph of Westover
Google Earth imagery, 2017

54 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


20

20

25

20
25

20
10

20

55
ESTIMATED LOCATION OF 10

WORKERS QUARTERS
Drewry’s draining of the marsh A notable alteration of Major A. H.
Drewry's to the Westover landscape was his work in draining marsh land along the
Herring Creek to expand his arable land. Both a 1892 Southern Planter article and a
1893 Washington Post article cover the success of his endeavor. He accomplished the
draining of the marsh by building long dikes along the river, pumping out the water,
and buildings ditches to let excess water drain off to the marsh. (1892 Farming at
Westover)
Like Selden, Drewry employed a crop rotation though his rotation was
different: "wheat, corn, wheat, clover and timothy, mown one year and pastured
two, and then followed with wheat again." (1892 Farming at Westover)
By the 1890s when these writers visited Westover, Drewry had brought the
plantation into a state of repair and production they both admired. The Southern
Planter writers saw "one of the most magnificent wheat crops we have ever seen in
any part of the world." (1892 Farming at Westover) The writer from the Washington
Post reported that the "fences, outbuildings, and roads are in excellent order, and
the fields have the appearance of skillful cultivation and thorough garnering." (1893
Drove Away the Terrapin)

Opposite
Aerial photograph of Westover
mid twentieth century
Jamieson Family private collection,
Berkeley plantation

56 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


57
The remaining marsh Not all of the Herring Creek marsh was drained by
Major A. H. Drewry. In 1910, a group of vacationing house boaters described in the
account of their journey along the James River the time they spent docked within the
calm waters of the marsh.
As they passed over the bar and into the creek they could see a glimpse of the
main Westover house. Moving farther inland, a bluff covered with cedars, sycamores,
grey beeches, and pines rose on their right. Amongst the trees was a "luxuriant holly"
with ripe red berries. Little boats started to appear moored along the bank of the
creek as they moved yet further inland. White farmhouses occasionally appeared
over the bluff and eventually they arrived at Westover church. Geese were paddling
in the marshes. (Hutchins 1910, 185 - 190)

Opposite
"Little boats were nosing into the
bank here and there"
1910, Frank and Cortelle Hutchins
Houseboating on a Colonial
waterway, p 187

58 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


59
Farming during the Ramsey ownership While she was clearly
enamored with the domestic life associated with colonial Virginia, Mrs. Ramsey
appears to have had little interest in the productive activity which had funded it. As
part of her general effort to push productive activity farther from the main plantation
house, she initiated the movement of the main farm complex away from the location
it had previously occupied south of the driveway between the bend in the road and
the main house's grounds by building a farm shed farther north in one of the fields.
In materials and construction, the simple farm shed also stands in sharp contrast to
those lavishly executed projects she carried out close to the main plantation house.
According to Kirkland Ruffin Saunders who lived in Charles City County, the
fields "owing to the want of careful management" deteriorated during Mrs. Ramsey's
ownership. (Saunders 1929)

Opposite
Farm shed built by Mrs. Ramsey
2017

60 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


61
Buildings built by the Cranes Shortly after moving to Westover, the
Cranes had several additional houses built on the property. The style of these houses
is consistent. This style already existed in a few structures present on the property,
notably the house now referred to as Mrs. Black's house which is located at the
bend of the driveway by the large old gates. The large number of red painted wood
buildings built by the Cranes, however, strengthened the presence of this style on the
property.
One of the first houses built was the river house. This house was built sometime
in the 1920s for Captain Snediki, a man brought by Richard Crane to Westover to
look after his boats. There used to be a garage and boat shed near the river house,
but both were washed away in a hurricane. (Conversation with Fred Fisher). Around
the same time, in 1926, the house just west of the garden across the lawn was built
for the then farm manager. It was designed by Duncan Lee, a renowned Richmond
architect in 1926. (Conversation with Fred and Muschi Fisher)
Richard Crane also built a barn near the farm shed Mrs. Ramsay had built. The Top
third building, between the shed and this barn, was later built by Fred and Muschi One of two similar houses along the
Fisher. In the 1950s, the two small houses west of the driveway were built by Ellen driveway, 2017
Douglas Bruce Crane. These replaced three buildings which were there before it; two Above
houses and a cook house. The houses used to be worker's quarters. Today they are House designed by Duncan Lee in
rented. (Conversation with Fred and Muschi Fisher) 1926, 2017

Opposite
The river house, 2017

62 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


63
Agriculture today Three generations of the Black family have farmed
Westover since 1945. Today David Black farms Westover in addition to neighboring
Berkeley and his own property. For thirty years he has practiced no till farming,
planting soybeans within the stocks of harvested winter wheat, as well as corn. His
parents, who are now retired, still live on the property.
With the advances in farming technology, the human effort needed to farm
Westover today is remarkably different than that needed in earlier eras. The primary
farm complex consists today of the two sheds and a barn located on the crest of a hill
amongst one of the fields. For the most part it is quiet.
When David Black's grandparents moved their family to Westover to begin
farming it, they brought their sheep, hogs, and cattle with them. (Conversations
with the Black family) The only farm animals kept on the property today are horses,
housed in the stable built by Mrs. Ramsey northeast of the main plantation house,
and chickens, housed in coops near the horses.

Above
Chicken coops, 2017

Opposite
From left to right: The roof of a shed
built by Clarise Sears Ramsey, a shed
built by the Fishers, and a barn built
by Richard Crane, 2017

64 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


65
The woods and timbering As far back as the Byrd family ownership, there
is evidence that the northern most edge of the Westover property has been wooded.
In his 1783 letter, Thomas Shippen wrote about entering the property through a
"most charming Wood". William Wirt wrote roughly thirty years later of likewise
entering through an "oak grove, which is very fine & majestic .... all its trees are still
flourishing and the ground below grass turfed & clear". On the 1865 map drawn for
Major A. H. Drewry there is marked a large section of "Woods".
There is record of Major A. H. Drewry, Clarice Sears Ramsey, and the Fishers
each timbering these woods. Towards the end of Drewry's ownership, the "Westover
plantation contain[ed] about 1,000 acres, of which about 700 are under cultivation,
with the balance in timber." (1892 Farming at Westover) Fred Fisher recalls that Mrs.
Ramsey timbered the woods leaving roughly a hundred feet or so along the driveway.
Starting in the 1970s the Fisher's began regularly timbering portions of the woods.
The image at left shows a stand of planted pines.

Opposite
Pine plantation (foreground) and a
clearing recently clear cut beyond,
forest north of the driveway, 2017

66 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


67
Fishing In addition to farming and timbering, fishing was at one time also
practiced at Westover. Writing about his visit to Westover in 1782, the Marquis de
Chastellux described what he learned about Sturgeon there. From some of the slaves
he met while walking by the river-side, he learned their various methods of fishing.
His full account is included in the appendices.
In the image at left, men are haul seine fishing on the beach at Westover
near the river house. This photo was taken by either George or Huestis Cook, a father
son team who together photographed Virginia extensively from the 1860s to the
1930s. By the time this photograph was taken, the practice of haul seine fishing had
declined in Virginia but was still being done where there were thick runs of spawning
shad and herring. (Kocher 1954)

Opposite
Men haul seine fishing on the beach
at Westover near the river house
ca 1860s - 1930s
Shadows in Silver, p 124

68 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


69
Graveyards As on many plantations in Virginia, graveyards were established
directly on the property at Westover. There are two known burial grounds at Westover.
One of these graveyards was established along with the early village. As
mentioned earlier, the oldest remaining tombstone from this period is from 1637. The
oldest graves in this cemetery would have initially lay beneath the floor of Westover
Church. After the church was moved in 1731, the tombstones no longer needed to
lay flush on the ground. (Tyler 1896, 155) Accordingly, the graves of Ms. Evelyn Byrd,
Mary Byrd, and William Byrd III who all passed away between 1731 and 1777, are of
a substantially different style rising well above the ground. By 1822 this graveyard
was surrounded by a brick wall. (Dunlap 1834, 287) No Selden family members were
buried within the graveyard and it seems John Selden was not excessively reverent
of the graveyard for on December 10, 1859 he notes in his journal that he "fixed a
shelter against the brick wall of the grave yard for my pigs". (Bassett, 1921)
Whatever neglect this graveyard suffered during Selden's ownership, the
Civil War took an additional toll on it as vandals took portions of the tombs. (1893
Drove Away the Terrapin) Visiting Westover in 1869, a writer for Harper's magazine
wrote "we came into the edge of a wood, and found ourselves in the 'graveyard.' Opposite
... we beheld only three or four square tombs, very much dilapidated, and a similar 1865 map overlayed on a current
number of slabs even with the surface of the ground, all covered to the depth of an aerial photograph with the location
inch or more with the dust and mould of age." (Chapin 1871, 804) The author and of both graveyards highlighted.
Aerial, Google Earth imagery, 2017
his companion copied the inscriptions on each of the nine tombs which were in the
Map, Detail. Westover private
graveyard to the best of their ability. These inscriptions can be found in the 1871 collection

70 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


71
Harper's Magazine article.
No members of the Drewry or Ramsey families are buried within this
graveyard. The Cranes and Fishers have begun to use the graveyard again. All but two
of the graves are now bordered by a wrought iron fence.
The other known burial ground was a graveyard used by Westover's enslaved
community. Only its location is known. It appears on a single map from 1865 which
now hangs in the "old kitchen" at Westover. Its location is highlighted on the map on
the previous page. Fred Fisher recalls the location being occupied by a grove of trees
early in his childhood and his mother referring to it as a former slave graveyard. At
some point during his childhood the clump of trees disappeared and the ground has
become farmed over.

Opposite
One of the Westover graveyards
ca 1860s - 1930s, Huestis Cook
The Valentine Museum Archives

72 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


73
1 Captain William Perry - 1637
2 Leftenant Col Walter Aston - 1656, age 49
A B
and his son, Walter Aston - 1666, age 27
3 Theodorici Bland - 1671, age 41
4 M. Ch. Anderson - 17??, age 49
5 Ms. Evelyn Byrd - 1737, age 29
6 Mary Byrd - XXXX, age 47 12 11
9 8 13 2 1 3
7 William Byrd III - XXXX 4
8 Richard Crane 1882 - 1938 10 5 6 7
9 Ellen Douglas Bruce 1872 - 1952 14
10 Patrice Lavonne 1971 - 1971
11 Nancy Carrington Anderson Casey 1911 - 1975
12 Hunter Collin Tong 1990 - 1993
Above
13 Ellen Douglas Bruce Crane Fisher 1913 - 2008
Diagram of the existing graveyard
14 David De Barsy De Give 1943 - 2009
Josephine Crane Fisher De Give 1943 - Opposite
A Harrison family member grave View looking from dirt road along
the river to where the former slave
B Harrison family member grave graveyard lay beyond the corn field,
2017

74 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


75
Westover large scale landscape annotated aerial
1 the "big woods"

2 farm shed built by Mrs. Ramsey


3 farm shed built by the Fishers


4 barn built by Richard Crane


5 tenant houses built by Ellen Douglas Bruce, replaced older tenant houses in the
same location, built in the 1950s
6 "Mrs. Black's home", the Black family moved into this home when they moved
to Westover in 1945, it is now rented to tenants
7 old farm buildings
8 former enslaved community graveyard
9 the River house, built in the 1920s for Captain Snediki by Richard Crane
10 location of the former dock for steam ships, piles still visible at low tide
11 graveyard
12 cut down to the river
13 home built in 1926 by Richard Crane, designed by Duncan Lee
14 the main plantation house

76 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Large Scale


1

2
3
4

8 6
7

11 13
12
14
9
10

77
ARRIVING TO THE MAIN HOUSE

Approaching from the land The description provided of the large


scale landscape has thus far been given primarily in relation to its productive purpose.
Yet the large landscape also functioned as an impressive domain through which to
reach the main house. It is well known that in the colonial period, when guests might
be arriving by either land or river, plantation homes had two fronts, each equally
grand. The procession to these began well before the steps to the door.
From existing letters, it is clear that the driveway through the field towards
the land front succeeded in impressing visitors. Thomas Lee Shippen described the
route in detail in 1783:
"You leave the main road from Williamsburg to Richmond about two miles
from Westover, and ride a mile and a half thro' a most charming Wood
which has ever been the hobby horse of its possessor, on account of its
beauty, and has always belonged to Westover. You pass thro' two gates,
and from the second, which leads you into the improved grounds, may
be seen a village of quarters as they are called for the negroes. The road
you get into upon opening this gate is spacious and very level bounded on
either side by a handsome ditch & fence which divide the road from fine
meadows whose extent is greater than the eye can reach; and on one side
you see the river through trees of different sorts. These meadows well
watered with canals, which communicate with each other across the road Opposite
give occasion every 50 yards for a bridge; and between every two bridges Initial portion of the driveway
through the woods, 2017

78 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Arriving to the Main House


79
are two gates one on each side the road. You cannot easily conceive how
fine an effect this has, but I must not omit mentioning the trees which
tho thinly planted on both sides the road are a considerable accession.
This road so beautiful that I can never go slow enough thro it, does not
run in a straight line to the house it goes on the right of it for a little more
than a quarter and a 1/2 quarter of a mile, you then turn to the left thro a
very magnificent gate into the farm yard, where are the most commodious
stables for the stock that I ever saw, You pass thro the extreme edge of it
on the left, leaving it on the left. The road now becomes circular, & the
remaining 1/2 quarter of a mile conducts you to the house itself. "

William Wirt wrote in a letter to his wife in 1803:


"The approach to it pleased me much. The outside gate of the plantation,
led me into an oak grove, which is very fine & majestic _ it was once a park
filled with deer _ all its trees are still flourishing and the ground below
grass turfed & clear. After riding near a mile through this grove, we came
to another gate which introduced us into a broad lane of post and rail Opposite Top
fences, while the grove still continued on the right & left for two or three View from the driveway upon exiting
the woods, 2017
hundred yards _ Then we saw, through the trees which surrounded them,
the windows of the old mansion glittering to the setting sun" Opposite Bottom
View down the driveway between
The driveway to Westover still leaves a strong impression. No longer necessary for the fields, 2017

80 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Arriving to the Main House


81
irrigation, the canals Shippen described have softened and become smaller, now
crossing under the road through culverts instead of under bridges. Without livestock
on the pastures, the need for fencing has also been removed and therefore only
cedars line the driveway. According to the Fishers, Hurricane Isabel in 2003 knocked
down roughly 115 cedars along the driveway. The Fishers and Fisher Erdas have since
replanted some of them. Nearing the bend in the road, the land rises on either side
of the driveway, closing in the view. The cedars stop, and as one turns the corner and
passes through the old gates which Shippen mentioned and that still stand, an allée
of hackberry trees begins. As the driveway no longer passes through the farm yard
here, there is at first fields beyond the hackberries and as one nears the main house,
the garden is on the right. The path which presently runs in a straight line between
the north gates and the driveway was put in within the last several years for the
filming of a movie.

