Under Every Tree

28 Apr

Phyllis book1

Finally there comes along a true guide to finding primary genealogy resources in Virginia! This little book will dispel the burden of where one should go first: a courthouse, library, or historical society. It provides detailed driving, and parking directions to the most helpful resources in each locality and a suggested visit-here-first for each county in the Commonwealth. The reader will also find valuable suggestions for places to visit in each county. Pack Under Every Tree with your essential research materials. Put it in the glove compartment of your car and head out.

Purchase online in the historical society gift shop or from www.undereverytree.com

Book Launch – “Kill Jeff Davis”

15 Mar

On March 6, 2016, the Goochland County Historical Society held its first event of the year at Hebron Church. The Society proudly sponsored the launch of “Kill Jeff Davis, The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864” the newest book by Bruce M. Venter.

kill Jeff Davis Jacket Cover

The book tells about the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid carried out in 1864 to free Union prisoners held captive in the Confederate capital. The raid ultimately failed but became a lasting note in history when orders were found on the body of slain raid leader Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. The orders contained a plot to Kill Confederate president Jefferson Davis and burn Richmond to the ground.

In an informative lecture followed by a lively discussion, Mr. Venter outlined the events leading up to the raid through to the outcome. He also disclosed some new facts that he discovered while doing research for his book. The raid is truly interesting and the excitement that Mr. Venter shows to the subject is contagious. If you missed this event, it is highly recommended that you attend one of his other book talks coming up around the Richmond metropolitan area in the next few weeks.


Bruce M. Venter

Dr. Bruce M. Venter is CEO of America’s History, LLC, Goochland County Historical Society Vice-President, an experienced tour leader, author of “The Battle of Hubbardton: The Rear Guard Action that Saved America” as well as articles which have appeared in numerous national periodicals. “Kill Jeff Davis, The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864” can be obtained from the Historical Society office, most bookstores and through online dealers.

Thank you to Hebron Church for providing us a place to hold the lecture. Thank you also to Louise Thompson for setting up and taking down the refreshments. This was an excellent beginning for our year!


Hebron Church

To learn more about Goochland’s part in the raid, read these posts: Dahlgren’s Raid – Part I: The Raid BeginsDahgren’s Raid – Part II: The Raid on Dover Mills, Dahlgren’s Raid – Part III: Death and Destruction at Dover Mills,  and Dahlgren’s Raid – Part IV: End of the Raid and Aftermath.

Thomas Jefferson’s Elk-hill

31 Jan

Jefferson's Elk HillIf one is fortunate one sometimes finds a very important place of information while searching for a prosaic bit of evidence in the old deed books in the Goochland Clerk’s Office.

It was finding a deed to a William H. Miller of “Elk-hill” that led to discovering a description of the house owned by Thomas Jefferson in Goochland County called Elk-hill. Prior to this no one seemed to have any idea what the house looked like, what it was built of and how may stories tall it was. All that was positively known was that it was on a high bluff overlooking Byrd Creek near its junction with the Little James, and that it was on the 307 acres which Jefferson purchased from his wife’s sister in 1778. Fortunately, bricks of the foundation and chimneys, as well as huge tree stumps, marked the spot where the house once stood.

The land on which Jefferson’s Elk-hill house was situated was part of a Royal Patent dated June 16, 1714, granting all of Elk Island and 248 acres of upland to Charles Fleming and John Woodson.

John Wayles, the father of Martha Wayles (Skelton) Jefferson, purchased the land in question from Richard Weatherford by deed dated 12 September 1746.

John Wayles married Elizabeth Skelton, widow of Ruben Skelton on October 19, 1748. From this union there were two daughters, Anne and Martha. Anne Wayles later married Henry Skipwith, while her sister Martha, at age 17 married the 22 year old Bathurst Skelton in November of 1766 and moved to Elk-hill. Their only child, John, was an infant when Bathurst Skelton died in 1768. John died in infancy the year his mother, the widow Martha Skelton, married Thomas Jefferson on New Year’s Day 1772 and moved from her father’s home at The Forest, just outside Williamsburg to Monticello. Martha’s father died in May 1773 leaving her a large estate and making Jefferson one of the richest me in Virginia.

On September 21, 1778, during our Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson purchased 307 acres of land “with appurtenances” from Henry Skipwith and Anne, his wife, of the County of Cumberland for 710 pounds Virginia money.

The Elk-hill house was certainly built before 1766, when Martha Wayles moved to Elk-hill in November with her first husband, Bathurst Skelton. It may have been built some years earlier by Ruben Skelton whose widow, Elizabeth married John Wayles in 1748.

Jefferson was visited in 1781 at Monticello by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton of the British Army under General Cornwallis. Jefferson escaped capture, and Monticello escaped pillage, but Elk-hill was thoroughly worked over by Cornwallis and his troops. In a letter to Dr. Gordon in Paris, dated July 16, 1788 Jefferson states: “Cornwallis encamped his army all along the main James River to a seat of mine called Elk-hill, opposite to Elk Island and at the mouth of Byrd Creek. He remained in this position ten days, his own headquarters being in my house. He destroyed all of my barns, containing all of the same articles of last year, having first taken what corn he wanted, as was to be expected, all of my stock of cattle, sheep and hogs for sustenance of his army and all of the horses capable of service.”

The theft of his property and the burning of his barns in 1781 did not discourage Thomas Jefferson from purchasing on January 21, 1782, a tract of 312 acres from Edward Smith and his wife Sally.  Jefferson also purchased 50 more acres on May 19, 1783 from Judith Smith of Goochland and Ruben Smith of Cumberland County for 50 pounds. This tract adjoined the tract bought the year before by William Holman and William Bowman. The deed has a provision that Judith Smith shall have the right to occupy the house and land during her natural life with free use of water, wood, buildings and enclosures.

Jefferson did not keep his Elk-hill property very long. On August 5, 1799 he sold his 669 acres, all three tracts, to Thomas Augustus Taylor of Chesterfield County. The price was 1500 pounds current money of Virginia.

Thomas Augustus Taylor sold the 669 acre tract almost immediately to Hugh French. Hugh French soon died and his will was recorded on July 3, 1802, naming Robert French and Mason French as executors. By deed dated July 3, 1802, Robert French, acting as executor, sold at public auction the Elk-hill tract for 1701 pounds, 10 shillings to William H. Miller, “reserving one quarter part of an acre for a burying ground, where the said Hugh French is buried.”

William H. Miller took out a fire insurance policy on his dwelling, a kitchen and a barn at Elk-hill on January 28, 1806. This can be seen amongst the records of the Mutual Assurance Company of Virginia at the Virginia State Library. William Miller sold Elk-hill 10 years later to Thomas R. Harrison of Cumberland County who insured his house against fire on June 6, 1815. It is from the descriptions and dimensions given in the two Virginia Mutual Assurance Society policies that Mr. Calder Loth, Historical Architect with the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission has been able to sketch a “reconstructed” Jefferson’s Elk-hill.

Elie Weeks

The above is exerted from an article written by Elie Weeks in 1971 and was published in the Goochland County Historical Society Magazine issue Vol. 3, No. 1. The article is followed by historical Calder Loth’s “Explanation of the Conjectural Drawing” that explains his drawing of the house. This issue can be purchased in the Society store.

Lecture Series – Christy S. Coleman

28 Sep

On Sunday, September 27, the Historical Society was the host for an amazing lecture delivered by Christy S. Coleman, Co-CEO of the American Civil War Museum. A large number of Goochland citizens turned out to hear Ms. Coleman speak on “Women’s Roles During the Civil War”, a lecture that will not soon be forgotten.

