When doing research for the sequel to Enemy of the King (postponed after the idea for Somewhere My Love came to me) my mother and I toured several of the lovely James River plantations. Two of these, Berkeley and Shirley, most influenced the home in Somewhere My Love, ‘Foxleigh.’ While visiting Berkeley, originally called Berkeley Hundred and named after one of its founders, I was especially impressed by the wealth of history behind this beautiful old home and grounds. The magnificent terraced boxwood gardens and lawn extend a quarter-mile from the front door to the James River. The mansion itself wasn’t built until 1726, but the plantation’s history reaches much farther back into America‘s roots. I didn’t know that Berkeley was the actual site of the first Thanksgiving in America on Dec. 4th, 1619.
On December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River near Herring Creek in an area then known as Charles Cittie. It was about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia was established on May 14, 1607. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodleaf held the service of thanksgiving.
During the Indian Massacre of 1622 nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundred were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points. After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia.
Benjamin Harrison, son of the builder of Berkeley and the plantation’s second owner, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time Governor of Virginia. William Henry Harrison, Benjamin‘s third son, born at Berkeley, was the famous Indian fighter known as “Tippecanoe,” who later became the ninth President of the United States, in 1841. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd President.
Many famous founding fathers and mothers were guests at this gracious and elegant estate. For more on Berkeley Plantation and a fascinating glimpse into early America visit: