10 Sep
Contention c. 1900 (Goochland County Historical Society)

The Pleasants family have deep roots in Goochland. The first members of the Pleasants family to settle in Goochland were Quakers seeking refuge from the religious intolerance that pervaded a colony where the Church of England was the only recognized church.

The most famous member of this family was James Pleasants who lived at Contention (near Crozier) and became the third man born in Goochland to become governor of Virginia. (Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Mann Randolph II were the others.)1

The story of Contention’s name change has become the stuff of legend in the County. Originally known as Pleasant Green, in an 1890 Richmond Dispatch article about old mansions, the unnamed writer spun a story that had passed down in the Pleasants family about the name Contention.

The cause of the name of this old mansion was a singular one. It was once the property and in the possession of Charles Woodson, Sr., whose son Tarlton was a general and whose son Frederick was a major in the Revolutionary War. He was a very strong-minded but singular man. His wife being a Pleasants, he acquired the home by her and his right was disputed by his connection, Mr. Pleasants, an ancestor of the Governor.  A tedious action of ejectment had been slowly proceeding when Mr. Pleasants’s counsel told him he never could recover as long as Mr. Woodson held possession, but that if he came in possession Woodson count not recover the land, “Possession being nine points of the law,” Mr. Woodson living in Powhatan and having houses elsewhere kept the house at Contention locked and carried the key in his pocket. On one of his regular and periodical visits, in attempting to open the front door, he found that Pleasants in his absence had put a pad-lock on it and had thus locked Woodson out. Finding that he could no enter without breaking a lock, which he had defied Pleasants to do, he said: “I didn’t know that Bob had so much sense, and I will give him the place.” He stuck his key in the lock  and left the place, which has been called Contention ever since.2

Contention c. 1970 (Jane Saunders Collection, Goochland County Historical Society)

According to Adelaide Nuckols, who once lived at Contention, the original Colonial era Pleasants home (pictured at the beginning of this post) was demolished in 1917 and a new home (pictured above) was built on the spot. It is some contention among locals that instead of being demolished, the old home was simply swallowed up by the new one as a core of the much larger mansion. Contention will continue to live up to its name.

  1. Cece Bullard, Goochland Yesterday and Today: A Pictorial History (Virginia: Donning Company, 1994), 84. 
  2. Richmond Dispatch, 1890

National Corn on the Cob Day

11 Jun
Background photo created by topntp26 –

There is an old saying that “every dog has his day.” However, nowadays it seems that just about anything you can name has its day and June 11 is National Corn on the Cob Day.   

Over the years, Goochland County farmers have produced many an ear of corn. No doubt, the Monacan Indians who once lived in the area, were the first to raise corn. The low grounds next to the James River proved especially good for raising corn. It is believed that the Monacans grew corn there along with squash and beans, a combination of crops known as the “three sisters.” From 1728 when the county was officially established until at least the early 20th century, people took their corn to local grist mills to be ground into meal for human consumption. Corn was also fed to a variety of livestock, ranging from pigs to chickens. Today, if you don’t grow corn yourself, you can pick up the freshest ears at the Goochland Farmers Market. (To learn more about the Goochland Farmers Market, check out its Facebook page.)

Should you not like corn on the cob or perhaps you just want to try something different, there is always corn pudding. Favorite Recipes of Goochland County, 1776 – 1976, published by the Goochland County Historical Society as part of America’s Bicentennial celebration, contains no less than 8 recipes! While most called for canned creamed corn, two requiring fresh corn off the cob, stand out.  Give Mrs. Willie Condrey’s or Mrs. Watkins Gathright’s recipe a try. In the cookbook, they appear as “Corn Pudding III” and “Corn Pudding V” respectively.

Corn Pudding III – Mrs. Willie Condrey

  • 1 quart tender corn
  • 2 cups sweet milk
  • 3 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or lemon flavoring
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 small or 1 large egg

Beat eggs, sugar, and butter until fluffy; add flavoring, salt, and flour and mix together well. Combine milk and corn in deep baking dish; then combine with other ingredients. Cook in a slow oven until thick and slightly brown on top.