Above
A slight depression in the corn field
indicating a former canal path, 2017

Opposite
Low-lying areas where the soybeans
haven't come up trace out the
former path of a canal, 2017

82 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Arriving to the Main House


83
This page
Old gates and allée of hackberry's
2017

Opposite
Looking through the north gates
towards the main house, 2017

84 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Arriving to the Main House


85
Approaching from the river While the approach to Westover by land has
remained relatively consistent since the Byrd ownership, the arrival to Westover
by boat has changed more considerably. As one can see in the 1701 plat, the two
landings at Westover were initially within the village and north of the main plantation
house via the marsh. Later, another access to the river was cut east of the main
house. This cut still exists and has been engulfed in a tall stand of bamboo since
the late twentieth century. When the arrival to Westover via the river was made
by steamboat from the early 19th century through the early twentieth century, the
wharf was located by what is now the river house. Remains of the wharf are still
visible when the river is low enough. See the image of the river house on page 63.
Today the only dock is a small one extending from stairs which run down the bank
just inside the far east brick wall bounding the river-front yard.

Above
The James River at Westover, 1955
The Valentine Museum Archives

Opposite
The steamer Pocahontas at
Westover, 1890s
In River Time, p 153
The Valentine Museum Archives

86 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | Arriving to the Main House


87
Evolution of the Westover Landscape
THE MAIN HOUSE AND ITS SURROUNDINGS

This chapter covers the evolution of the main house and its immediate surroundings.
As was mentioned in the introduction, the Westover landscape, and this portion in
particular, retains substantial residues from each era since the plantation was first
settled. The plan at right describes the current condition.

Opposite
Westover, main house and
surroundings, 2017

88 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
89
1701 map The earliest spatial information regarding the main plantation
house at Westover is found in the scaled 1701 plat. At that time, the main house sat
within a 2.5 acre square enclosure. Each side of the square was 330 feet long, or ten
33 foot chains, a standard unit of measure in the Virginia colony at that time. Each
edge appears to have been divided into five sections, each two chains long.
Based on more recent representations of the landscape as well as additions
to the landscape itself, one can be almost certain that the north side of this square
was aligned with the wrought iron fence that closes off the courtyard north of the
house today. The central portion of current main house was built, by all accounts,
on top of the foundation of the main plantation house which would have existed by
1701, indicating that the main house was not drawn to scale in this plat. The drawing
still suggests, however, both that the house was centered east and west within the
square yard and its facades aligned with the three allées running away from the
house, creating a strong central axis running from Gut Landing to the James River.
Drawn more than a decade into William Byrd I's ownership, it is unclear how
much of this landscape structure can be attributed to Byrd I and how much was
determined by owners before him. Regardless of who is responsible, Peter Martin
writes that the plan is enormously important as it "shows conclusively that a Virginia
plantation owner in the seventeenth century was capable of designing a fairly
sophisticated landscape setting in a Dutch manner with avenues radiating out from
Opposite Right
the house." (Martin 2001, 26)
Westover Plat, Detail. 1701
Virginia Historical Society

90 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
330 FT SQ = 10 CHAINS SQ
2.5 ACRES

91
William Byrd I While it is uncertain how much of the 1701 landscape
is attributable to William Byrd I, there is no doubt Byrd was an active figure in the
early transatlantic plant exchange between England and Virginia. A member of
good standing of the Royal Society and friend of notable naturalists and botanists in
England, Byrd was well connected to both receive and send plants across the ocean.
(Martin 2001, 18)
Byrd I's activity in plant exchange began before his purchase of Westover. In
1684, he wrote to Jacob Bobart, keeper of the Physic Garden at Oxford University,
that the "iris, crocus, tulips, & anemones" that Bobart had sent him were flowering.
(Tinling 1977 v.1, 18) Later in 1688, once Byrd I had purchased Westover, Bobart sent
him trees and shrubs. (Tinling 1977 v.1, 78) Byrd I also corresponded with Dr. Hans
Sloane, a well-known collector who eventually founded the British Museum (Tinling
1977 v.1, 71) and Leonard Plunkenett, keeper of the Royal Gardens at Hampton
Court. (Tinling 1977 v.1, 72-74)
While the evidence of this plant exchange suggests the Westover garden and
yard included both Virginia and English plants, it provides only minimal information
on the precise species exchanged, and even less about where these plants were used
at Westover. When Byrd I wrote to thank Bobart in 1688, he wrote only "[a]ll the
trees & shrubs came in extraordinary well by your great care in packing of them. I doe
not doubt their growth; & now should bee happy did I know which way sufficiently to
acknowledge your extraordinary kindnesse. (Tinling 1977 v.1, 78)
The only direct, written reference to the yard surrounding the main house from

92 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
the period of Byrd I's ownership is a brief description of
the Westover garden by Robert Beverley, Byrd's son-in-
law, written in 1704 shortly before Byrd's death: "Colonel
Byrd, in his Garden, which is the finest in that Country,
has a Summer-House set round with the Indian Honey-
Suckle, which all the Summer is continually full of sweet
Flowers, in which these Birds [hummingbirds] delight
exceedingly." (Beverley 1947, 299) While Beverley's
description does little to increase our knowledge of the
Westover garden at that time it does assert, albeit by a
close family member of Byrd I, that, whatever the plants
and spatial arrangement of the Westover garden, by
the time of Byrd I's death, the garden at Westover was
already impressive.

93
William Byrd II In England at the time of his father's death, William
Byrd II moved back to Virginia in 1705. (Martin 2001, 66) Wealthy, accustomed to life
in England, and concerned with portraying himself as a sophisticated and prominent
social figure, Byrd II enacted significant changes to the grounds encompassing the
main plantation house. Preserved journals, letters, and documents from Byrd II's
lifetime reveal extensive building, planting, and garden modification.
His personal journals which have been preserved and published are perhaps
the most significant source of information regarding the main plantation house and
yard complex throughout his ownership. The existing journals cover the periods
1709-1712, 1720-21, and 1739-41. Not all these entries were written while at
Westover. Byrd II made several extended trips back to England before finally settling
at Westover in 1726; he was at Westover from 1705-1715, 1720-21, and after 1726
until his death in 1744.
One of Byrd II's earliest significant modifications was to refigure the main
plantation house complex layout by building dependencies. From his journal entries
it is clear that by 1712 a separated kitchen, library, and house office existed; his entry
on January 20, 1712 states that, following a large snow fall during the night, "I rose
about 7 and caused a path to be made to the kitchen, to the library, and to the
house office." An earlier entry on January 13th of the same year is the first mention
of the library alone: "I made Mr. G-r-l put on several locks and put up the cornice
for my curtains in the library… In the afternoon I worked in the library with Mr. G-r-l
and helped him till the evening and then I took a short walk." Such activity within

94 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
the library suggests it was relatively new, though it may conversation with Mr. Catesby on June 5, 1712 about
have been one of two "little houses" Byrd II recorded how the garden might be mended into a "better fashion"
having been built in the spring of 1709. (04/01/1709) suggests Byrd II was thinking about how to improve it.
The particular kitchen mentioned remained for only He was nevertheless proud of the garden's produce,
a decade. During his short trip back to Westover from sending gifts of peas, pomegranates and cherries grown
1720-1721, he notes in his journal that "the kitchen at Westover to the Governor in Williamsburg.
started to be razed." (05/19/1720) The journal entries from the years 1720 - 1721
Around the same time as he was having suggest that his brief return to Westover during that
dependencies built, Byrd II was planting a new peach period was significantly more intensive in terms of
orchard. Several entries from mid-January 1712 refer to alterations to the garden. On February 27th, 1720
the planting of the orchard. It is possible that less than a shortly after his arrival back at Westover from England,
year earlier, the impressive wrought iron gates remaining Tom Cross, Byrd II's old gardener visited and together
today were also installed. On 05/16/1711 Byrd II wrote they walked about the garden discussing it. Not long
that "Mr. G-r-l went about hanging the gates and I took after on March 19th, Byrd II "assisted my gardener to lay
a walk to him. Then I went into the garden to eat some out some of the garden". Later in the same month on the
cherries." 31st, he wrote "after dinner I walked to see my workmen
Byrd II's journal from this early period also and my people in the garden."
frequently mentions the garden. Though while he was The improvements were shown off to visitors in
evidently active altering other aspects of the grounds, the following month. In April, visitors were shown "several
the garden is primarily noted as a recreational space rarities". Two sets of visitors in June were likewise shown
during these years. On several occasions Byrd II notes the garden and library. The first group, visiting on June 1,
having walked or eaten cherries in the garden. A 1720, was "much pleased with the seats."

95
Improvements continued again in March of 1721. On the 16th, Byrd II's slaves
began laying the turf for his bowling green. On May 4, 1721 he was in search of more
plants, "I went to the Governor to beg that he would spare me some bulbs for my
garden and he was pleased to give me some orange trees."
An intriguing aspect of Byrd II's journal entries from this period is his
occasional use of the distinctions "kitchen garden" (04/02/1721) and "main garden"
(04/08/1721, 04/12/172). Though most often he still wrote simply of "the garden".
The descriptions bring up the question of how distinct the kitchen and main gardens
may have been and to what exactly Byrd II was referring to when he wrote of the
singular "garden".
After William Byrd II's return from England in 1726 with his new wife Maria
Taylor, Byrd II's journal provide little further insight into the Westover garden
beyond that bowls was frequently played there. Letters though give further
information. In a July 1728 letter to John Warner, an expert naturalist gardener
in England, Byrd II wrote "Lately I .... intend to plant a vinyard... . But in order to
find out what kind of vines will agree best with our clymate, and our soil, and
ripen latest, I am collecting from all parts as many sorts as I can. My Lord Islay Above
has lately sent me some Rhenish vines, which thrive very well, and if you'll be so Drawing of vines accompanying
good as to send me some of your choice kinds, I shall be greatly obliged to you." a letter from Peter Collinson to
(Tinling 1977 v.1, 381) Three letters from Peter Collinson to Byrd II ca 1730 give William Byrd II, ca. 1730
detailed instructions for how to manage a vineyard. (Tinling 1977 v.1, 423- 429) Westover Manuscripts, Virginia
Historical Society
One of these included a drawing of vines, shown on page 94. In a 1731 letter, W.
Printed in Tingling, 1977, v. 1, p 425

96 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
M. Mayo, a surveyor and friend of Byrd II's according to Peter Martin published an earlier, and slightly different,
Peter Martin, wrote "The last time I was at Colo. Byrds transcription of this letter in The Pleasure Gardens of
his Lady desired me to send to Barbados for some shells Virginia, 2001, 203).
for her as Conk Shells Wilks & such Variety as may be Whether in addition to all the modifications
got, let me beg the favour of you to get a small barrel to the Westover plantation listed here, William Byrd II
full (enough may be had about Oistins & below Rock) & commissioned the building of the current Westover
send them to Collo. William Byrd at Westover in James main house has been debated for some time. Older texts
River and place the charge to my account." (1924 Virginia consistently asserted that Byrd II had built the house in
Council Journals, 56) 1737. A report in the Virginia Gazette from 1748-9 Jan.
William Byrd's efforts to improve his garden 12 (Old Style date), however, states that "on Saturday
earned him a reputation. Writing to John Bartram in 1738 night last (7th) the House of Wm. Byrd Esqr. at Westover
Peter Collinson wrote "I am told Colonel BYRD has the Chas. City County took fire & was burned to the ground,
best garden in Virginia, and a pretty green-house, well with the loss of all the furniture, clothes, plate, liquore."
furnished with Orange trees." (Darlington 1849, 113) (Randolph 1911, 17) The extent and validity of this fire is
John Bartram visited Westover later in 1738. Summarizing probably most thoroughly discussed by Mark Wenger in
what he saw at Westover, he likewise concluded Byrd his 1980 architecture master's thesis completed at the
II owned Virginia's most impressive plantation: "Col University of Virginia. Following his participation in the
Byrd is very prodigalle ... Gates, gravel walks, hedges & Historical American Buildings Survey documentation of
ceders [sic] finely trimed [sic] & a little green house with the Westover main house in 1978 he went on to focus
2 or 3 orange[?] trees with fruits on. in short he hath his thesis on its architectural history. His discussion
the[?] finest seat in Virginia." (John Bartram Papers, about the likelihood of the fire and its extent involves
Pennsylvania Historical Society, dated July 18, 1740. a comparison of the main house's architectural features

97
with archived records, published architecture books, and other homes built in England
and Virginia in the same period. He concludes his discussion stating: "We have seen
that the physical and documentary evidences bearing on this question certainly
permit--even suggest--a remodeling or rebuilding of the mansion around 1750. ... It
has been further demonstrated that customary objections to the occurrence of a fire
are largely without foundation." (Wenger 1980, 60) A letter by William Wirt written
in 1803 also suggests the house was built sometime in the 1750s: "Old Mr. White
(the old servant) tells me that this house was built somewhere about fifty years ago."
(Wirt 1803)
Because of its continued existent, William Byrd's tomb is the one of the few
landscape features from his era for which the precise location is known. Considering
the relatively extravagant tomb and its exceptional placement outside both the
Westover church and family graveyards, his will curiously specifies: "as to my perishing
body I entreat it may be committed to its kindred earth without pomp or needless
expence." (Tinling 1977 v.2, 598) While the tomb now occupies a central position
Above
within the garden, the layout would have been different at the time of his death.
William Byrd II's Tomb, 1978, HABS
Library of Congress

Opposite
1811, J. S. Glennie
Princeton University Library,
Department of Rare Books and
Special Collections. Manuscripts

98 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
99
Gates The set of wrought-iron gates installed by William Byrd II are an
outstanding feature of the Westover landscape. Unsurprisingly, they have been
mentioned frequently as a point of note in letters by visitors and in other descriptions.
Due to the numerous accounts and photographs taken of the gates, they are one of
Westover's landscape features for which one can piece together a relatively detailed
history. Therefore, while the later sections continue to include the evolution of the
gates as they relate to other landscape changes, a more thorough description of the
gates has been compiled here as well.
Three of an original four gates remain at Westover today. When first installed,
the four gates provided access to the 2.5-acre yard surrounding the house shown in
the 1701 plat. One was placed in each of the four edges of the square yard. The north
gate remains in its original location at the center of the northern bounding edge.
Probing done into the ground in the summer of 2017 confirmed the original location
of the east and west gates, marked in the diagram at right. Indication underground of
the original foundations were found in clusters roughly 220 yards from the northern Above
boundary along the east and west bounding edges, in other words two thirds down the North Gate looking north
east and west edges. These gates were moved following the Civil War. The south gate, 1899 -1910, Detroit Publishing Co.
now missing, was presumably centered on the southern edge of the square yard. A Civil Library of Congress
War era sketch and painting include the piers for the south gate, but not the gate
Opposite
itself. The only known description of the gate was given by Sister Robinson. In an oral
Plan of features which existed and
interview in 1937 she recalled of Westover "It's a pretty place. If you ever go up the
for which the location is known at
river, you can see it. The gate’s right out near the river. You’ll know it. It’s got three big the time of William Byrd II's death.

