National and Virginia Native Plant Month 2023: A 12-Step Program You Can Use to Protect Goochland’s Environment

21 Apr

April is National Native Plant Month, as well as Virginia Native Plant Month. The Virginia Garden Club (VGC), founded in 1920, has as its mission to promote the conservation of natural resources and encourage the beautification of the environment. The VGC has identified 12 simple ways you can protect the environment, while improving your garden or landscape. Read on to find out about its 12-step program. 

1.      Conserve water by watering during the cooler parts of the day to minimize evaporation from heat. Also, consider installing a rain barrel to collect rainwater for plants.

2.     Mulch helps garden beds retain moisture, reduces water waste, and suppresses weeds, plus it reduces erosion when placed on open areas of your landscape.

3.     Save seeds from dried flower heads, placing them in a cool, dry place to improve germination the next year, and then share them with others.

4.     Choose the right plant for the right location, as climate appropriate or native plants will grow better with less work and resources.

5.     Consider succession planting to encourage continuous blooming by different plants throughout the growing season. Not only will this approach make your landscape more beautiful, but it also ensures your garden will be a steady source of food for pollinators and other wildlife.

6.     Grow your own food. Organic produce is a healthy part of a sustainable lifestyle.

7.     Reduce the amount of lawn in your landscape. This may be a hard one to consider, as the weed-free, green grass lawn is traditional in Virginia. However, that type of lawn sucks up resources and does next to nothing to sustain the environment and support wildlife, like essential pollinators. Replace at least some of your lawn with wildflowers, increase the size of your garden, or if you have no idea what to do, talk to a landscape or native plant expert for guidance. 

8.     Plant trees, as they provide shade; and help purify the air and provide food and habitat for local wildlife.

9.     Consider native plants first and foremost. Native plants are suited to local conditions; attract local wildlife, like pollinators; require less maintenance; and are more likely to thrive.  

10.  Consider companion planting to leverage natural symbiotic relationships to help plants thrive, as many plants are pest repellents. For example, when planted near one another, daylilies may protect lettuce from nibbling bunnies; and basil may protect tomatoes, and nasturtiums protect kale from a variety of insects.

11.  Avoid pesticides to create a safer environment for your children and pets; and to protect the ecosystem. Pesticides seep into the ground or leech into streams and rivers, polluting the water. In place of synthetic or artificial fertilizers, use organic options, like bone meal, manure, or worm castings.

12.  Make your own compost if you have the time and space to do so. Organic kitchen scraps, dried leaves, garden trimmings, and mowed grass can be turned into nutrient-rich food for your plantings.

While the above recommendations are fairly inexpensive and easy to implement, they may require changes in the way we think about our environment. We hope you will consider at least some of these recommendations. For further information on the VGC, visit its website at For further information about native plants, visit the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) at The Pocahontas Chapter of the VNPS serves Goochland County.

The Goochland County Historical Society supports the preservation of the county’s history which includes the preservation of its natural environment. After all, the natural environment is part and parcel of our history. From early settlement to the mid-twentieth century, many Goochlanders made their living from the land. The natural environment drove development, as well as individual success and failure. If you would like to know more about how Goochland’s history and environment interact, request a GCHS volunteer to visit your organization for a free program “Goochland History in 30 Minutes or Less.”  You might be surprised at what you learn.

Contact the GCHS at email: or phone: 804-556-3966.


National and Virginia Native Plant Month 2023: Native Plants for Goochland County

13 Apr
Bee Balm (NellsWiki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

April is National Native Plant Month, as well as Virginia Native Plant Month, so you might want to consider including a few native herbs, flowers, or trees in your garden or landscape. Several years ago, the Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardener Association (GPMGA) introduced a native plant garden in front of the Goochland County Historical Society (GCHS) building at 2924 River Road West, Goochland Courthouse. 

As you might guess, the GCHS garden has a historical theme “Plants of Our Ancestors,“ as the plantings would have been known by 18th century gardeners, cooks, and herbalists; they were selected because they have an interesting use or an associated historic tale. They may have been used for flavor, fragrance, or folk remedies. For example, winter savory was brought to North America by early colonists and was the strongest flavoring herb available before pepper became a common commodity. Other plants are native to Virginia and were used by local Native Americans, while others were grown by Thomas Jefferson in his gardens at Monticello. 

For the month of April, the GCHS will be posting information about a few of these plants; the entries were prepared by GPMGA and GCHS member and volunteer Linda Toler.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma ‘Raspberry Wine’)

This member of the mint family is native to eastern North America and is known by several common names such as crimson bee balmbergamot, and Oswego tea. The common name bee balm refers the plant’s value in attracting bees into the garden and from the common belief that its crushed leaves can sooth bee stings. Crushed leaves have a fragrance similar to the bergamot orange which is used to flavor Earl Grey tea, thus the common name bergamot. Native Americans around Oswego, New York taught colonists to brew a tea from the bee balm leaves, giving the plant another of its common names Oswego tea. The tea was used as a replacement for black tea when it became scarce and in protest of the British tax on tea during Revolutionary times. Native Americans used bee balm to treat wounds and soothe throat infections. A tea made from the leaves was used as a stimulant and as a treatment for headaches.

The modern cultivar grown in our garden (‘Raspberry Wine’) is more resistant to powdery mildew than the native form and while the flower color is darker than the native form, early settlers would readily recognize the plant.

Growing information
Cold Hardiness Zones4 to 9 (perennial in our area)
Soil preferencesRich, moisture-retentive, well-drained
Water needsMedium to wet
SunFull sun to part shade
NotesSpreads by underground rhizomes; needs good air circulation

Where to get native plants and learn more about growing them? Check out the free Spring Garden Fest sponsored by the GPMGA and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College on April 29th from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm at the Reynolds Community College campus, 1851 Dickinson Road, Goochland Courthouse. Visit for further information.

Women’s History Month 2023: Helene Barret Agee

24 Mar

Today Helene Barret Agee (1904 -1984) is best known for her history book Facets of Goochland; however, her contributions extend far beyond that title. She was born Helene Natalie Barret and grew up at her father’s family home Mount Bernard on Route 6, between Goochland Courthouse and State Farm. The daughter of Dr. Morris Barret and Helene Natalie Nestorowitsch, she developed an interest in history at an early age. Throughout the rest of her life, she used her talents to bring Goochland’s history to light.

Along with Mr. Elie Weeks, Mrs. Margaret Henley, and others, she worked tirelessly to create the Goochland County Historical Society. As a member of the organization’s first Board of Directors, she represented Dover District. She contributed a number of articles to the society’s Magazine, such as “Anyone for Ghosts” and “Monterey.” Her “Historical Sketch” of the county appeared in the very first issue (Spring, 1969). Further, she worked to secure the family coat of arms of Sir William Gooch, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (1722 – 1744), for whom Goochland is named. Representing the society, she asked the Board of Supervisors to adopt it as the county seal. It served that purpose until recently when a new seal was designed.

In addition to her work for the Goochland County Historical Society, Ms. Agee contributed to Goochland’s history in other ways. She served as an alternate member of the Historic Sites and Structures Subcommittee of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission. She and Mr. Elie Weeks, the primary representative to that group, prepared all references focusing on Goochland County for the Commission’s booklet Historic Sites and Structures in the Richmond Region (1970). As a member of Grace Episcopal Church, she wrote a brief history of the church to celebrate its centennial in 1976. She also wrote The History of Dover Baptist Church which covered the annals of the Dover Baptist congregationfrom 1773 – 1959; however, it was never published in its entirety. She wrote an unpublished novel about her mother’s family who came to Goochland County from Europe in the late 19th century. They lived at Sabot Hill and it was during their time there that her parents met and married.

Helene Barret Agee’s best known work is Facets of Goochland (Virginia) County’s History, published by Richmond’s Dietz Press in 1962. To this day—60 years later—it is still the go-to source for the county’s history. It was quite an undertaking to bring the book to fruition, as it was accomplished with only one research associate Leita Ellis Briesmaster and no other support or funding. It can be said that, from beginning to end, the creation of Facets of Goochland was a labor of love. Ms. Agee not only wrote the book, she typed and proofread each and every page. With a tiny exception, the money realized by the sale of the book, went to the publisher; only a small royalty went to the two women who brought the book to life. In its Introduction, Ms. Agee says that it “is not intended to represent a complete history of the county….However, an effort has been made to present as many important events and circumstances as space permits.” While it may not have been her intention, Facets of Goochland is the most complete history of the county available. 

Women’s History Month 2023: Miss Margaret, Margaret Kean Miller

9 Mar
Margaret Kean Miller in the old Clerk’s Office on the Courthouse Green

Margaret Kean Miller (1879–1959) was the fifth and last member of her family to serve as clerk of the Goochland County Circuit Court. The first Miller to serve in that position was her great-grandfather William Miller who began as court clerk in 1790; he was followed by her grandfather Narcissus Walton Miller who served from 1846 to 1868; and then by her father William Miller, from 1868 to 1900. She was appointed clerk in 1942, following the death of her brother Peter Guerrant Miller. She had served as his deputy during the 31 years he was court clerk. In 1943 and again in 1951 she was elected to eight-year terms as court clerk. While she was the first woman in her family to serve as court clerk, it should be noted that at the time she was elected, it was unusual for a woman to hold such a position.  In 1956, part way through her second term; she resigned, most likely due to poor health, as she lived only a few more years. Known widely as Miss Margaret, she lived her entire life at the family homeplace known as Reed Marsh. Upon her death in 1959, she was buried there in the family cemetery. 

In an interview shortly before she stepped down as court clerk, she said that she was proud of the part her family had played in preserving the records of Goochland County. According to her, not one volume of the county’s court records was missing. At the time, Goochland County, established in 1728, was a little over 230 years old. However, after her death, it was noted that “it is in considerable measure due to the efforts of [Margaret Miller] that the ancient deeds and records of the county are in their present good state of preservation.” Today people researching their family history or the history of newly purchased or family lands, can thank Miss Margaret for her devotion to Goochland’s valuable court records.

John Berry Meachum (1789 – 1854) and Mary Meachum (1805 – 1869)

11 Feb

John Berry Meachum was born enslaved in Goochland County. He was the son of an enslaved Baptist minister named Thomas Granger and an enslaved woman named Patsy; his enslaver was Paul Mitchem/Meachum who left Goochland, first moving to North Carolina where Meachum spent his childhood and then to Hardin County, Kentucky. Earning money working as a carpenter and in a saltpeter mine, he purchased his freedom when he was 21. He then walked to Hanover County, Virginia where he purchased his father’s freedom. They worked and accumulated money, then walked back to Kentucky where they purchased the freedom of his mother and his siblings. While in Kentucky, he married an enslaved woman named Mary. It is said that his former enslaver Paul Mitchem who was quite old by this time, asked Meachum to lead his remaining 75 slaves out of Kentucky to a place where they could live in freedom. He settled the group in Indiana, a free state, nearby his own family. In the meantime, his wife Mary had been moved by her enslaver to St. Louis, Missouri. By 1815, Meachum was living in Missouri, working as a carpenter and cooper, saving money to purchase his wife’s and his children’s freedom.

In St. Louis, Meachum became a businessman, educator, pastor and founder of the oldest black church west of the Mississippi River. He began preaching in 1821, was ordained in 1825, and established the First African Baptist Church in St. Louis in 1827. He educated black children in the community, holding classes at the church. Later, to circumvent a Missouri state law outlawing education for blacks, he created the Floating Freedom School on a steamboat on the Mississippi River. Further, he and his wife Mary served as conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping runaways to freedom in Illinois, often transporting them by boat across the Mississippi River to a free state. They also purchased enslaved people, provided them with vocational training and practical life skills, and then emancipated them. Between 1826 and 1836, they assisted around 20 people in this way. After Meachum’s death, Mary continued her work with the Underground Railroad. In 1855, she was caught and jailed for violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but was acquitted. It can only be said that the couple spent their lives promoting freedom, education, and self-respect to the black community. They are well remembered in Missouri for their contributions: the Meachum School of Haymont is a theological school named for them; the John Berry Meachum Scholarship, established at Saint Louis University, recognizes Meachum’s work as a minister; and the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing is part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Goochland’s First Black Volunteer Firefighter