Corn Pudding V – Mrs. Watkins Gathright

  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dash of pepper

Combine all ingredients; pour into greased baking dish and set in a pan of hot water. Bake at 350 degrees until set (about 50 minutes). Yields 6 servings.

From the Collection: Gathright Family Cameo Jewelry

2 Jun

In 2006, Justina Bowles Hundley donated several items to the Goochland County Historical Society including a jewelry box and several cameos (above). In her donation letter, Ms. Hundley stated the jewelry box had belonged to her cousin, Heath Gathright. One can only assume the cameos came with the box since an online picture of Mrs. Gathright (below) shows her wearing similar cameo jewelry.

Cameo jewelry has been popular for centuries. Cameo artworks are crafted to create two layers on one piece of material, the top of which protrudes from its background, creating a multi-dimensional artwork. The ones in our collection are set in gold surrounds. Two could be used as pins or on a necklace and one is a ring.


The jewelry box (above) is from the early part of the twentieth century. It was a popular form for ladies to collect and can be found on online auction sites. It is painted wood with a lithograph under glass for its cover. A mirror is just under the top.  

Minnie Alvis Makes a Most Sought After Pie!

31 Mar

Throughout the years, women have left their mark by sharing their recipes with others. Within a family, an aunt may be remembered for a special cake or a grandmother for her flaky biscuits. Mary Randolph, reputed to be the best cook in Richmond, made her name in 1824 with her cookbook The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook. In 1986, the Goochland County Historical Society re-published Favorite Recipes of Goochland County, 1776 – 1976, a cookbook created to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, sharing the recipes of many Goochland women. It sold out. Looking through it, one finds many familiar names, as well as memorable casseroles, breads, cakes, and pies, not to mention all of those delightful cookies, brownies, and little appetizers.

For the Goochland County Historical Society’s 50th anniversary in 2018, longtime member Minnie Alvis baked her favorite coconut pie. After our anniversary celebration, the Society received many requests for the recipe; to say the least, this pie has a large following. Ms. Alvis has kindly given us permission to share her recipe, so here it is, in her own handwriting. We have named it:

Minnie Alvis’s Most Sought After Coconut Pie

Milly Pierce

17 Mar

Born a slave, Milly Pierce was manumitted by Tucker Woodson’s will of 1792, making her a free woman. A codicil to his will also manumitted her children. However, her husband John Pierce remained enslaved until 1816 when he was emancipated following the death of his owner, Dr. James Brydin. At the time, he served as the jailer for Goochland County, working under the sheriff; as such, he was responsible for maintaining the jail and taking care of those confined there. Milly cooked for the prisoners, as well as for the Gentleman Justices of the court, and looked after the courthouse.  

In her own right, Milly acquired a home and bought, sold, and rented property in the Courthouse area, with her real and personal holdings regularly recorded in the county deed books and tax ledgers. It is one of these records that indicates Milly and John were married at least by 1803 when Milly purchased 23 acres on Beaverdam Creek. By 1817, she paid tax on 56.25 acres. An 1822 land plat (detail shown below) clearly identifies her home (circled) and garden as one-quarter mile from the courthouse.

As a free woman of property in Goochland, she led a courageous, independent and busy life. Also, it must be said that she was a shrewd business woman who cultivated good connections and sought legal advice, thus allowing her to enjoy much economic success. Despite the fact that there are few surviving records about Milly Pierce, we know that she successfully navigated the restrictive and sometimes punitive laws of the time, while marrying, raising a large family, working for the justices of the county, attending to the courthouse, and assisting her husband John at the county’s jail.  

John died in 1833 or 1834, leaving Millie to carry on alone. She lived to be 80, dying in 1851. In her will, she left all of her land and possessions, save one, to family. She freed her slave Franklin French, having arranged for him to take over her old job as caretaker of the courthouse and having asked the County of Goochland to allow him to remain in the state. At age 59, the court allowed him to register as a free man of color. Milly’s character, hard work, self-sufficiency, diligence, and devotion to family were factors in her success. By anyone’s account, it must be said that Milly Pierce was a successful woman in 19th century Goochland—a woman worth remembering.