100 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
101
silver eagles sitting on the gate. Yes sir! Three of them, and they are pretty beauteous
too.” (Perdue 1976, 241)
The bird theme noted by Robinson is the same motif appearing on the north,
east, and west gates, obviously for its connection to the Byrd family name. Overthrows
on the east and west gates include the Byrd family arms and are topped with south
facing iron birds. The top most bird on the west gate seems to be a restoration as it is
missing in earlier photographs. The more elaborate north gate does not itself include
birds but is held up by pillars topped with large carved stone eagles. At the center of
the north gate's overthrow are William Byrd II's initials.
The north gate is part of a fence clairvoyee closing in the forecourt to the
land front entrance. It is understood that this screen was installed along with the
iron gates. The fence is punctuated by brick piers supporting elaborate cut-stone
finials. It is unclear what type of fencing would have been initially installed to fill the
bays. Photographs from the Civil War through until the early twentieth century show
a wooden fence. As part of her colonial revival restoration, Mrs. Ramsey replaced
the wooden fence with the iron infill that exists today. The change in fencing and a
cement coating which now covers the brick piers are the only believed modifications Above
to the clairvoyee since Byrd II's installation. West Gate, Detail, after 1933, HABS
It is believed that the gates and stone finials were shipped to Westover from Library of Congress
London. Based on their similarity to other works by the prominent London based
Opposite
smith Thomas Robinson, Thomas Waterman suggests they were likely made in his
North Gate, Detail, after 1933, HABS
shop, or at least the shop of someone trained by Robinson. In The Mansions of
Library of Congress

102 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
103
Virginia, Waterman gives a detailed comparison of the Westover gates with several
examples in England. The elaborate Westover clairvoyee is unique in America today.
While such clairvoyees were fashionable in early eighteenth century England, they
have also become rare in England as many were removed as naturalistic landscape
design increasingly became sought. (Waterman 1945, 146-150)
Based on paint tests done by Colonial Williamsburg on the north gate, it is
believed those gates would have at some point been painted white. (Conversation
with Muschi Fisher)

Opposite Left
West Gate from West
after 1933, HABS
Library of Congress

Opposite Right
East Gate from West
ca 1903, Detroit Publishing Co.
Library of Congress

104 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
105
The North Fence and Gate
measurements in feet

10.6
The North Fence and Gate
measurements in feet

10.6
11.4 10.15
The
The North
North Fence
Fence and
and Gate
Gate
measurements
measurementsininfeet
feet 11.4 10.15

10.6
10.6
12.42 9.9
12.42 9.9
11.4
11.4 2.85 2.8 10.15
10.15

2.95 2.9
2.85 2.8
3.56 3.45
12.42
12.42 9.9
9.9
18.08 13.28 14.53 15.04 15.21 15.25 15.17 16.17 16.42 16.13 16.42 16.33
2.95
16.56 16.44
2.9
16.46 4.63 9.90 12.14 11.80
2.85
2.85 2.82.8

2.95
2.95 2.92.9
3.56 3.45
3.56
3.56 3.45
3.45

18.08 13.2813.28
18.08
18.08 13.28 14.5314.53
14.53 15.04
15.04 15.0415.25
15.21
15.21 15.25 15.21 16.17
15.17
15.17 16.17 15.25 16.42
16.42 15.17
16.13
16.13 16.17
16.42
16.42 16.33
16.33 16.56
16.56 16.44
16.44 16.42
16.46
16.46 4.63 16.13
4.63 9.90
9.90 12.14
12.14 11.80
11.80 16.42 16.33

Above
Plan of clairvoyee with dimensions
in feet, 2017

Opposite
Clairvoyee
1931, Frances Benjamin Johnston
Library of Congress

106 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
107
Maria Taylor Byrd If the newspaper notices of the 1748-9 fire at Westover
are correct, then Maria Taylor Byrd would have overseen, while William Byrd III was
away, the rebuilding of the main plantation house. The earliest correspondence to or
from either Maria Taylor Byrd or William Byrd III published is from 1757, leaving a gap
precisely over the period under question. (Tinling 1977)
The published letters Maria Taylor Byrd wrote to her son while she managed
the property in his absence provide nominal information on the Westover landscape.
Yet a single letter she wrote on August 25, 1761 mentions two significant details
about the garden: "I have let the gardener have five pounds, which was the sum he
asked. I have the bricklayer now at work in repairing the walls of both gardens, the
bricks not being well burnt there wants a great deal to be done." (Tinling 1977 v.2,
752). This quote is significant as it is both the earliest found mention of brick walls
surrounding the gardens, as well as it reiterates the description Byrd II made in his
journal in the 1720s of two distinct gardens.

Above
Portrait of a Woman, Called Maria
Taylor Byrd
1700 -1725, Godfrey Kneller
Metropolitan Museum of Art

108 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
109
Mary Willing Five travel accounts by visitors to Westover exist during the
period from 1777 following William Byrd III's death until the death of Mary Willing in
1814. Two Frenchman who were in America to fight in the American Revolutionary
War, the Marquis de Chastellux and Baron Ludwig von Closen, both visited Westover
in 1782. A year later in 1783, Thomas Shippen, a young relative of Mary Willing's
visited from Philadelphia. Twenty years later, William Wirt visited Westover in 1803.
Three years before Mary Willing's death, J.S. Glennie visited in 1811. Full copies of
their accounts are included in the appendices.
Both the Marquis de Chastellux and Baron Ludwig von Closen, an aide-de-
camp of General Rochambeau, kept diaries of their travel throughout the eastern
United States during the American Revolutionary War. Reflecting on their visits to
Westover, both remarked upon the extraordinary splendor they encountered there.
According to von Closen, there was "an affluence in this family that is rare in America
and would be worthy of Paris." (Acomb 1958, 187) For the Marquis de Chastellux,
"the banks of James river form the garden of Virginia. That of Mrs. Bird, to which I
was going, surpasses them all in the magnificence of the buildings, the beauty of its
situation, and the pleasures of society." (Chastellux 1828, 279) He reiterated later
in his account that due to Mrs. Byrd's management, despite the financial troubles
brought about by William Byrd III, "her house is still the most celebrated, and the
Above
most agreeable of the neighbourhood." (Chastellux 1828, 280)
Mary Willing Byrd, 1758
At the time of their visits, a Mr. and Mrs. Mead owned property directly across
John Wollaston
the James river. Baron Ludwig von Closen found their residence provided a "charming Virginia Historical Society

110 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
view" to Westover, while the Marquis de Chastellux His account is the only one to mention ponds
spoke of the view to Westover from the Meads': "Mrs. within the garden. If by summer houses he was referring
Bird's, which, with its surrounding appendages, has the to green houses, then his description indicates changes
appearance of a small town, and forms a most delightful to the garden from 1738 when John Bartram spoke of
prospect." (Acomb 1958, 187) (Chastellux 1828, 281) seeing a single green house during his visit.
As for the garden, the Marquis de Chastellux As has been mentioned in earlier sections, when
wrote that "Mr. Mead's garden, like that of Westover, Thomas Shippen visited in 1783, he wrote a detailed
is in the nature of a terrace on the bank of the river." letter describing Westover to his parents. This letter was
(Chastellux 1828, 281) This is the first mention, though accompanied by a sketch plan of the area surrounding
vague, of terracing at Westover. In marveling at his first the main house. Despite being a sketch, the plan seems
encounter with hummingbirds, the Marquis explained to have been measured for when the plan is overlaid with
that the "walls of the garden and the house were covered the elements known to be at Westover at that time; the
with honeysuckles, which afforded an ample harvest for main house, it's east and west dependencies, the library,
these charming little animals." (Chastellux 1828, 283) gates, and the outhouses, all of the features line up well.
Baron Ludwig von Closen took several walks in The depth of the river front yard and extent of the James
the surrounding woods and in the garden during his visit. River appear to be the only elements of the drawing not
He found the garden "completely beautiful" and wrote drawn to scale.
that it "is beside the river and is decorated with very Various components of the yard surrounding the
lovely statues, two ponds, and two little summer-houses, main plantation house which Shippen touched on in his
prettily arranged. It is admirably cared for and just as it letter are looked at on the following pages.
had been described to us. A traveller could scarcely find
a more interesting or curious place." (Acomb 1958, 188)

111
This Page
Plan of Westover
1783, Thomas Lee Shippen
Shippen Family Papers, Library of
Congress

Opposite
Overlay of Thomas Lee Shippen's
1783 plan with the features known
to exist at Westover at the time of
the drawing.

112 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
113
Looking out of his room towards the river front yard, Shippen wrote that there was a
"view of a prettily falling grass plat variegated with pedestals of many different kinds,
about 300 by 100 yards in extent an extensive prospect of James River and of all the
Country and some Gentlemen's seats on the other side; the river is banked up by
a wall of four feet high, and about 300 yards in length, and above this wall there is
as you may suppose the most enchanting walk in world Nor are the prettiest trees
wanting to compleat the beauty of the Scene."
Shippen's description of "a prettily falling grass plat", echoes that of the
Marquis de Chastellux, who too had written about a terraced river front a year prior.
How this terracing compared to the current sloping lawn which runs the extent of
the river front yard is unclear. They cannot be identical for the 330 foot square yard,
which was still in place in 1783, extended south beyond the current river boundary.
The depth of the lawn given by Shippen-100 yards (300 feet)- also indicates a deeper
river front yard than today.
That the 330 foot square yard was still intact with the east and west gates in
their initial position along its periphery is also interesting in light of the width Shippen
gave for the front yard: 300 yards (900 feet). This is nearly the distance between the
east and west gates which bound the river front yard today. So, although the smaller
square boundary remained around the house in 1783, modifications had already
been undertaken which extended the river front yard to its current width. Opposite
Shippen drew within the 330 foot square yard a semi-circle running Inclusion of Thomas Lee Shippen's
1783 description of the river front
from the east to west gates. The dots along this circle may have been the
yard extent

114 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
"pedestals of many different kinds" or "the prettiest
trees". Some sources have suggested these dots
are the Lombardy poplars which were known to
have existed later along the river front of the house.
(Martin 2001, 77) This theory is complicated, however,
by the sources which state that Lombardy poplars where
S only introduced to America in 1784. (Henry 1914, 2)
S (Adams 2004, 93)
R
R
Shippen's description of the river front wall is the
Q first mention of a wall existing along the river shoreline.
Q In 1907, Terhune also described a river front wall existing
during the Byrd family ownership: "The sloping lawn was
defended against the wash of the current by a river wall
L of masonry extending along its entire front. At regular
O
intervals buttresses, capped with stone, supported
life-size statues." (Terhune 1907, 44) As Terhune gives
no source for the information, however, the life-sized
statues might only have existed in folklore.
100 yards Shippen's letter confirms that the east
dependency was the library. Although he does not
include the windows in the drawing he describes them
in his letter: "it is large and very light having (tho' 'tis
300 yards
not so on the paper) two windows on each side of the
door, which is in the middle." Shippen described others
of the buildings in his drawing as "large and ornamental,
115
but now uninhabited". The kitchen was "somewhere between L & 0". The buildings
marked Q, R, and S had been among other things stables and coach houses. These
letters used by Shippen to denote the buildings have been added in the drawing on
the previous page.
As for the garden and grove, in his plan Shippen gave them only so much
attention as to draw a rough line around their periphery. While the core of the
drawing was clearly measured, and the river was clearly not, the accuracy of the
boundaries to the garden and grove are less clear. As it is known from the Marquis de Opposite
Chastellux's journal that the garden was walled at that time, the carelessness of the Plan of Westover
1783, Thomas Lee Shippen
squiggly line encourages doubt. Shippen's brief written description of the garden:
Shippen Family Papers, Library of
it "is very large and exceedingly beautiful indeed", provides no new information. A Congress
question raised by Shippen's identification of "a pretty grove neatly kept" is whether
by the term 'grove' he was referring to an area of orchards, cultivated since at least Page 118
William Byrd II's lifetime. Map of New Kent, Charles City,
Turning to Shippen's description of the land front yard brings up a former James City and York Counties, Detail
1863
layout. Towards the end of his description of the approach to the main plantation
Colonel J. F. Gilmer Chief Engineer
house by land, Shippen wrote "you then turn to the left thro a very magnificent gate Library of Congress
into the farm yard, where are the most commodious stables for the stock that I ever
saw, You pass thro the extreme edge of it on the left, leaving it on the left. The road Page 119
now becomes circular, & the remaining 1/2 quarter of a mile conducts you to the Copy of Map of Westover made for
house itself." His circular description of the road corresponds to his plan drawing in Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
Powell C. Johnson, Detail, 1865
which a portion of a circle is drawn tangent to the north gate. Another circle portion
Westover private collection

116 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
exists in his plan which lies tangent to the north door to
the main house and runs through the north corners of
the 330 foot square yard, northeast out house, and other
outbuildings. The circles have been completed in the
drawing at right. Once Shippen's drawing is scaled, the
driveway circle derived from it has a radius of 330 feet.
While this measurement is difficult to believe for the
enormity of a driveway it suggests, it's correspondence
to the dimensions of the square yard is difficult to right
off as coincidence. Plans drawn later in 1863 and 1865 in
which remnants of a circular geometry are still present
give a clue as to the error Shippen might have made.
In the 1863 map on the following page, buildings
drawn to the north side of the Westover plantation
house form a semi-circle. The detail of a 1865 survey
of the Westover property on page 119 clearly shows
the remnants of a circular drive. The larger survey from
which this is drawn is remarkably accurate. It is overlaid
with a current aerial photograph on page 121. The roads
and ditches align near perfectly. The semi-opaque white
circle drawn on top of this overlay is sized to align with
the curve in the driveway at its top, and to sit tangential

117
118 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
119
to the clairvoyee at its bottom. Its diameter is 330 ft. This later map therefore
strongly suggests Shippen made the easy mistake of confusing his measurement of
the diameter, for the radius of the circle driveway. He drew the circle too big.
As is seen on page 123, a circle of diameter 330 feet tangent to the north gate
runs through the old building now used as a garden shed. A circle of diameter 330
feet tangent to the north door of the main house runs through the west out house,
perhaps giving some explanation for why it does not sit in the corner of the 330 foot
square like its eastern counterpart. Opposite
Though a circle drive of 330 foot diameter is believable for many reasons, Overlay of a current aerial
Shippen's letter itself might deny this conclusion. He himself addressed an error photograph and the "Copy of Map
having to do with the circle segments: "One principal fault of my draught is that the of Westover made for Maj. A. H.
Drewry after survey by Powell
circle of which you see the segment, ought to be much larger, so that the periphrasis
C. Johnson" demonstrating the
of it should come much nearer to the buildings K & T &c." What is confusing about accuracy of the 1865 map.
his correction is that, if he is speaking about the driveway segments, he proposes the White circle of diameter 330 ft fits
exact opposite correction, a larger circle. between the driveway curve and the
north gate.

