Every year Williamsburg comes alive at Christmas. A daytime stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street, the main thoroughfare in the historic district, and you’ll see wreaths, swags, and evergreen roping on many of the homes, shops and taverns.
A visit to Berkeley Plantation in Virginia will take you on a journey back to one of the earliest English settlements in America and the sight of the first Thanksgiving.
Berkeley Plantation is twenty-nine miles from the first English settlement at Jamestown that was established in 1607. It is one of many plantations situated along the James River in southeastern Virginia. Traveling by land, it is located twenty-three miles southeast of Richmond along historic Rte 5 where one will see farmland, some modest commercial ventures, and exits to many other plantations.
There were a variety of reasons people emigrated from England to the colonies in the 1600’s. Some came for religious freedom, others to escape poverty, over population, and failing industries. There were also immigrants pursuing financial opportunities. Profit was the motive in 1618 when four English gentlemen met in London to establish a company to start the “Berkeley Hundred and Plantation” on the 8,000 acres and three miles of waterfront granted them by King James I. Their expedition sailed on the “Good Ship Margaret” in August of 1619 from Bristol, England to settle, grow crops, and establish commercial ventures. One of the men, John Smyth of Nibley, was the historian of the Berkeley family and Berkeley castle in England. He also chronicled the “Berkeley expedition” and settlement of Virginia from 1609-1622.
The First Official Thanksgiving in America
Most of us associate the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. Actually, the first official Thanksgiving occurred 590 miles south of Plymouth and almost two years before the Pilgrims and Indians shared a harvest feast. The “Margaret” dropped anchor at the Berkeley site December 4, 1619, and upon going ashore the Captain John Woodlief and the company of men dropped to their knees and prayed:
“We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival,
at the place assigned for plantacon (plantation) in the land of Virginia,
shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy
as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
Where the Massachusetts celebration was primarily a social occasion with the Indians, the Berkeley event was strictly a religious one. The London Company gave specific instructions that this religious ceremony was to be repeated annually, and it was . . . for a time. The Virginia settlers and the Indians initially enjoyed friendly relations; however on March 22, 1622, in a calculated plan, Chief Opechancanough led a massive attack at many of the settlements for 140 miles on either side of the James River and Berkeley was among those that perished. Jamestown prepared for the attack as they were warned of the intended massacre by an Indian named Chanco, so were able to defend themselves. The Massacre of 1622 ended the settlement of Berkeley and the annual celebration of Thanksgiving until 1958 when it was reinstated.
(This is in part a re-print of a blogpost I posted on Colonial Quills.)
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, 394 years after that first Thanksgiving in Virginia, my prayer is that we will all draw closer to God, and be thankful for the many ways He has blessed us individually and as a nation.
I was a teenager sitting in a high school English class on November 22, 1963, when we heard through the PA system of the assassination of President Kennedy. Most people over the age of sixty remember exactly where they were when they learned of this horrific event.
What has sadly been overlooked is that on that same day, a gifted man and devout Christian evangelist, with an incredible resume, and Irish roots, also passed away. The vast work of Clive Staples Lewis, better known to the world as C. S. Lewis, and to his friends and family as “Jack”, has entertained and influenced many generations. He was a renowned scholar, poet, novelist, academic, essayist, and Christian apologist.
C. S. Lewis was born November 29, 1898 near Belfast, Ireland. His father was a solicitor and his mother was the daughter of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest. He was brought up in the Christian church, but abandoned his faith as a teenager and became an atheist. His mother died when he was a young child and his relationship with his father was distant. Lewis was educated at boarding schools and by tutors. After serving in the British Army, he completed his university education at Oxford with a focus on literature and philosophy.
In 1925 Lewis was elected as a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he spent nearly thirty years on the staff. He left Oxford in 1954 to accept the position of chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University.