Henry Turpin, Representing Goochland in Virginia’s General Assembly, 1871 – 1873

26 Feb

Henry Turpin (1836 – 1908), one of nine children of Mary James, was born into slavery. In 1857, his father Edwin Turpin freed him, along with all but one of his siblings. An older sister Martha Catherine had been freed the previous year when she married Goochlander William P. Moseley. Henry became a house painter and during the Civil War, he was able to purchase land next to his father’s property in Goochland. 

In 1871, he won the nomination of the local Republican Party, replacing a white Republican. In the election, he beat a white Conservative Party candidate, winning a term in the Virginia House of Delegates. The election was contested and although the Conservative Party held the majority in the House, Turpin was declared the rightful winner.

While serving his term, he introduced an amendment to a bill that provided men who had lost limbs during the Civil War with artificial legs. His amendment required “Colored men who lost legs as soldiers or employees in the late war shall be entitled to the benefits of this act.” The bill passed the General Assembly with his amendment, thus allowing veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops, as well as those enslaved and free blacks who had been impressed into assisting the Confederates, to collect such special medical benefits.

During the second session of his term, Turpin joined with other black and some Republican delegates, opposing what they viewed as a partisan and unconstitutional plan by white legislators to elect county judges. However, the Conservative delegates who held the majority, along with other Republicans, refused to receive or even record their complaint.

Turpin participated in the Republican State Convention of 1873 where he was elected to the party’s central committee. While he was nominated back in Goochland for a second term, he lost to a white Conservative in the general election. Eventually, Henry Turpin left Goochland and moved to the Bronx, New York to be close to his brother Duroch and his family. There he worked as a porter for the railroad, finally marrying in 1886. He and his wife who was also from Virginia, had one child. He died in New York and is buried there in Woodlawn Cemetery. He is a Goochlander worth remembering.

Josephine Turpin Washington

20 Feb

Josephine Turpin was born in Goochland County on July 31, 1861, the daughter of Augustus Turpin and Maria Crump. Her father was a son of a former slave named Mary and Edwin Turpin, a grandson of Mary Jefferson Turpin.

Turpin was first educated at home and later at public schools in Goochland. After her family relocated to Richmond, she attended the Richmond Institute, later known as the Richmond Theological Seminary. She was among the 1886 graduating class at Howard University where during summer breaks she clerked for Frederick Douglass. After her graduation she taught mathematics at Howard University until her marriage in 1888 to Dr. Samuel Somerville Hawkins Washington brought her to Birmingham, Alabama.

Over her career Washington would serve on the faculties of Selma University, Tuskegee Institute (where her husband held the position of school physician), Alabama State University and Wilberforce University.

Washington’s first article accepted for print, “A Talk about Church Fairs”, appeared in the Virginia Star while she was still in her teens. She covered the gauntlet of issues concerning African Americans, including employment and educational opportunities, the raising of children, and the challenges that threaten the bond between women and men.

Washington died at the age of eighty-seven on March 17, 1949, at her daughter’s home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Volume 51 of the Goochland County Historical Society Magazine will feature an article about Josephine Turpin Washington entitled “Josephine Turpin Washington: Racial Uplift Advocate” by Rita B. Dandridge, a Professor in the Department of Languages and Literature at Virginia State University. Volume 51 will be available in the spring of 2021.

World War II Soldiers Remembered: Thomas Holman Owens

17 Feb

Thomas Holman Owens was born June 7, 1918 in Goochland, Virginia. He was 23-years-old when he registered in October of 1940.

According to his Registration Card, we know he was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and had brown eyes and black hair. He listed his uncle, Ned Lacy, as his employer. Shown below are Ned Lacy, Thomas Owens, and Minnie Lacy in 1942.