"Copy of Map of Westover made for


Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
Powell C. Johnson", 1865
Westover private collection

Aerial photograph of Westover


Google Earth imagery, 2017

120 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
121
Opposite Left
Diagram showing the possible
correction for the circular driveway
and outbuilding arrangement
described by Thomas Shippen

Opposite Right
"Copy of Map of Westover made for
Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
Powell C. Johnson", Detail, 1865
Westover private collection

122 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
123
William Wirt's description in 1803 is consistent with the descriptions of earlier
travelers. Looking out towards the James river he saw "a sloop moored just under
the bank within a hundred yards of the house" and farther across the river the
"handsome brick house & a fine seat" no longer owned apparently by the Meads,
but now a Harrison.
J.S. Glennie's written description from 1811 expands our knowledge of the
era only slightly through his account of William Byrd II's tomb in the garden: "This
tomb is now beautifully shaded by the Trees in the Garden, and on the upper white
marble tablet the following inscription is engraved – see next page – In Virginia
Religion is so little attended to that there are no public burial Grounds, & it has lately
become a practice for every family, Rich or Poor to bury the Dead in their Gardens
near the House – I must confess it has a curious effect on a traveller, while walking in
the Garden to stumble on a Gravestone, in one of the walks – "
The watercolor which accompanied J.S. Glennie's written description, the
first known of Westover, says much more than his letter. In it he depicts the view
of the main house from the river as well as the view across the river in a separate
smaller drawing along the top of the page.

Opposite
1811, J. S. Glennie
Princeton University Library,
Department of Rare Books and
Special Collections. Manuscripts

124 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
125
The 1820s and 1830s During the short ownerships following Mary Willing
Byrd's death, Westover fell in to disrepair. When William Dunlap visited in 1822, the
Douthats, who had recently purchased the property, were in the process of repairing
it. Dunlap reported that at the time of his visit the "buildings on the Westover estate,
beside the mansion house, consist of fourteen brick houses, and several framed ones
of wood." (Dunlap 1834, 287)
A painting by what is thought to have been Lucy Harrison from either 1825
or 1838 (two different references give different dates) depicts a similar view to that
made by J.S. Glennie. A comparison between the two shows slight changes to the river
Opposite Top
front yard over the period 1811 to 1825/1838. The Lombardy poplars had matured.
Detail, 1811, J. S. Glennie
At first glance, the two images may suggest that the large trees in line with corners Princeton University Library,
of the main plantation house were both removed by 1825/1838. A photograph from Department of Rare Books and
the 1860s in which a mature tree stands in the position of the left tree in J.S. Glennie's Special Collections. Manuscripts
drawing suggest it is more likely that Harrison removed the two trees in her painting
Opposite Bottom
to have a clearer view of the house. As the right tree of these two trees appears
Detail, 1825 or 1838
much larger in the J.S. Glennie painting than in the 1860s photograph, that tree was
Lucy(?) Harrison
likely replaced sometime between 1811 and the 1860s. (1825) ArtStor
Another notable change between the two images is the addition of a covered (1838) Westover private collection,
passage between the main plantation house and the kitchen dependency. Kelley Fanto note on rear " 1838 Photograph of
Deetz explains that following the end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, such Westover. Collins Denny owns the
picture from which this photograph
all-weather passageways became favorable as a means to provide an "architectural
was made. Original at the Takewell
distraction from the starkness of exploited labor." (Deetz 2017, 34 -36) Elletts."

126 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
127
John Selden Though John Selden's journal was focused on the tasks
related to agriculture, entries occasionally mentioned the landscape immediately
surrounding the main plantation house. These entries, in contrast with Byrd II's, were
strictly about maintenance of this landscape.
In 1859, on March 9th, Selden recorded "trimming box in yard." Later in
November on the 20th, Hartwell, a man enslaved to another owner, began the
brickwork for a new Chimney at Patrick's house "back of garden". This comment
raises the question of whether Patrick's house was in the same location as the
current caretaker's house. Early the next year on January 6, Selden "Finished filling
both my ice houses this morning ... The ice put in the new house on the river".
The first known photograph of Westover from the early 1860s gives, as was
partially discussed on the previous page, some information on the present row of
tulip poplars. It appears that the two trees in front of the main house would be the
same tulip poplars that stood in those locations until Hurricane Isabel took them
down in 2003. Elisabeth Sears Harrold, daughter of Mrs. Ramsey wrote in a 1932
letter to the Garden Club of America that the row of tulip poplars had been planted
by John Selden. Judging from the uniformity in the size of the tulip poplars in the
1931 plan by Arthur Shurcliff, the entire row shown in that plan, save for the tree to Opposite
the south east corner of the main house, was likely planted by Selden. The row then Scans of the left and right glass plate
extended well beyond the extent of the 330 foot square yard which was still intact negatives of a photo of Westover's
main plantation house from the
during Selden's ownership.
river-front yard, 1860 - 1865
The map of Westover made for Major Augustus H. Drewry early in 1865 is Library of Congress

128 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
129
another key document showing elements of the landscape surrounding the main
house. Considering how soon after the Civil War this map was made, it is very likely
that the extent of the garden in this map was the extent of the garden during Selden's
ownership. This map shows a line extended from the north boundary of the 330
foot square yard west another roughly 320 feet bounding the bottom of the garden.
The western boundary of the wall extends south towards the river aligning almost
perfectly with the future location of the west gates.

Opposite Left
Diagram of landscape features
during Selden's ownership

Opposite Right
"Copy of Map of Westover made for
Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
Powell C. Johnson", Detail, 1865
Westover private collection

130 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
future131
locations of the east and west gates
Civil War The Civil War brought significant changes to the landscape surrounding
the main plantation house. A canon shot from the river took out the east dependency.
E. L. Henry's sketch at right and his painting after it on page 134 show the destroyed
library, Union Army encampment, and tattered fence. Despite the heavy use of the
area surrounding the house, a 1893 Washington Post article claimed that the "grand
old trees about the grounds were spared." (1893 Drove Away the Terrapin)
Upon selling Westover following his return there in September of 1861,
Selden described it "swept of everything on it except houses, and dug up and injured
to any extent." (Bassett 1921, 330)
A group of five traveling from Troy, New York to Richmond in 1865 stopped
at Westover and recorded in their journal the state of the garden. They wrote that
William Byrd II's tomb "is situated in the middle of a once magnificent garden, covered
with a neat looking summer house overgrown with evergreens ... vandals who have
visited this tomb from time to time, have so defaced it by breaking off portions of
it, that is seems ready to tumble from its place. Large pieces are now lying upon the
ground near it …" (One of the Party 1871, 15 -16) Though the photograph on page
134 is undated, it is possible the structure covering the tomb was the one pictured
therein.
Opposite
Westover during Union occupation
1864, E. L. Henry
Division of Historical Services - New
York State Museum

132 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
133
This Page
Photograph formerly belonging
to Mr. & Mrs. Hill Carter, Shirley
Plantation, undated
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library,
Colonial Williamsburg

Opposite
Painting after sketch of Westover
during Union occupation on
previous page, 1864, E. L. Henry
National Gallery of Art

134 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
135
Drewry’s repairs Earlier it was discussed how the map of Westover
drawn for Major Drewry provides information about the layout of the grounds before
the Civil War. This document also provides information on changes made during the
Civil War and gives an impression of how the structure of the yard might have been
understood when A.H. Drewry began repairing it.
Knowing that the 330 foot square yard existed up until the Civil War, but
that, as the far right overlay shows, the south west corner of this square extended
well beyond the shoreline shortly after Westover was occupied during the Civil War
suggests that the shoreline changed considerably during the Civil War, possibly due
Opposite Left
to shelling. Shelling from the river potentially explains the disappearance of the
Diagram of the landscape features
south gate at that time as well. With the south gate likely already gone, and the during Major A. H. Drewry's
fence along the boundary of the 330 foot square yard dismantled, the periphery of ownership. Plant locations come
this precinct had, as the 1865 map shows, vanished. We know from as early as 1783 from comparison with Clarise
what was considered the river front yard extended well beyond 330 foot square to Sears Ramsey's daughter's letter to
roughly 900 feet. The row of tulip poplars planted by Selden also extended beyond the Garden Club of America (see
appendix) and the 1931 garden plan
the square yard's borders. When Drewry bought Westover, the east and west gates produced by Arthur Shurcliff (see p
stood in the middle of a yard which likely would have seemed to have outgrown 159).
them. It seems then that Drewry, likely having to repair the gates regardless of where
they stood, and motivated by changed landscape tastes, decided to move the east Opposite Right
and west gates to their present locations. "Copy of Map of Westover made for
Maj. A. H. Drewry after survey by
A visitor of Drewry's 1869 agricultural exhibition writing for Harper's magazine
Powell C. Johnson", Detail, 1865
confirms that the gates were moved by the time of his visit. Standing at the "edge Westover private collection

136 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
plants predating Mrs. Ramsey

boxwood planted by Major Drewry

kitchen-garden

137
of the high bank which overlooked the river" and looking back at the house he
described a scene in which the lawn was "bounded on the right and left by a fence,
with large and handsome gateways". (Chapin 1871, 802) Walking later towards
the family graveyard he wrote: "Passing along the front of the house, the domestic
offices, and the boundary of the kitchen-garden, we came upon a massive gateway,
very similar in character to the one in rear of the house, and the counterpart of one
at the opposite extremity of the grounds." (Chapin 1871, 803)
This last quote also brings up the structure of the gardens at the time of his
visit. Describing the location of the kitchen-garden from the atop the stairs at the
land front door, he stated that "To the left, as one stood on this platform, were the
laundry, kitchen, etc., beyond which was a fence with an entrance to the kitchen-
garden." (Chapin 1871, 802) From the two mentions of the kitchen garden it appears
that it would have been roughly located in what is the portion of the garden today
below the line extending from the clairvoyee. This writer distinguished the kitchen
garden from the garden, which he visited later: "while wandering in the garden I
came unexpectedly upon the monument of Colonel Byrd, and read the inscription
thereon. … it is only necessary to add that it stands in the edge of the garden, not
twenty yards from the back-door, under an arbor over-run with trailing vines, which
screen it from view." (Chapin 1871, 807-808)
Photographs taken by Huestis Cook in what was likely 1888 further confirm
Opposite
the movement of the gates by Major Drewry. Huestis Cook, a photographer, was
West Gate, ca 1888, Huestis Cook
approached in 1888 by Richmond author Marian Harland, to take photographs of
The Valentine Museum Archives

138 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
139
This page
Looking west across the river front
lawn, 1888, Huestis Cook
The Valentine Museum Archives

Opposite
East gate, ca 1903
Detroit Publishing Co.
The Library of Congress

140 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
141
Westover and other nearby plantations for the book she was writing about William
Byrd II. Cook accepted the commission and Miss Harland arranged his visits to the
plantations. (Kocher 1954, p 73)
The two images of the west gate on pages 139 and 140 are understood to
be taken from this visit. The first image, as well as an image of the east gate taken
in 1903 by the Detroit Photographic Co. show that it was also Major Drewry who
developed the path connecting the two gates and planted the boxwood along it.
While the later image was taken already into Mrs. Ramsey's ownership, the plants
surrounding the gate are too mature for her to have planted them.
Another photograph thought to be taken by Huestis Cook on his 1888 visit to
Westover is the photograph at right of the land front yard. This image clearly shows
what the 1869 Harper's journalist described: "Beyond these gates is the paddock, or
home field, containing about two acres, for the pasturage and exercise of the saddle
and carriage horses of the estate, whose stables are on the right. On the left of this
field are several smaller buildings for poultry. Beyond the paddock, and separating
it from immense fields of grain, now ripe for the reaper, the road from the dock ran
on and away off through the various fields of the estate". (Chapin 1871, 803) Upon
closer inspection, this image might contain a potential clue to the unusual angle of
the garden's north wall. The top of a barn can be seen beyond the poultry coops.
Reverse perspective analysis was used to try and determine the location of this barn
Opposite
in plan. The results, however, due to the lack of a second photo containing the barn,
North gate, ca 1888, Huestis Cook
were inconclusive.
The Valentine Museum Archives

142 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
143
Despite Drewry's extensive work to repair and maintain Westover, photographs
from the beginning of Mrs. Ramsey's ownership suggest that Major Drewry did not
spend a considerable amount of effort on the garden. When Mrs. Ramsey's daughter
wrote to the Garden Club of America she explained that "Major Drewry threw down
three-quarters of the garden wall to use the bricks" for a stable. Several photographs
show which portion of the wall remained standing. Both the image on page 143,
and the image on page 147, show a brick wall running the entire eastern edge of the
garden and wrapping around for a short length on the north. The seam between this
older portion of the wall and a newer portion of wall, shown in the photograph at
right, is still evident today.