It was while he was at Oxford that he joined fellow faculty members, his brother, Warren Lewis, and a group of writers, in a guild known as the “Inklings”. His close friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien and other members of the group, as well as his interest in the works of George MacDonald, made him discard atheism, return to the Anglican Communion, and embrace a relationship with Jesus Christ.
During World War II, he gave very popular wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity, and his talks brought many listeners into a living faith with Christ. These broadcast speeches would later make up one of his most famous works, Mere Christianity.
Lewis, a long time bachelor, struck up a relationship through correspondence with Joy Davidman Gresham, an author and American educator. She was an intellectual of Jewish background, and a former Communist, whose troubled marriage finally ended when she converted to Christianity. She and Lewis renewed their friendship when she traveled to England with her two sons. In 1956 they learned Joy’s visa could not be renewed, so to insure she could remain in Great Britain, they chose to have a civil marriage even though they continued to live apart. However when Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer, they realized the depth of their affection. Joy and Jack wanted to be married in the church, but as a divorcee that was not possible. However an Anglican priest, and close personal friend, performed the ceremony at Joy’s hospital bedside on March 21, 1957. Her cancer went into remission and they enjoyed three happy years together until she died in July of 1960. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed, originally published under a pseudonym, describes his struggles with his faith and his intense grief after her death. C. S. Lewis developed a heart condition and passed away three years later.
His scholarly work has perhaps been overshadowed by his many Christian non-fiction and fiction books that have continued to be reprinted and enjoyed by people throughout the world. Here are just a few:
The Pilgrim’s Regress
The Screwtape Letters
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Space Trilogy
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (autobiography)
The Problem of Pain
The Abolition of Man
A Grief Observed (1961; first published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk)
On Thursday I shared with you about when I, and many others, met and thanked returning Viet Nam POW Gary Thornton. Well, that wasn’t the last I’d hear about this American hero.
After the evening of the Seabee Ball in early March of 1973, my momentary life in the limelight ended. Gary Thornton had a lot of living to catch up on and I hoped only the best for him. Having been married to a Viet Nam vet, I was well acquainted with the many adjustments involved for people returning from the war, but for POW’s, reentry to family life and to living in the United States had to be incredible.
While I can’t recall the exact date, I do recall praying that Gary was finding joy and peace with his new found freedom. Still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment one Saturday listening to the radio, and involved in some craft, when a news broadcaster announced that Gary Thornton, one of the Viet Nam POWs, had just married a former Playboy bunny.
My heart was pounding, and my jaw probably dropped. I had just heard on the radio an answer to my vague request that I’d had never even verbalized. Since I worked five days a week, what were the chances that I’d be home and listening to the radio at just the exact time that this somewhat obscure announcement was made? Yet I had an answer I didn’t really deserve. At that time in my life I thought it an amazing coincidence.
I married another military man and relocated to northern Virginia. Years passed, and in 1983 I entered a Redbook Magazine’ Great Embarrassing Moments Contest. The event I wrote about for the contest took place on an evening when I was being given the instructions on the protocol of the Seabee Ball that I referred to in my earlier post. As I wrote the piece for the contest, it brought back so many memories of the Seabee Ball events I had participated in ten years earlier. Again, I wondered about how Gary Thornton was faring, and prayed that his life and marriage had been blessed.
Shortly after submitting my contest entry, I made my monthly trip to the Ft.Belvoir commissary to stock up on food and goods. While there I spotted a free magazine called Ladycom, and for some reason, this time I picked one up. After arriving home, stowing the food, and taking care of my young sons I sat sown to enjoy a cup of coffee and glanced through Ladycom. As I tuned the pages I came to an article about how some Viet Nam POW families were faring ten years after returning home. Gary Thornton was one of five or six POWs, interviewed for the story. He was still married to the former Playboy bunny; they had a daughter and were living very happily.
I was struck by all the combined factors necessary for me to have an answer to my simple prayer.
~ It had only been a short time since I wrote the piece for the contest and prayed.