8 Feb
Aubrey Payne is circled in gray.

In 1956 Aubrey Hawthorne Payne, Sr. became a member of the Goochland County Volunteer Fire Department’s Crozier Company No. 2, making him the first African-American volunteer fire fighter in the county. He was known for his swift response when called to action and heroic efforts to save the lives of both humans and animals. James Parker and others who served with him, recalled a story of a fire alarm in Hanover County, telling how Aubrey arrived at the fire in advance of the Hanover Volunteer Fire Department and proceeded to douse the blaze single-handed. He was also remembered for saving the lives of several horses during a fully engaged barn fire, by refusing to let the horses perish without trying to save them.

Born in Goochland in1928, he worked for Briesmaster Motor Company for more than 25 years and then as a service mechanic for the Goochland County School Board for 14 years. Aubrey and his wife Mattie Younger Payne were well known throughout the county as a kind and caring couple. He passed away on August 19, 2008 and is buried at First Union Baptist Church cemetery.

It is important to remember Aubrey Hawthorne Payne, Sr. and those like him who have faithfully served our community, often putting their life on the line to do so.

Thanks to Patricia Payne Yarbrough for providing the above Information.

A Price Paid with Punch

22 Dec

In 1736, Peter Jefferson acquired 200 acres of land from William Randolph in what was then the western part of Goochland County. The land was named Shadwell, in honor of the parish in which Peter Jefferson’s wife Jane had been christened. Future President Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell in 1743; one year before Goochland was divided placing Shadwell in current day Albemarle County. Perhaps the most interesting part of the land transaction was the price to be paid, “Henry Weatherburns biggest bowl of Arrack Punch.”

Henry Wetherburn operated a tavern in Williamsburg (still standing) and his punch must have been wonderful. In Colonial era taverns, punches were the go to drink of their day due to “exotic” imported ingredients such as Batavia Arrack and the citrus fruits used for flavoring. Batavia Arrack was the most commonly used spirit for punches in Colonial times. It is a molasses and rice based distillate that originated on the island of Java. It is also one of the oldest known distilled spirits, older than rum which would replace it in popularity. Arrack was the ingredient of choice for punches in 18th and 19th centuries.

We do not have Henry Wetherburn’s recipe for punch but the following may give the reader an idea of what went into Arrack Punch. This recipe was published in “The Williamsburg Art of Cookery: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion”, a collection of recipes from the Colonial era compiled by Helen Bullock.

Recipe for Arrack Punch

Melt one half Pound Sugar in enough hot Water to dissolve it well, pour it over the grated Rind, of two Lemons. Add the Juice of four Lemons; one Pineapple peeled, sliced and pounded, six Cloves, twenty Coriander-seeds, one small Stick of Cinnamon, one Pint of Brandy, one Pint Jamaica Rum, one Cup Arrack, one Cup strong green Tea, one Quart boiling Water. Strain well into a clean Bottle, cork well and steep it over-night. Add one Quart of hot milk and Juice of two more Lemons. When cool, ice and serve.

Goochland: Home to the Monacan Indian Nation

1 Dec
Arrowheads from the GCHS collection (AX-185)

At the time of the settlement at Jamestown in 1607, many Native American tribes lived in what is now Virginia. They belonged to three linguistic groups: Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan. The Monacan Indian Nation lived in what is now Goochland County, but actually inhabited a larger area along the James River from the fall line, west to the Blue Ridge. It is believed that they had occupied this area for more than 10,000 years. The Monacans were Siouan-speaking—their language was related to other Eastern Siouan tribes like the Tutelo in today’s Nelson County, the Occaneechi who lived around what is now Clarksville in Mecklenburg County, and the Saponi people in today’s Albemarle County. They also were affiliated with the Mannahoac who occupied the northern Piedmont in Virginia, with its main area of concentration being the upper waters of the Rappahannock River.  