Opposite
Seam in brick wall between that wall
which Major Drewry left standing,
and the wall rebuilt by Mrs. Ramsey
2017

144 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
145
This Page
William Byrd II tomb
ca 1888, Huestis Cook
The Valentine Museum Archives

Opposite
William Byrd II Tomb and the
garden, 1900 - 1915, Detroit
Publishing Co.
The Library of Congress

146 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
147
Ramsey’s renovations With ample fortune and a highly romanticized
idea of early Virginia colonial life, Mrs. Ramsey undertook extensive changes to the
grounds encompassing the main house. One of the first changes Mrs. Ramsey made
was to the main plantation house itself. She commissioned the New York based
architect William H. Mersereau to design a new east dependency and hyphens
connecting the dependencies to the main house. (Rasmussen 2003, 195) Although by
all accounts built on the same foundation, and thereby occupying the same footprint
as the original dependency, it was unlike its predecessor which mimicked the western
dependency in its exterior appearance. The image at right shows an architectural
rendering of the renovation done by the local architects M. J. Dimmock and G. R.
Tolman who contributed to the project, and the photograph on the preceding page
the outcome. While the rendering shows the desire for new terracing, walls, and
planting on the river front yard, these changes never occurred. In the end, the river
front yard underwent very few changes during the Ramsey ownership. According to
her daughter, many of the specimen trees had already been planted by Selden.
Following the renovation of the house, Mrs. Ramsey rebuilt the garden walls
as well as replaced all the wood fencing within the grounds surrounding the house
with more costly and durable materials. The wood fences along the east and west
extremity of the river front yard were replaced with brick walls. The wood fencing Opposite
within the bays of the clairvoyee was replaced with wrought iron fencing. This change Rendering of Westover renovations
ca 1901
in material also came with a change in function. While the wooden fences were
M. J. Dimmock and G. R. Tolman
primarily used to keep animals in desired places, their brick and iron replacements Virginia Historical Society

148 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
149
were means of ornamentation and spatial delimitation. What had been a paddock
just north of the clairvoyee was planted with trees and the horse paddock moved to
the southeast corner of a new barn built just east of the former paddock.
Another significant change made by Mrs. Ramsey was her work to redesign
and plant the garden. According to the letter by her daughter, a few of the plants
in the garden predated Mrs. Ramsey's design. A comparison with Mrs. Ramsey's
daughter's description and the garden plan produced by Arthur Shurcliff in 1931 was
made to find the location of these plants within the garden. Their locations have
been outlined in the diagram of the yard under Major Drewry's ownership on page
137. There is no indication that the paths laid out by Mrs. Ramsey coordinated with
prior paths. Mrs. Ramsey's daughter wrote that the walls for the garden were rebuilt
upon the foundations of the former walls. It seems Mrs. Ramsey opted, however, not
to rebuild the wall which extended the line of the clairvoyee shown in the 1865 map.
Prior to selling the property Clarise Sears Ramsey held an auction in New
York. The photograph on page 154 from the auction catalogue shows one of two
sundials which were for sale at the auction. Also for sale was a wrought-iron gate.
(The American Art Association 1921)
Opposite
The main house after renovations,
1900 - 1906
William Henry Jackson, Detroit
Publishing Co.
The Library of Congress

150 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
151
This page
Horse barn built by Clarise Sears
Ramsey, ca 1921
Westover private collection

Opposite
North gates with iron fencing added
by Clarise Sears Ramsey in the
surrounding bays, ca 1900 - 1921
The Valentine Museum Archives

152 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
153
This page
Sundial in the garden
1921, Auction catalogue
The American Art Association

Opposite
William Byrd II tomb and the garden
1931, Frances Benjamin Johnston
The Library of Congress

154 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
155
The Cranes The garden planted by Clarise Sears Ramsey grew in to
such an extent during the Cranes' stewardship that by 1929, an article in the New
York Times reported: "In short, the whole place has the easy, well-worn air of two
centuries' right use." (Brock 1929) Mrs. Ramsey had successfully curated the illusion
of an old garden. The illusion was so convincing that in 1931, when Arthur Shurcliff
was studying Virginian plantation gardens in preparation for his work at Colonial
Williamsburg, he visited Westover to learn from the garden.
The Cranes' modified the overall layout of the grounds surrounding the
main plantation house very little. The changes they did make were at its periphery.
Between the house they built in 1926 and the garden they built a tennis court and
trimmed the area with a boxwood hedge. The tennis court has since been removed
and the space is now used as a parking lot for visitors.
On the opposite periphery, Mrs. Crane along with her gardener Mrs. Costic Above
planted a boxwood nursery just east of the brick wall surrounding the river front lawn Arthur Shurcliff taking notes in the
garden, 1931
and south of the barn built by Mrs. Ramsey. A few boxwood bushes remain in the
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library,
area used for the nursery. Colonial Williamsburg

Opposite
Sketch plan of the yard surrounding
the main plantation house, 1931
Arthur Shurcliff
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library,
Colonial Williamsburg

156 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
157
This page
View of the garden's west wall, ca
1921
Westover private collection

Opposite
Plan of the yard surrounding the
main plantation house, 1931, Arthur
Shurcliff
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library,
Colonial Williamsburg

158 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
TENNIS COURT and BOX WOOD HEDGE

159

ORCHARD and BOXWOOD NURSERY


The Fishers and Fisher Erdas With Westover now under an historic
easement, no major changes have been made to the main house, grounds, or garden.
Work within the grounds and on the house has therefore been primarily focused on
maintenance. A caretaker lives on the property in the house at the corner of the
garden to manage the day to day maintenance.
Within the garden, Fred and Muschi Fisher converted several of the main
paths to gravel from sod. Slowly the plants within the garden have evolved, in part
due to disease. Many of the roses planted by Mrs. Ramsey got rose rot and had to be
taken out, including a row of them which ran along a wire frame on the west side of
the main north south axis, north of the William Byrd II tomb.
Over the last several decades, the orchard has declined. When Muschi Fisher
first arrived at Westover, the area loosely defined by Shippen as the grove was all
orchard. From this orchard only two old Kiefer pears and an old apple tree which no
longer produces fruit remain. Five years ago, Muschi planted more apple trees and a
hazelnut tree with her godmother who was visiting.
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel dramatically changed the river front yard. It battered Above
the shoreline which has since been repaired and took down the two massive tulip The river front wall, looking east
poplars standing out from each corner of the main plantation house. These have 2017
since been replaced. The photo at right shows the two young replacements, as well
Opposite
as scaffolding for work being done on one of the chimneys in the fall of 2017. The
Two young tulip poplars replacing
work is ongoing to maintain Westover.
those which fell in 2003
2017

160 Evolution of the Westover Landscape | The Main House and its Surroundings
161
Conclusion

Within the overarching task of compiling the available archived and published
sources regarding Westover's landscape history, three goals drove this project. The
first of these was to expand the landscape history beyond the confines of the garden.
Among Virginia plantations, Westover is relatively well known and many garden books
include information on it. Most of these focus, however, on the main plantation
house and it's immediate surroundings. To the extent I could with three months of
research, I sought to find information on the colonial village, fields, slave's quarters,
graveyards, farm buildings, and other houses. These findings were compiled in the
second chapter.
Westover histories have also tended to focus on the changes enacted by male
plantation owners of the pre-Civil War period, namely the three William Byrds. A
second goal was, therefore, to include in greater depth information on the changes
brought about by woman owners during the pre-Civil war period as well as the state
of the plantation during post-Civil War ownerships. Prior to the Civil War, as primary
plantation owners from 1744 - 1762 and 1777-1814 respectively, Maria Taylor Byrd
and Mary Willing played instrumental roles in shaping the Westover landscape. While
there is no definitive evidence that the current main house was built in the 1750s
after a fire in 1749, if it was, as is likely the case, it was built under the direction of
Maria Taylor Byrd rather than William Byrd III as is often assumed. From the travel
accounts dating to the period of Mary Willing's ownership, it is difficult to decipher
when features noted were constructed. However, combining the fact that Lombardy
poplars were introduced to America in 1784 and that they appear in the 1811

162 Conclusion
watercolor by J.S. Glennie, we do know that Mary Willing the rear view of the 1888 Huestis Cook photograph offers
initiated the iconic row of poplars along the river front of a potential explanation for the less than ninety-degree
the house. northeast angle of the garden, however, the obstruction
Finally, with the advantage of bringing together so of this barn in the photograph makes it difficult to
many documents regarding the main house surroundings, determine the location of the barn. Whether the barn
I sought to better understand the evolution of the predated the wall alignment is another unknown. Other
Westover garden, and the reasons for its unusual skewed hypothesis regarding the alignment may be put forward
angles. Other summary documents of Westover's garden by combining the images contained herein, however,
provide little to no information on the garden before the each stops at the point of speculation. Early extents of
Clarise Sears Ramsey early 1900s renovation. the Westover gardens remain a major question.
The major findings about the pre-Ramsey garden The extent of the garden walls is one instance
were that is was in fact two gardens - a kitchen garden among many highlighted in this report where focused
and main garden -, separated to some extent and both archaeological research would be a significant next
bound by brick walls at least as early at 1761. These step in building knowledge about Westover's history.
gardens were possibly separated by a line extending Archaeological work could provide information on the
from the clairvoyee. It seems most likely that the two former garden and driveway layouts, as well as more
gardens were amalgamated when Clarise Sears Ramsey information about the larger landscape, including the
rebuilt them. former slave quarters, farm yard, and colonial village.
This amalgamation, which pushed down the
southern limit of the garden, brings us to the evolution
of the gardens extent. No conclusive reasons were found
for the skew alignment of the garden. The barn located in

163
Appendices
EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAM BYRD II’s DIARIES

I sent Tom to Falling Creek to desire G-r-l to lessen the number of the workmen and 03/04/1709
to forbid building the house at Westover

John [West] made an end of the two little houses and I settled the account with him. 04/01/1709

In the evening I took a walk about the plantation and in the garden where I ate 05/13/1709
abundance of cherries.

We made some wine of the common cherry for an experiment. 06/04/1709

He had been [sent] for to set a negro boy’s leg which was broken this morning by the 08/04/1709
fall of the door in the brick house.

In the afternoon I was angry with G-r-l for being sick and not telling me of it and with 09/23/1709
Tom for not doing well in the garden.

In the afternoon we cut some [sage]. 05/26/1710

In the evening I took a walk with my wife. We made a little cider of the G-n-t-n apples, 06/16/1710
which yielded but little juice.

In the evening we took a walk but only in the garden for fear of the rain. 08/20/1710

I found Mistress Betty at home but did not stay long with her but returned home and 01/17/1711

164 Appendix | Excerpts from William Byrd II's Diaries


by the way looked for some cedar trees to plant in my pasture.

I ordered Tom to plant some [l-c-s] seed. 01/27/1711

In the afternoon I took a walk and trimmed some trees in the pasture. 02/23/1711

In the afternoon Mr. Bland went away and I went to give orders to my people to pile 02/26/1711
the planks in the brick house where I spent all the afternoon.

In the afternoon Mr. Mumford went away and Mr. Gee came and I gave him some 04/14/1711
seeds of the [u-n-y] tree.

In the evening I took a walk and ate some cherries at M-n-s. The season has happened 05/10/1711
so late this year that cherries are three weeks more backward than they used to be.
… I wrote a letter to the Governor to send by Tom with some cherries.

I sent Tom with some cherries and green peas to the Governor at Williamsburg. 05/11/1711

Mr. G-r-l went about hanging the gates and I took a walk to him. Then I went into the 05/16/1711
garden to eat some cherries.

About 11 o’clock I went to the coffeehouse but before I went I gave [Harry] four great 09/20/1711
pomegranates for the Governor which grew at Westover.

In the afternoon I set my razor and then went to prune the trees in the young orchard 01/03/1712
and then I took a walk about the plantation and my wife and Mrs. Dunn came to walk
with me.

In the afternoon I set my razor and then went into the new orchard and trimmed the 01/11/1712
trees till the evening and then I took a walk about the plantation.

165
In the afternoon I went into the orchard and trimmed the young trees till I was called 01/12/1712
away by one of the girls who told me that Mr. Peter Butts would speak with me.

I made Mr. G-r-l put on several locks and put up the cornice for my curtains in the 01/14/1712
library. … In the afternoon I worked in the library with Mr. G-r-l and helped him till the
evening and then I took a short walk.

Mr. G-r-l made an end of putting up the curtain cornice in the library and then went 01/15/1712
and showed John to plant fruit trees.

In the afternoon my wife shaved me and then I walked out to see my people plant 01/16/1712
trees and I was angry with John for mistaking Mr. G-r-l’s directions. Then I showed
him again and helped him plant several trees.

About 12 o’clock I went to see John and Tom plant the peach orchard where I stayed 01/17/1712
till dinner was ready. … In the afternoon I looked over some books with pictures for
half an hour and then went again to my people to see them plant trees.

In the afternoon I read a little more Latin and then went to see my people plant peach 01/18/1712
trees and afterwards took a great walk about the plantation and found everything in
order, for which I praised God.

The weather [was] cloudy and rained a little. ... In the afternoon it held up and I took 01/19/1712
a walk to see my people plant peach trees. … I dreamed a mourning coach drove into
my garden and stopped at the house door.

It rained very hard in the beginning of the night and towards morning it snowed 01/20/1712
exceedingly and continued till about 9 o'clock. I rose about 7 and caused a path to be
made to the kitchen, to the library, and to the house office.

166 Appendix | Excerpts from William Byrd II's Diaries


About 10 o’clock came the sloop with about 70 poplar trees. 02/07/1712

My sloop went away in the night for Williamsburg with 1,000 feet of planks for the 02/08/1712
market and some fruit trees for the Governor.

In the afternoon I went into the garden and trimmed the vines and was angry with 03/17/1712
Tom for being so lazy there.

In the afternoon I went into the orchard and trimmed some young trees. 03/21/1712

Then my wife and Mrs. Dunn and I took a walk to see the peach orchard and to get 04/06/1712
us a stomach.

In the afternoon it began to rain and grew very cold so that all my people went to 05/09/1712
plant the tobacco and planted 4,000 plants.

It rained a cold rain, the wind northeast. However my people went to plant tobacco 05/10/1712
again and planted 26,000 this day.

The company went away about 4 o’clock after being very merry and I took a little 06/03/1712
walk in the garden and the library.

The stone[cutter] got some irons made for the marble. 06/04/1712

After dinner I found myself better and walked about the garden all the evening, and 06/05/1712
Mr. Catesby directed how I should mend my garden and put it into a better fashion
than it is at present.

I took a walk about the plantation and trimmed some of the peach trees. 06/28/1712

167
In the afternoon I read some news and then went into the library and read some 07/25/1712
Latin till the evening and then I took a walk to see the carpenter at work.