~ Ten and a half years had passed.
~ Of the 556 returned POWs, Gary Thornton was one of only six or so interviewed.
~ I lived three thousand miles away from where I did on the evening of the Seabee Ball
~ I rarely went to the commissary and even less often picked up Ladycom.
Some people call it serendipity; others call it luck or coincidence. By that time in my life, I gave no credence to coincidence. I’d had the eyes of my heart opened enough times to see how God reveals Himself, and how He works in our lives and in the lives of others. It was such a simple request, yet I was delighted for His generous gift. Once again, I could only thank Him and praise Him for His faithfulness.
Last week I had the opportunity to tour Shirley Plantation with Carrie Fancett Pagels, author of “Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance” and several other writers. Historian and tour guide Julian Charity and Carrie gave us a fascinating tour of the property and the Great House. This beautiful home is occupied by the 11th generation of the Hill Carter family that dates back to the 1650s. Shirley Plantation, and many of the others, is located along the James River in Charles City County, Virginia.
King James I of England granted 4,000 acres of land on the banks of the James River (named for him) to Sir Thomas West, Virginia’s first royal governor in 1613. The property was initially named West and Sherley Hundred, incorporating his name and his wife’s, Lady Cessalye Sherley. “Hundred” was a term in the 17th century used for many of the outpost settlements.
The plantations in Virginia in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century were used for agriculture, first worked by indentured servants and later by slaves. Tobacco cultivation was Shirley’s original crop. That changed over the years to include corn, wheat, barley and oats. Cattle, Sheep and hogs were also raised. As we drove in for our tour we observed beautiful fields of cotton in bloom.
Sir Thomas’s heir and wife sold the property in 1618 upon his death. The new owners changed the name to Shirley Plantation. Captain Edward Hill I purchased the property in 1638 and built Hill House for his family. Captain Hill served in the local militia, as Speaker of the House of Burgesses as well as other positions in local and regional government.
Shirley Plantation continued to pass down through the generations of the Hill family sons. Since Edward III lost his only son during childhood, and the oldest daughter moved to England upon her marriage, the plantation would ultimately pass to his youngest daughter, Elizabeth. While this young lady might have been a target for fortune hunters, she married John Carter, the attractive and educated son of the wealthiest man in North America, Robert “King” Carter. Robert Carter attained that nickname because it was said that his wealth rivaled that of the King of England. When these two great families were joined in marriage in 1723, they began construction of the Great House on the plantation. It has remained in the family ever since. Many other familiar names are part of this family such as Light Horse Harry Lee, Robert E. Lee, Mary Nelson, daughter of Thomas Nelson, who was governor of Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Shirley was used as a supply depot late in the Revolutionary War, when Lafayette’s troops traveled to Yorktown. During the war of 1812 the lead roof from the Great House was sold and melted for bullets. During the Civil War, the James River was a strategic route to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. When General McClellan took over the land of Shirley Plantation and used it as a field hospital, Louise Humphry’s Carter, wife of Robert Carter, provided care for the Union solders encamped in her yard. In appreciation for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of his men, General McClellan issued a Federal Order of Safeguard protecting the residents and the plantation.
Other than the metalwork, stone and marble, all the materials for the Georgian and Queen Anne style Great house and outbuildings were produced onsite. One remarkable feature of the house is the remarkable four story square-rigged “flying staircase” in the front hall. The only other “flying staircase” I’ve seen is a circular one at Carter Hall (part of the same family) located in northern Virginia near Millwood. These staircases have no visible means of support, yet they have stood the test of time.
I was also intrigued by a magnificent Willow Oak, now estimated to be 390 years old.
Shirley Plantation is one of 33 plantations listed in the National Register of Historic Places located along the James River and its tributaries in southeastern Virginia. Many are open to the public and provide a rich view into America’s past. To learn more about Shirley Plantation or to plan a visit, see: http://www.shirleyplantation.com