There were five villages connected with the Monacans, the largest and chief village is believed to have been Rassawek, based on reports written by Captain John Smith. It was located near the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, near Columbia in today’s Fluvanna County. The population is estimated to have been around 1,500.  Compared with the Powhatan confederacy in Tidewater which is estimated to have numbered about 9,000, the Siouan tribes were quite small, with none having a population above 1,500. In fact, the total Native American population of Virginia at the time of the Jamestown settlement was believed to have been about 18,000.

A Wedding Coat Preserved

20 Oct

     It is not uncommon for bridal gowns, veils, and even gloves and shoes to be saved by a family. It is more unusual for the groom’s clothing to be kept. However, the morning coat of James Boswell Ferguson, V, has not only survived, it is in relatively good condition, considering its age. According to the label inside the coat pocket, it was made for Mr. Ferguson by Clarence Mayer & Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio. He wore the coat when he married Ida Louise Dunn in 1910. The wedding was held at the bride’s family home Rose Hill in western Goochland. The couple lived at La Vallee, the ancestral home of the Ferguson family, also in western Goochland. Later they moved to the Blue Goose near Crozier where they ran a supper club. The still stylish morning coat is now displayed, until the end of the year, as part of the Society’s “Saved from the Ashes: Thorncliff in the Gilded Age” exhibit.

From the Collection: the cabinet card of Rev. Sam P. Jones

13 Jul

Occasionally we find something in the collection that doesn’t seem to belong. A case in point is the cabinet card of the Rev. Sam P. Jones which was found in a collection of unidentified photographs. A cabinet card is the main form of photograph reproduction used from the 1870s through 1900. Luckily for the Society, the card has a printed name on the front. This led to a search and the mystery deepened.

The Rev. Sam P. Jones was born October 16, 1847, in Oak Bowery, Alabama. He later moved to Georgia where he studied law and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1868. It was during this time he developed a drinking problem which ruined his practice and threatened to ruin his family life as well. When his father died in 1872, Jones made a deathbed promise he would stop drinking. This led to a religious experience that ended up leading him to the ministry.

Jones was accepted into the Methodist Episcopal Church and by the late 1870s he was traveling amongst the churches of his district, spreading the gospel. In 1885, he entered the national spotlight for his oratorical skills during a three-week series of meetings that attracted thousands. One of these converts to the Church was Tom Ryman who helped construct a Church in Nashville for Jones, the Ryman’s Union Gospel Tabernacle. This building would later become the home of the Grand Ole Opry. In the late 1880s, Jones was estimated to have preached across the region to more than three million people. By then, he had moved on to touring the country to carry his sermons to as many as he could reach, from Virginia to California.

From the December 9, 1894 The Daily Times (Richmond, Virginia)

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, he was described as “humorous and crude, high-strung and theatrical – not at all what many people expected from a preacher. ‘Just plain Sam Jones’, as he liked to be known, was unpretentious, aiming at (or often below) his audiences’ educational and social level.” He once stated “We have been clamoring for fifty years for an educated ministry and we have got it today, and the church is deader than it ever has been in its history. Half of the literary preachers in this town are A.B’s, Ph.D.’s, D.D.’s, LL.D.’s, and A.S.S.’s.” As could be expected, a lot of the ministry did not like his message, but the people did and showed up in the thousands.

This country-wide schedule of appearances might explain the reason his cabinet card came into the Society’s collection. Jones was known to send out advance agents to drum up interest in his sermons. Part of this was the sale of souvenirs such as cabinet cards. He appeared all over Virginia and came to Richmond quite often. In 1890, he stayed at Ford’s Hotel in Richmond and made a surprise appearance at the Broad Street Methodist Church. Thousands showed for his meetings that followed. In December of 1894, Jones appeared at the Mozart Academy of Music in Richmond for two nights of sermons. At either of these events, the cabinet card could have been purchased to take home as a souvenir of someone touched by his message. Perhaps a long ago Goochlander was taken up with religious fervor and decided to not only see the lecture but take home a treasured memento of the night, a photograph of “Just plain Sam Jones.”