My wife and Mrs. Dunn went out in the coach and I read some Latin till the evening 07/27/1712
and then I took a walk about the plantation and in the orchard where there was
abundance of fruit.

In the afternoon I walked to see the carpenter at work about the granary and then 07/28/1712
went to the store which was much out of order.

I took a walk to see the granary. 08/01/1712

After dinner the Colonel and I took a walk to see the granary. 08/05/1712

After dinner came my old gardener Tom Cross. About 4 o'clock the captains went 02/27/1720
away and I walked about with the gardener and talked abundantly with him about
the garden.

I assisted my gardener to lay out some of the garden. 03/19/1720

After dinner I walked to see my workmen and my people in the garden and then 03/31/1720
wrote another letter to England and in the evening walked about the plantation.

I danced my dance and walked about to see my people, who began this day to pull 04/01/1720
down the [wash-house].

After church I invited Drury Stith and his family and the parson to dinner but the 04/10/1720
latter would not go. ... After dinner we walked in the garden and I showed them
several rarities.

168 Appendix | Excerpts from William Byrd II's Diaries


Then I went into the garden to eat cherries and then settled some accounts till dinner 05/18/1720
and then Colonel Eppes came in and I ate some [brown peas].

We began to raze our kitchen. ... At night I talked with my people and gave them a 05/19/1720
dram and some cherries to the people at the quarters who were very thankful.

Then I wrote some English till 10 o’clock and then went into the garden and gathered 05/20/1720
cherries. … At night I caused cherries to be given to all my people about the house.

We ran a race in the garden. 05/28/1720

After dinner came Frank Lightfoot and Mr. W-l-k and saw my garden and library, and 06/01/1720
Mr. W-l-k was much pleased with the seats.

Tom Cross, my old gardener, came from Williamsburg and brought me a letter from 06/04/1720
Major Custis.

About 11 came Mrs. Richardson and a minister and another gentleman that came 06/07/1720
lately from Carolina. I received them very courteously and showed them the garden
and library, with which they were pleased.

After dinner I slept again a little and then read more Latin till about 3 o’clock when 06/11/1720
there came a terrible clap of thunder and damaged the pigeonhouse and killed
sixteen sheep that lay under it for shelter.

Afterwards I read some Latin till the evening and then I walked into the orchard and 07/13/1720
ate so many plums that I could not sleep.

It rained a little so that I could walk only in the garden. 07/30/1720

169
At night I wrote two letters to send by the gardener and gave him twenty-six shillings 12/30/1720
for two days’ work and he was so affronted that he sent me back a pistole and went
away in the night.

I danced my dance and then helped Tom plant the trees. 12/31/1720

I danced my dance and sent away my boat to Colonel Ludwell's for some fig trees. 03/13/1721

This day we began to turf the bowling green. 03/16/1721

Then I walked about the garden to see my people lay the turf. ... After dinner I showed 03/24/1721
some Indians my house and garden and then I wrote another letter to England.

I read more English and took a walk in the orchard and kitchen garden and ordered 04/02/1721
Captain C-p man some cider, who came to see the garden.

Soon after dinner came Mr. Fontaine and I gave him some fish. Then we took a walk 04/08/1721
about the main garden till the evening.

The Major and I walked about the kitchen garden and then about the orchard. 04/12/1721

Then I went to the Governor to beg that he would spare me some bulbs for my 05/04/1721
garden and he was pleased to give me some orange trees.

After dinner we put things in order and then walked about the plantation and 11/21/1740
discovered a [henhouse?] built by Jacob, which I ordered to be demolished.

My daughters came about 5 and we went off about 6 and drove to the ferry where 05/06/1741
Colonel Randolph came up with us and too my daughter Mina to the courthouse
where I picked her up and went home and found all pretty well, thank God, but met

170 Appendix | Excerpts from William Byrd II's Diaries


with great complaint of the gardener.

Mr. Berkeley went to Williamsburg and I argued the case with the gardener, who was 05/07/1741
sorry for what he had done.

I sent to Williamsburg and began to plant notwithstanding it was a holiday ... I read 05/18/1741
more news and walked in the garden.

At night I talked with my people and with the gardener and prayed. 05/20/1741

Ned Eppes came to judge my gardener but he humbled himself and I forgave him. ... 07/06/1741
After dinner we talked and in the evening played bowls.

In the evening we played bowls. 07/07/1741

After dinner we played bowls, notwithstanding it had rained. 07/08/1741

After dinner I put several matters in order and played bowls. We made an end of our 07/09/1741
harvest.

Note: This last four entries on bowls are a sample of Byrd's entries during the summer
months of 1741, which frequently listed playing bowls as one of his evening activities.

After dinner I looked over some pictures till 4, when it began to blow violently, with 08/05/1741
rain and hail that ruined my tobacco and did other damage.

After dinner I put things in order and made the people dry the wheat in the barn. 08/06/1741

171
SIGNIFICANT TREES AND PLANTS

The river front row of poplars The row of tulip poplars (Liriodendron
tulipifera) which run along the river-front facade of the main house and extend out
towards the edges of the lawn are one of the most notable features of the Westover
yard. In their book Remarkable Trees of Virginia, Nancy Ross Hugo and Jeff Kirwan
went so far as to say that prior to 2003, this line of tulip poplars "could have been
described as one of the best ornamental plantings of tulip-poplars in North America."
(Ross Hugo 2008)
Comments on the tulip poplars have been interspersed throughout the main
text. Here those comments are all pulled together.
The current row of tulip poplars was predated by a row of Lombardy poplars.
These are visible in the 1810-11 watercolor by J.S. Glennie (page 23) and the 1825 or
1838 painting by Lucy(?) Harrison (page 25). It has been speculated that these were
also noted in Thomas Lee Shippen's sketch plan from 1783 (page 112). Lombardy
poplars in North America, however, were introduced only in 1784. (Henry 1914, 2)
(Adams 2004, 93) For a period in the late eighteenth century, Lombardy poplars were
very fashionable trees for ornamental planting. Their short life span was soon realized
though and their use declined. It was likely for this reason that the Lombardy poplars
were replaced by tulip poplars. It is understood that this was done by John Selden.
Mrs. Ramsey's daughter suggests this in her letter to the Garden Club of America. The
scale of the trees in Huestis Cook's photographs from 1888 (pages 139 and 140) also
Opposite
suggest that the trees predate Mr. Drewry. The 1860s photograph of the main house
Row of tulip poplars, after 1933
(page 129) shows what are believed to be two tulip poplars. The one on the right of HABS, Library of Congress

172 Appendix | Significant Trees and Plants


173
the photograph is considerably larger than that on the left. It is possibly the same
tree which appears in the right of the river-front facade of the house in J.S. Glennie's
painting. This same tulip poplar, older than the rest in the row, was weakening by
the time the Cranes moved to Westover. Richard Crane has cement poured into the
hollow core of the tree and tooled to look like stone. (Conversation with Fred Fisher.)
In the Shurcliff plan from 1931, there were eleven tulip poplars in the row.
More were planted at the edges for in the 1978 HABS plan, there were fifteen. Two
with circumference 3" and 5" had clearly only recently been planted. Hurricane
Isabel in 2003 fell both tulip poplars directly in front of the central portion of the
main house, dramatically changing the river-front yard. Two new tulip poplars were
replanted in their places shortly after. Today there are twelve trees in the row.

Opposite
Tulip poplar filled with cement
ca 1880s - 1930, The Cook Collection
The Valentine Museum Archives

174 Appendix | Significant Trees and Plants


175
The tulip poplar on a mound Amidst the many alterations to the
Westover yard, there was a large tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the east
corner of the river front yard which remained until 1952 through all of them. The tulip
poplar appears in images as early as the 1810 sketch by J. S. Glennie. Photographs
of it standing in the early twentieth century show it with the same distinguishable
mound at its base. It is possible that the photograph of Major Augustus Drewry on
page 37 was taken in front of this tulip poplar.
In 1952, during a sudden storm which struck as Hurricane Audrey was
tapering off, the massive tree fell to the ground. At the time, the tree was measured
to be 125 feet tall, with a canopy spanning nearly the same distance, and more than
28 feet in circumference. It was estimated that the tree was at least 400 years old.
If so, the tree would have been established from 1550, meaning that it would have From Left to Right
been already well grown by the time West and Shirley Hundred was patented by the Detail, 1810, J. S. Glennie
West brothers in the early seventeenth century. Princeton University Library
Schurcliff's survey of Westover from 1931 indicated the location of the tulip 1900 - 1906, Detroit Publishing Co.
poplar while it was still standing. It has been highlighted on the map on the following The Library of Congress
page. Undated, John D. Rockefeller Jr.
With this tree gone, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, tulip poplar standing Library, Colonial Williamsburg
on the property today is the one just north of the east dependency. Location of tulip poplar, 1831
Arthur Shurcliff, John D. Rockefeller
Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg
After Hurricane Audrey, 1957
The Valentine Museum Archives

176 Appendix | Significant Trees and Plants


177
Poet’s Laurel | Danae racemosa

Poet's laurel (Danae rasemosa) can be found all over the Westover garden and
elsewhere in the yard. Along with boxwood, it is one of the most prevalent plants
and as such contributes significantly to the feeling of the garden. It has evergreen
leaves and a weeping form.
It is uncertain when Poet's laurel, also known commonly as Alexandrian
laurel was first planted at Westover. A native of Northern Iran and Asia Minor, Danae
racemosa was introduced in 1713. (Dirr 1983, 243) In a letter Mrs. Ramsey's daughter
wrote to the Garden Club of America recounting all the plants which her mother
found in the garden and yard upon moving to Westover, she makes no mention of
poet's laurel. It is quite likely then that Mrs. Ramsey planted the poet's laurel that is
there now.
Regardless of who planted the poet's laurel, it does exceptionally well
wherever it is found at Westover. So much so that in 1996, Nancy Ross Hugo writing
an article on poet's Laurel for the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote "Only once have I
seen poet’s laurel make a significant statement in the landscape - that’s at Westover Above
plantation where a low, thick hedge of it beside a tenant’s house looks almost like Poet's Laurel foliage and berries
2017
weeping bamboo …. Its leaves tend to burn when it gets too much sun, and I’d say,
“Don’t plant this shrub in full sun” if it weren’t for the plants at Westover, which seem Opposite
to thrive there. That’s a puzzle." Poet's Laurel along a garden path
2017

178 Appendix | Significant Trees and Plants


179
ACCURACY OF 1931 AND 1978 PLAN DRAWINGS

As part of the research undertaken for the 2017 Garden Club of Virginia fellowship,
key locations within the Westover landscape surrounding the main house were
surveyed. These points were overlaid with the 1931 and 1978 plans to check their
accuracy. The overlay with the 1931 plan is shown at right, and the overlay with the
1978 plan is on the following page. The overlays show that both of these two earlier
plans were very accurate.

Above
Plan of the yard surrounding the
main plantation house, 1931 Arthur
Shurcliff
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library,
Colonial Williamsburg (see p 159)

Opposite
Points surveyed in the summer of
2017 overlaid on 1931 Shurcliff plan
showing its accuracy

180 Appendix | Accuracy of 1931 and 1978 Plan Drawings


location of point on 1931 plan
surveyed location of point
181
Opposite
Points surveyed in the summer of
2017 overlaid on 1978 HABS plan
showing it's accuracy

182 Appendix | Accuracy of 1931 and 1978 Plan Drawings


location of point on 1931 plan
surveyed location of point
183
JOURNALS AND LETTERS RELATING TO WESTOVER

Thomas Lee Shippen to Dr. William Shippen Junr, Philadelphia


Westover Dec r 30 11 o clock at night
1783

My very dear Papa and Mamma,



I am just now retiring to rest after having spent a most delightful day with the
lovely inhabitants of this place; they are charming indeed: Mrs B. [Byrd] seated at the
head of her table, with her four amiable and accomplished daughters around her
exhibits the most engaging scene, and inspires the most exalted idea of human nature:
But their portraits I will draw for you at another time, as they deserve each of them a
particular one, at present I will only give you a short account of my chamber in which
I am writing, and in the morning endeavor to make you acquainted with Westover
itself. Imagine then a room of 20 feet square, and 12 feet high, wainscoated to the
cieling [sic], hung with a number of elegant gilt framed pictures of English noblemen
and two of the most beautiful women I have ever seen (one of whom opposite to
the bed where I lay) and commanding a view of a prettily falling grass plat variegated
with pedestals of many different kinds, about 300 by 100 yards in extent an extensive
prospect of James River and of all the Country and some Gentlemen's seats on the
other side; the river is banked up by a wall of four feet high, and about 300 yards in
length, and above this wall there is as you may suppose the most enchanting walk

184 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


in world Nor are the prettiest trees wanting to compleat Richmond about two miles from Westover, and ride a
the beauty of the Scene. I must tell you too as I am now mile and a half thro' a most charming Wood which has
only introducing you to my chamber, that on the floor is ever been the hobby horse of its possessor, on account
seen a rich scotch carpet, and that the Curtains and Chair of its beauty, and has always belonged to Westover. You
covers are of the finest crimson silk damask, my bottle pass thro' two gates, and from the second, which leads
and bason [sic] of thick & beautiful china, and my toilet you into the improved grounds, may be seen a village
which stands under a gilt framed looking glass, is covered of quarters as they are called for the negroes. The road
with a finely worked muslin. Taking together the different you get into upon opening this gate is spacious and very
parts of this incoherent account you will have a pretty level bounded on either side by a handsome ditch &
just idea of my chamber. And now my dear friends I wish fence which divide the road from fine meadows whose
you a good night, the first hour of the morning shall be extent is greater than the eye can reach; and on one side
devoted to you, for from you not even the many charms you see the river through trees of different sorts. These
of Westover can divert a moments attention. A fine fire meadows well watered with canals, which communicate
smiling in my chimney seems almost to tempt me to with each other across the road give occasion every 50
proceed, but it is late, and Sleep begins to enforce her yards for a bridge; and between every two bridges are
claims. Dec r. 31. 83. A fine snow has fallen last night, and two gates one on each side the road. You cannot easily
adds very much to the beauty of my prospect; the contrast conceive how fine an effect this has, but I must not omit
between the trees and the whiteness of the ground is mentioning the trees which tho thinly planted on both
pleasing; But to my promise, which I must endeavor to sides the road are a considerable accession. This road so
fulfil, tho' I shou'd fall very short of my desire. I will begin beautiful that I can never go slow enough thro it, does
then with the entrance to this favored seat of Grace and not run in a straight line to the house it goes on the right
Beauty. You leave the main road from Williamsburg to of it for a little more than a quarter and a 1/2 quarter