Thomas Owen passed away on June 2, 2012.

“Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”

18 Dec

In a recent donation to the Historical Society were several issues from the Goochland High School’s The Spotlight from 1967-1968. One featured an editorial written by 1968 Class President and Valedictorian Alice Martin (pictured below) entitled “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” which seems a fitting post for the month of December. It was a time when turmoil and unrest was first and foremost on the minds of everyone. The late 60s were a turbulent time. A war was being fought half way around the world and events were taking place at home causing unrest for all. In this time of COVID, it is important to remember that other times have had their good and bad times as well. This too shall pass.  

“Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”

The Christmas season is noted for being a time of goodwill and peace. How ironic for us to talk of peace when there is a war in Vietnam, war is constantly threatened in the Near East and in Africa, and riots and revolts are staged weekly throughout the United States. Could the reason possibly be that each individual refuses to have a peaceful spirit of goodwill as he lets self-centered desires, jealousies, and dislikes overcome him?

“Peace on Earth” can only be obtained if each individual does his part. Don’t be the one who causes unrest during this special season or any other season. Develop a genuine love for life and for people and radiate a spirit of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” wherever you are.

Relic Recall: Aircraft Warning Service

4 Nov
What is it: Aircraft Warning Service armband, lapel pin, and identification, from World War II. Donated to the Goochland County Historical Society in 1991.

In today’s world, we take for granted an Air Traffic Control System that monitors all aspects of the thousands of flights that are in the air above us at any given time. What most of us do not realize is that, prior to World War II, there was little in place to handle this. Radar was a new technology and its use was almost non-existent. Pilots were on their own to get from one place to another and no one was there to monitor where the planes were or where they were going. An air attack along the coasts from the sea, similar to Pearl Harbor, would have never been detected.

The Army Air Corps, recognizing the need for an air defense system, established the Ground Observer Corps in the months leading up to the start of the war. They used airmen to man a limited number of observation posts in critical areas. Pearl Harbor changed all of that. It became necessary to greatly expand the air defense system but, at the same time, all able bodied airmen were needed in job more important than sitting in an observation post.

The Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) was created using an all civilian volunteer force to man over 14,000 observation posts were right here in Goochland County.

One such volunteer was Dorothy Rebecca Henley. The Henley family farm, located next to Luck Stone in Manakin was one of the observation posts. Dorothy Henley, a life-long Goochland resident, was born in 1903 and died in 2002 at the age of 99. She was 38 when se became a volunteer in the AWS. Volunteers had to go through extensive training to be able to identify any and all aircraft, both domestic and foreign. Along with Dorothy Henley’s AWS identification items, the donated items also include the training booklet, a set of aircraft identification flash cards, and a special dial device that could quickly identify any aircraft.

Margaret Walker was Dorothy Henley’s niece. She still lives in Manakin and, like her aunt, was also a volunteer in the AWS as a teen. She remembers going to her grandparent’s farm to man her scheduled post duties. The bluff behind the house overlooked the James River valley and provided a perfect spot to watch a large area of the sky. While it would seem that, in 1941, one would not see many planes in the skies over Goochland, Mrs. Walker says that was not the case. The Army Air Corps base was located at Byrd Field and training flights would fly up the river and use the islands located in the James in Goochland as targets for simulated bombing runs and attack missions. Upon spotting a plane, the observer would have to log information noting the time, identifying the type of plane, the direction it was seen, and the direction it was traveling. This was then called in by code to a special phone number in Richmond and then in turn was sent to a logistics center down in Hampton Roads, all manned by civilian volunteers. The information, usually coming from multiple observations, was triangulated and kept updated on a large map in the center. This process kept the observers on their toes and provided a built-in testing of each observer’s accuracy and effectiveness. Awards were given for those who received the highest ratings.

With the advent of radar installations along the coasts and the turn of the war to being more offensive instead of defensive, the volunteer system was deemed unnecessary and deactivated in May 1944.

Relic Recall is contributed by Phil Harris of the Goochland County Historical Society.