185
of a mile, you then turn to the left thro a very magnificent gate into the farm yard,
where are the most commodious stables for the stock that I ever saw, You pass thro
the extreme edge of it on the left, leaving it on the left. The road now becomes
circular, & the remaining 1/2 quarter of a mile conducts you to the house itself. I
do not know how to give you a better idea of the buildings themselves than by the
assistance of a simple figure whose unseemliness you must excuse, as you know I am
no draughtsman.
[Here follows the sketch]
From this figure you can form but a very imperfect idea of the buildings
indeed, but it is as good as one as I can give you, as such I am sure you will be
satisfied with it. I only mean to describe the ground floor of any of the houses. The
circular dotted line marked T. may represent the road which leads to the house the
middle g, the gate opposite to the house which you ride up to, it is made of iron
curiously wrought, and is exceedingly high, wide and handsome. The letter N which
is put there for North is also the front door, which leads thro' a very wide entry,
beautifully adorned with pictures and furniture of different sorts, and an elegant
staircase, is very high and Stocoed at the top. The 1st room on the left after you enter
the N. door marked d, is the common dining room, with fourteen black & gilt framed
pictures, wainscoated (as all the rooms are) to the cieling [sic], with windows as you
see described on the paper. The room marked c is the drawing room of the same
size of the last mentioned and both of the dimensions of my chamber. The furniture
here is more rich, being silk damask and in the other room a yellow stuff with red and

186 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


white cases to the chairs, but has a handsome marble kept, from which the walk thro' one of the pretty gates
slab, which the drawing room has not. The pictures too marked g leads you to the improved grounds before the
are better than in the dining room, and it commands the house. The letters a, a, & a, are put where the River flows
view which I told you I enjoyed from my chamber, which beautifully along, carrying with it, or rather giving birth
is the room above it. The rooms e, f, g, & h are you see of to Commerce Riches & Happiness. I have marked some
a less size and not equal to one another as the rooms on little crooked ugly figures for Gentlemen's seats, which
the other side of the entry are. Of their particular uses I tho' they do not beautify indeed the picture, add much
am ignorant. to the prospect, about as many Seats are to be seen on
The house is only two story high but the garrets the other side.
are commodious and clever. The house marked T. was There are some pot hooks and hangers, which
the library, and appears very well suited to the purpose, I have intended to make personate tall & stately trees,
as it is large and very light having (tho' 'tis not so on the which least you should mistake them I write under, as
paper) two windows on each side of the door, which is in the painter did under his sign "These are Trees." One
the middle. This is the room where they used to dance principal fault of my draught is that the circle of which
too. The others are large and ornamental, but now you see the segment, ought to be much larger, so that
uninhabited, and I cannot conceive what were the uses the periphrasis of it should come much nearer to the
of all of them. The kitchen is somewhere between L & buildings K & T &c. Thus much for what is [in]animate,
0. The houses marked P are Temples of Cloacina. Q R & the rest I must reserve to [ano]ther letter, as I dare say
S have been Stables, Coach houses &c. The crooked line you are hear[tily]tired and I am sure my arm is. If you
marked x shews you where the garden is which is very derive a moments entertainment from this essay, I shall
large and exceedingly beautiful indeed. The one opposite be more than paid for my trouble, which tho' 'tis not
to it &c is the place where there is a pretty grove neatly very trifling, I fancy will not prove so great, as yours has

187
been to read what I have wrote. A post is just arrived and brings no letter, what a
disappointment! No letter yet from Mamma, Nancy, Grandpapa, Washington or any
but my dear Papa who is very good indeed and obliges me exceedingly by writing as
often as he does. I hope my sweet Mamma thinks of her son often, tho' she finds it
troublesome to write. My next letter must be a long one as I have a great deal to say.
Adieu. Thomas Lee Shippen

[Added on the cover:] My Uncle William desires to be remembered to you, and wishes
to know what you would advise him to do for his eyes which he finds are beginning to
grow exceedingly weak insomuch that he can't read at all by candle light. You do not
mention any thing about my hat.
N. B. Bank notes pass without difficulty or loss in Williamsburg. Jany 6. Wmbgh

[Addressed:] Dr. William Shippen Junr Philadelphia

_____________________________
This letter by Thomas Lee Shippen is part of the collection of Shippen Family Papers
held by the Library of Congress. It was published by the William Byrd Press, Richmond
in 1952 as "Westover Described in 1783". Opposite
Plan of Westover
1783, Thomas Lee Shippen
Shippen Family Papers, Library of
Congress

188 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


189
Baron Ludwig von Closen
After visit to Westover on February, 1782

[26] ... From Hudson's Tavern we rode on to sleep at Westover, a plantation located
on the banks of the James River and belonging to Madame Byrd, widow of one of
the richest persons of his day. The house is spacious, beautiful, and maintained like a
palace. The furnishings are magnificent, but most notable of all are the four daughters
of the house, who although not very pretty, have extremely pleasing manners and a
sweet, courteous, amusing, and agreeable demeanor. The two eldest, in particular,
are very witty and very lively company. The mother, now a women of a certain age,
preserves some traces of her former beauty; she has a very noble bearing, and since
she is always accustomed to having the house full of strangers, treats them in the
most distinguished and charming manner. Hence all the house is furnished, and
although there were 22 strangers, of whom 13 were French, with their servants,
horses, etc., it was not at all apparent. In short, there is an affluence in this family that
is rare in America and would be worthy of Paris.
The residence of a gentleman, named Meade, which is directly opposite
Westover, on the left bank of the James, provides a charming view. For the most
part, both banks of this river are embellished with plantations, one more beautiful
than the other, and inhabited by the aristocracy of the country; all, such as the Carter,
Randolph, Harrison, Byrd, etc., families live in very comfortable circumstances,
have many connections, and get along very well together. They are fond of society,

190 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


and abandon themselves to it, perhaps with too much as magpies or faithful as gold: my good Peter, born of
relish, thinking only of amusing themselves and scarcely free parents in Connecticut, belonged to the latter class.
concerning themselves with their estates, which they We spent a very pleasant evening at Westover,
relinquish to the attentions of an overseer, who often and took several walks in the surrounding woods and in
robs them enormously. The large number of negro slaves the garden, which is completely beautiful. It is beside
that they hold are often treated very harshly and even the river and is decorated with very lovely statues, two
cruelly, are left to run around almost naked, and are not ponds, and two little summer-houses, prettily arranged.
considered to be much better than animals. The whites It is admirably cared for and just as it had been described
believe that they debase themselves if they engage in to us. A traveller could scarcely find a more interesting
the work they say is fit only for these wretched beings. or curious place; art and natural beauty are delightfully
I should observe that in New England there are almost combined there. Our journey along the James River
no negro slaves any longer, whereas in the southern seemed to us like a pleasant dream, or, to speak as a
provinces all the negroes are still enslaved. In general, young man, like the flight of a butterfly, who goes from
despotism and aristocracy are the rule in Virginia more one flower to another, but finally has to alight where
than elsewhere. A beagle, a lap-dog, very often leads a there are none at all. Such was our case; for in spite of all
happier life and is much better fed than the poor negroes our entreaties that we might spend the day of the 27th
or mulattoes, who have only their allowance of corn there, the General could not be persuaded to do so, and
daily with which to do as they please. They have salt we departed after an excellent breakfast of delicious and
meat only once a week. That is the way these miserable abundant food and drinks, both hot and cold.
beings live. It is true that they recoup themselves often _____________________________
with their light-fingered hands and pilfer some victuals, From The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von
even money, with incredible dexterity. They are thievish Closen 1780-1783, p 186-188.

191
Marquis de Chastellux
After visit to Westover in 1782

He pressed me to dine with him next day, and to pass another day at Richmond; but
as there was nothing to excite curiosity in that town, and I was desirous of stopping
at Westover before I returned to Williamsburgh, where I was anxious to arrive, we
set out the 27th at eight in the morning, under the escort of Colonel Harrison, who
accompanied us to a road from which it was impossible to go astray. We travelled six
and twenty miles without halting, in very hot weather, but by a very agreeable road,
with magnificent houses in view at every instant; for the banks of James river form
the garden of Virginia. That of Mrs. Bird, to which I was going, surpasses them all in
the magnificence of the buildings, the beauty of its situation, and the pleasures of
society.
Mrs. Bird is the widow of a Colonel who served in the war of 1756, and was
afterwards one of the council under the British government. His talents, his personal
qualities, and his riches, for he possessed an immense territory, rendered him one
of the principal personages of the country; but being a spendthrift and a gambler,
he left his affairs, at his death, in very great disorder. He had four children by his first
wife, who were already settled in the world, and has left eight by his second, of whom
the widow takes care. She has preserved his beautiful house, situated on James river,
a large personal property, a considerable number of slaves, and some plantations
which she has rendered valuable. She is about two and forty, with an agreeable

192 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


countenance, and great sense. Four of her eight children passed the last winter at Williamsburgh, where they were
are daughters, two of whom are near twenty, and they are greatly complimented by M. de Rochambeau and the
all amiable and well educated. Her care and activity have whole army. I had also received them in the best manner
in some measure repaired the effects of her husband's I could, and received the thanks of Mrs. Bird, with a
dissipation, and her house is still the most celebrated, pressing invitation to come and see her; I found myself
and the most agreeable of the neighbourhood. She has in consequence, quite at home. I found here also my
experienced however, fresh misfortunes; three times acquaintance the young Mrs. Bowling, who was on a visit
have the English landed at Westover, under Arnold and to Mr. Mead, a friend and neighbour of Mrs. Bird's, who
Cornwallis; and though these visits cost her dear, her had invited him and his company to dinner. I passed this
husband's former attachment to England, where his day therefore very agreeably, and Mr. and Mrs. Mead,
eldest son is now serving in the army, her relationship whom I had also known at Williamsburgh, engaged the
with Arnold, whose cousin german she is, and perhaps company to dine with them the next day. The river alone
too, the jealousy of her neighbours, have given birth separates the two houses, which are notwithstanding,
to suspicions, that war alone was not the object which upwards of a mile distant from each other; but as there
induced the English always to make their descents at her is very little current, the breadth of the water between
habitation. She has been accused even of connivance them does not prevent it from being soon passed. Mr.
with them, and the government have once put their seal Mead's house is by no means so handsome as that of
upon her papers; but she has braved the tempest, and Westover, but it is extremely well fitted up within, and
defended herself with firmness; and though her affair be stands on a charming situation; for it is directly opposite
not yet terminated, it does not appear as if she was likely to Mrs. Bird's, which, with its surrounding appendages,
to suffer any other inconvenience than that of being has the appearance of a small town, and forms a most
disturbed and suspected. Her two eldest daughters delightful prospect. Mr. Mead's garden, like that of

193
Westover, is in the nature of a terrace on the bank of the river, and is capable of being
made still more beautiful, if Mr. Mead preserves his house, and gives some attention
to it; for he is a philosopher of a very amiable but singular turn of mind, and such as
is particularly uncommon in Virginia, since he rarely attends to affairs of interest, and
cannot prevail upon himself to make his negroes work. He is even so disgusted with
a culture wherein it is necessary to make use of slaves, that he is tempted to sell his
possessions in Virginia and remove to New-England. Mrs. bird, who has a numerous
family to provide for, cannot carry her philosophy so far; but she takes great care of her
negroes, makes them as happy as their situation will admit, and serves them herself
as a doctor in time of sickness. She has even made some interesting discoveries on
the disorders incident to them, and discovered a very salutary method of treating a
sort of putrid fever which carries them off commonly in a few days, and against which
the physicians of the country have exerted themselves without success.
The 29th, the whole of which day I spent at Westover, furnishes nothing
interesting in this journal, except some information I had the opportunity of
acquiring respecting two sorts of animals, of very different species, the sturgeon and
the humming-bird. As I was walking by the river-side, I saw two negroes carrying an
immense sturgeon, and on my asking them how they had taken it, they told me at
this season, they were so common as to be taken easily in a seine (a sort of fishing-
net,) and that fifteen or twenty were found sometimes in the net; but that there was
a much more simple method of taking them, which they had just been using. This
species of monsters, which are so active in the evening as to be perpetually leaping

194 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


to a great height above the surface of the water, usually brilliant enamel of their red necks, which almost rival
sleep profoundly at mid-day. Two or three negroes then the splendour of the ruby or the diamond. It is not true
proceed in a little boat furnished with a long cord, at that they are naturally passionate, and that they tear to
the end of which is a sharp iron crook, which they hold pieces the flowers in which they find no honey. I have
suspended like a log line. As soon as they find this line never observed any such circumstance myself, either at
stopped by some obstacle, they draw it forcibly towards Westover or Williamsburgh; and the inhabitants of the
them, so as to strike the hook into the sturgeon, which country assured me, that they had never made any such
they either drag out of the water, or which, after some observation. These birds appear only with the flowers,
struggling, and losing all its blood, floats at length upon with which likewise they disappear, and no person can
the surface, and is easily taken. tell what becomes of them.
As for the humming-birds, I saw them for the _____________________________
first time, and was never tired of beholding them. The From Travels in North-America, in the years 1780-81-82.
walls of the garden and the house were covered with p 279 - 284.
honeysuckles, which afforded an ample harvest for these
charming little animals. I saw them perpetually flying over
the flowers, on which they feed without ever alighting,
for it is by supporting themselves on their wings that
they insinuate their beaks into the calix of the flowers.
Sometimes they perch, but it is only for a moment; it is
then only one has an opportunity of admiring the beauty
of their plumage, especially when opposite to the sun,
and when in removing their heads, they display the

195
William Wirt to Mrs Wirt
Westover, Tuesday night
Nov r 8, 1803

I got here this evening, my dear, about sunset; and in better health than I had a right
to expect. Took all my camomile (with seven drops of elixir in each dose) on the road;
except one tumbler, which I took as soon as I got in. Judge Nelson, Mrs. Bird and the
whole family gone over the mountain on a frolick. The steward, a Mr. West, is here,
and a very respectable & venerable old gentleman with a wig, a favorite servant of
Colo. Bird, decd, and one who accompanied him, in the French & Indian war, half a
century ago. I have been received and entertained most courteously and respectfully
_ have just eaten half a young pigeon nicely boiled and buttered, drank three cups
of very good tea, I disposed of a biscuit or two, with sweet fresh butter. The steward
tells me that Carter B. Harrison goes to Richmond tomorrow, and so I have followed
my heart into my bed chamber to write to you.
This is a beautiful place _ I reckon: for I have not had time to survey it very
accurately. The approach to it pleased me much. The outside gate of the plantation,
led me into an oak grove, which is very fine & majestic _ it was once a park filled
with deer _ all its trees are still flourishing and the ground below grass turfed &
clear. After riding near a mile through this grove, we came to another gate which
introduced us into a broad lane of post and rail fences, while the grove still continued
on the right & left for two or three hundred yards _ Then we saw, through the trees

196 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


which surrounded them, the windows of the old mansion I must make haste to bed & to sleep or perhaps the Colo.
glittering to the setting sun _ in a few more steps the river will take the ins of me _ I have yet to bathe my feet &
opened on us very beautifully _ several vessels dispersed read half a dozen pages of law _ the last, first _ Heaven
over it _ a sloop moored just under the bank within a guard you my love _ I feel much better than when I began
hundred yards of the house _ on the opposite shore a this letter _ no fever nor cough _ Kind Providence!! God
handsome brick house & a fine seat called Maycock, bless you, wife of my heart _ God bless you _ Your own
the property of C.B. Harrison _ so, being cold I jumped, _____________________________
not crawled, out of the gig & ran in to the fire. Old Mr. This letter by William Wirt is part of the collection of
White (the old servant) tells me that this house was built William Wirt Papers held at the Maryland Historic Society.
somewhere about fifty years ago _ I have been about a
mile(?) and half up the stairs to look for a couple of law
books. It reminds me of the old castles you are reading
about _ I dare say it is as full of ghosts as any of them
_ & as the family is all gone, & left the house to them,
I suppose we shall have a carousal to night. Maybe old
Colo. Bird will come & give me a little more information
about the dismal swamp [paper torn] the next edition
of the British Spy _ If he does he must shake me pretty
hard, for I am determined to sleep soundly & dream, if
it please heaven of the girl of my heart & her sweet little
cooing pigeon _ kiss her for William _ The wind roars &
sighs without, & the window shutters rattle most ghostly.

197
J.S. Glennie
After visit to Westover on May 7 - 8, 1811

From here we proceeded to Charles City Court House 16 miles – It is a small neat
Tavern, near which stands the County Court House – Every County mostly has a
Court house, where the Legislative Court sits at certain periods in the Year, & for
the Accommodation of those who are obliged to attend as well as Travellers, there
is generally a Tavern near – Nine miles Farther is Westover the Seat of Mrs Byrd,
on the road to which I had an opportunity of seeing Tobacco growing. It appears to
the Stranger like the plant Foxglove, and is planted in regular Squares or Hills – the
Cultivation of this Plant is considerably diminished in the Eastern part of Virginia as
it requires a rich Soil and a great many Slaves – on these last, during the Harvest, the
labor is very fatiguing, for Tobacco cannot be gathered during the day, on account
of the hot sun rendering the leaves so brittle, as to fall in a hundred pieces, should
any one touch them – At Night when the dew has fallen and moistened the leaf, the
Negroes are turned out and employed till Sunrise gathering the Tobacco – Westover
House is situated on the Northwest side of James River about 100 yards from the Above
Water, is a large Mansion built many Years ago, and has the Appearance of English Sketch of William Byrd II's tomb
Antiquity both in architecture & furniture. There are many outhouses and old Gates 1811, J. S. Glennie
Princeton University Library,
the Iron part of which, as well as the Ornaments, were brought from England some
Department of Rare Books and
fifty or a hundred years ago – Mrs Byrd to whom I was introduced by Mr Barclay, is of Special Collections. Manuscripts

198 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


one of the oldest & most respectable families in Virginia like an English Cracknal [sic] [Cracknel] – after breakfast
– She was nearly finishing her 71 year, enjoys very good I walked with Mr H and Mr B [Harrison and Barclay, one
health, has all her Senses perfect, and is perfectly hale in assumes] round the House & Garden, in which last there
Body & Mind – she is a pleasant & instructive companion, is a Monument erected over the body of the tomb of
speaks & writes well, and is on the whole as sensible & [Will] Byrd, the Original Owner of this plantation a father
well informed Lady as I have yet met with. The family to our worthy Landladys Husband.
were at Dinner when we went in, and received us in a
most hospitable easy manner - round the Table were This tomb is now beautifully shaded by the Trees in
sitting several Miss Harrisons, & Mr & Mrs Harrison—all the Garden, and on the upper white marble tablet the
these ladies play the organ, which we fully employed following inscription is engraved – see next page – In
them at during the evening – Miss Evelin [sic] [Evelyn] Virginia Religion is so little attended to that there are no
Nelson who presided next morning at Breakfast, is an public burial Grounds, & it has lately become a practice
amiable & fascinating young Lady, a fine figure in person, for every family, Rich or Poor to bury the Dead in their
genteel in her manners and well educated – These young Gardens near the House – I must confess it has a curious
Ladies as also Mrs. Harrison, who was married at 18 years effect on a traveller, while walking in the Garden to
old, are Grand Daughters of Mrs Byrd – Before Breakfast stumble on a Gravestone, in one of the walks –
this morning, 8th May. I walked on the Sand, and took a _____________________________
sketch on James River, as also of Westover – At breakfast From The particulars and sketches of a voyage to and
Mrs. Byrd seldom attends, so that we had all the young journey over the United States of America and back:
Ladies to ourselves – I ate some Appoquiniming [sic] commencing 24th September 1810: manuscript, 1810-
Cake [Appoquinimink Cake], which I had not seen before 1811.
– It is a thin Cake of Flour like the wafer but in shape

199
Elisabeth Sears Harrold to Garden Club of America
101 Park Avenue
27th July, 1932

Miss Margaret McKenny


Garden Club of America
598 Madison Avenue, New York.

My dear Miss McKenny:

As you and Mrs. Lockwood wished, I am sending you herewith some additional
notes which may be of use in the part of your research which concerns Westover. My
brothers and I are somewhat hampered in this by the fact that all of our papers are
in storage in Boston.
Our mother, Mrs. C. Sears Ramsay (Clarise Sears Risley) purchased Westover
from Major A. H. Drewry in the winter of 1898-9. She was the daughter of Joseph
Henry Risley Esq. of Westover, Somerset County, Maryland, and the widow of E. W.
Harrold of Forth Worth, Texas. She re-married, her second husband dying some years
later. In 1921 she sold Westover to the present owner, Mr. Richard Crane, formerly
Minister to Czecho-Slovakia, and died in London in 1922. Westover in Maryland was

200 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


an off-shoot of the Virginia place, having been built by The house suffered very little from the Civil War,
Charles Wilson about 1770 (this is more or less accurate, owing to the fact that McClellan made it his headquarters,
as we have not the record on hand); he married a practically the only damage being to the east or ballroom
daughter of Mary (Willing) Byrd, and was one of my wing, which was fired at from the river; there is a painting
mother’s forebears. There were five of these houses by E. L. Henry showing its condition when he sketched it
built near Princess Anne at about that time; Arlington, during the War, while he was stationed on a transport
Beverly, Worthington, Westover and one other; of these anchored in the river. Major Drewry however tore down
one belonged to a Lee and one to a Custis. This may be the remainder of the ballroom wing to use the bricks
of passing interest. for a stable. My mother rebuilt it on the old foundations
about 1901. I shall be able to let you have a photograph
The house: The date of the house is generally given as of Mr. Henry’s painting, which Mrs. Lockwood may enjoy
1737, without any documentary support. My mother seeing.
(whose authority I cannot quote) considered it to have The river-front of the house faces due south, and
been built during the time that Colonel Byrd was living the house runs exactly east and west. It is approximately
in England, which you will remember; roughly, 1720 two hundred and fifty feet from end to end, if one
to 1727. There is a tradition to the effect that it was included the old kitchen and the site of the orangery,
modeled after Drayton Court in Northamptonshire, then now occupied by an icehouse dating from Major Drewry’s
the seat of the Earl of Peterborough, a friend of Colonel time.
Byrd’s with whom he later had a bitter quarrel. Although
Drayton is on a much grander scale, it is possible to see The walled garden: Major Drewry threw down three-
several points of resemblance, particularly in the lay-out, quarters of the garden wall to use the bricks for the
which might give some probability to the story. same purpose as those of the ballroom, the garden being

201
ploughed up and given over to vegetables; the tomb of William Byrd the second was
however allowed to remain in the center. The only vestiges of planting extant in 1900,
when my mother began to reconstruct the garden, were the buxus arborescens and
suffruticosa at the entrance and along the east wall (nearest the house); two short
hedges of suffruticosa and a magnolia grandiflora along one of the intersecting east-
and-west paths; two bushes of crepe myrtle indicating a path running north and
south, centering on the tomb; and purple lilac, spiraea prunifolia, calycanthus florida,
and a wisteria indicating an east-and-west path centering on the tomb. A few of the
old-fashioned long-stemmed yellow tulips with black bases to the petals, similar to
Avis Kennicott, came up along this path; and there was one hundred-leaved rose
near the tomb. It is said that when the Seldens sold the place after the War they dug
up and took with them all the roses then in the walled garden. The wall was rebuilt
on the old foundations in the period from 1901 to 1905. The gardener’s cottage in
the south-west corner is on the site of the old jail, and in excavating at this point,
in constructing the wall, a handful of coins and gold thimble were uncovered. The
willow against the present south wall of the garden, near the smoke-house, came
according to tradition from Washington’s birthplace. There were also a few old fruit-
trees in the western portion of the garden.

The lawn and river-front: The borders on the river-front, extending in a sweep to the Above
west gate and beyond the east gate to the top of the bank sloping down to the river Clarise Sears Ramsey, 1905, Alice
Hughes
wall, are edged by buxus suffrutticosa three feet wide; this was in bad condition, much
Virginia Historical Society

202 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


broken by the horses pastured on the lawn and by the before, during and for a short time after the Civil War, and
weight of the snow; careful trimming however brought who was an enthusiastic gardener; the Irish yew, and the
it back into excellent shape. The borders contained very very large tulip poplar (seventeen feet in circumference)
little except three cydonia japonica, a large magnolia with a mound around it, at the east end of the lawn, and
soulangeana, one or two spiraea prunifolia, a few white the less large tulip poplar to the left of the front door as
and purple lilacs and one or two Persian (?) lilacs; a one faces the river, being the only trees definitely of a
euonymus japonica at the end of the old kitchen (the greater age than seventy-five or eighty years. The last-
detached brick building at the west end of the house, named is shown as existing and of a good size at the time
formerly balanced by the orangery); calycanthus florida; of Mr. Henry’s picture; the others of the present row of
a jasminum nudiflorum and a chionanthus virginica. tulip poplars were planted by John Selden. A magnificent
There were a few chionodoxa, Roman hyacinths, nerine, mushroom-shaped specimen of English yew, said by
Stars of Bethlehem, narcissi and double yellow jonquils Charles Sprague Sargent to have been the finest in this
in these front borders. The tall hedges of ligustrum country, died in 1913. The trees on the lawn include black
amurense at the back of these borders, and elsewhere walnut, Kentucky coffee-tree, red cedar, American elm,
along the fences to the east, north and west of the hackberry, hemlock, horse-chestnut, European linden
pleasure grounds, were planted by my mother at various (tilia cordata cordifolia), locust, pecan and sycamore.
times from 1900 on. The river wall was built between There are also on the lawn a Norway maple planted by
1901 and 1905. Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and a tulip poplar planted
by Wilson in 1916, when they with their families were
Trees: The lawn contains a number of specimen the guests of my mother. On the north or land side of the
trees, most of which, in all probability, date from the house are four Norway (?) spruces.
proprietorship of John Selden, who owned the plantation

203
Bowling-Green: The rectangular paddock to the north of the house has always been
called the bowling green. All of the trees in this area were planted by my mother. It
is separated from the space adjacent to the house by an iron fence (put up in 1904
or 1905 to replace a modern white picket one); the posts are the original ones, of
brick covered with stucco; the stone ornaments are of Italian origin, brought over for
William Byrd the second when the house was built; they were scattered about on the
ground, some of them in pieces, and were collected and replaced. The gateposts are
also of brick covered with stucco, the balls of stone, and the eagles of lead; the balls,
eagles and the wrought-iron gates, together with those at the east and west ends
of the lawn, date from the time of the building of the house and were brought from
England, the gates being attributed to Robinson of London.

Outbuildings: The toolhouse in the garden, the small rectangular brick office where
the iron fence meets the garden wall, and the corresponding outbuilding at the east
corner of the bowling-green, are of the same date as the house; and the smokehouse
(of wood) is more than a hundred years old at any rate. The pigeon-house, woodhouse
and stable were built at different dates from 1903 to 1912 or 1913.

Plan: Unfortunately we are unable to give you a plan of the grounds at the present
time; I measured them fairly thoroughly in the spring of 1921, but the notes are Above
packed away and the plan has not yet been drawn up. That given of the walled garden Elisabeth Sears Harrold, 1916, Alice
Hughes
in the book on Virginia gardens is inaccurate.
Virginia Historical Society

204 Appendix | Journals and Letters Relating to Westover


The land was patented by Thomas (?) West, Lord preceding volume, I am
Delaware, under the name of West and Shirley Hundred
(his own and his wife’s maiden name); then sold (I think) Very sincerely,
to Theodoric Bland, and later to the first William Byrd. Elisabeth Sears
This is quoted from memory only, but I mention it in case Harrold.
you may like to look it up.
Note: This letter provided the basis for much of the
References: The Marquis de Chastellux speaks in his information on Westover published in Gardens of
Travels of visiting the plantation during the time of the Colony and State; Gardens and Gardeners of the
last Mrs. Byrd (May [sic] [Mary] Willing), and refers to the American Colonies and of the Republic Before 1840,
garden in rather vague terms. With this you are familiar. edited by Alice G. Lockwood, New York: Charles
George Washington in his Diary mentions spending the Scribner’s Sons for the Garden Club of America, 1934
night there. Beyond this, and Colonel Byrd’s Writings, in _____________________________
which there are exasperating gaps, there is nothing in the From a transcription of the letter held by the Fisher and
way of contemporary or early records which I can suggest Erda families at Westover.
as source material. Should you come across anything new
I should be most grateful to hear of it. There has been a
great deal written during the past twenty-five years, but
nothing which could be considered authoritative.

With best wishes for the success of the book,


which is assured if it is even nearly as good as the

205
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212 Further Sources


213