Christy S. Coleman

Christy S. Coleman

The focus of the lecture was on Harriet Tubman, Mary Ryan, Mary Edwards Walker and the women’s groups that served during the War such as the Colored Ladies Beneficial Society and the Hollywood Memorial Ladies Society. Ms. Coleman captured the listeners attention as she wove together the stories of these women and groups. She spoke on what was known and on what was not commonly known about the famous and the forgotten women during this historically important period.


Ms. Coleman demonstrated a knowledge and attention to detail that enabled the listener to get a clearer understanding of the time period and the women who lived through the horror that was the American Civil War. After the lecture, she opened the floor to questions and told the audience to ask anything. In the end, everyone came away with information that was previously unknown to most.


This was the first event of a new lecture series that the Historical Society is bringing to the citizens of Goochland County. We were immensely pleased at the reception to this first lecture and look forward to seeing everyone at our next event.

About Christy S. Coleman:
Christy S. Coleman began her career as a living history interpreter at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Over the course of a ten year career, she had increasing levels of responsibility finally serving as Director of Historic Programs. In 1999, she was named President and CEO of the nation’s largest African American museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

In 2008, Ms. Coleman was named President and CEO of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. Today, she serves as Co-CEO of the American Civil War Museum-a new museum that combined the Center at Tredegar with the Museum of the Confederacy.

She has lectured extensively and consulted with some of the country’s leading museums, written a number of scholarly and public history articles as well as being an award winning screenwriter for educational television. Her work “Freedom Bound” won an Emmy in 2009 for Outstanding Educational Programming for the Colonial Williamsburg Productions.

Amazing things are happening in Goochland!

13 Aug
D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough

D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough

200-year-old bricks found at the center of the Courthouse columns! Footing for a 20-30 foot high brick wall that surrounded the stone jail was uncovered! Recently, archaeologists D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough from Dovetail Cultural Resource Group came to the Courthouse Green at the behest of the Historical Society to search for the footings of the wall long thought to have existed around the jail.

Various items found during excavation

Various items found during excavation

The first hole tried showed evidence of the long missing wall and immediately, the archaeologists started bringing things up that had been covered for a century or more. Nail, bits of pottery and ceramic, pieces of glass, chunks of brick and a 1905 Indian head penny.

1905 Indian head penny

1905 Indian head penny

The dig continued as the searchers tried spot after spot searching for more evidence of footings. Starting from the first hole, the pair moved outward, away from the jail and then across the jail yard looking for more evidence. Finally, with a little help from some ground penetrating radar equipment, the remains of the former wall were found in a large enough quantity to establish the size and length. Goochland’s nineteenth century jail wall had been proved to have existed!

The proof of the former wall.

The proof of the former wall.

Most of what is left in the ground is the rubble that was left when the wall was pushed down a century ago. Pieces of brick and cement remain as a testament to the walls that once surrounded jails in Virginia in the 1800’s. Once these structures were deemed no longer of use, most were taken down. The bricks were often used in other structures and what was left was pushed down and covered over as is the case in Goochland. This is just the first step in the upcoming restoration of the Old Stone Jail.

Courthouse column

Courthouse column

A few days after the excavation, workmen came to patch and paint the columns on the front of the historic Courthouse. During the patching, the bricks that make up the interior of the columns were briefly exposed. The is possibly the first time these bricks have seen the light of day in almost 200 years! What will turn up next?

Y History Walk – “The State Farm”

15 Jul

On Sunday, July 12, the Historical Society in cooperation with the Goochland YMCA held a history walk at the site of the old James River Correctional Center, known to long time Goochlanders as the “State Farm”. Thirty walkers showed up in what turned out to be wonderful weather to tour some of the oldest buildings on the prison grounds and as a bonus, we got to take a trip to the old brick foundry.

The group in front of the brick foundry

The group in front of the brick foundry

After a welcome and introduction by Society President, Wayne Dementi, Warden Jeff Dillman and Assistant Warden Nikki Linamen took over the group. They told about the founding of the prison in Goochland and gave details about the different Wardens, Surgeons and activities from the earliest period through to the closure as a State Penitentiary.

Our tour leaders: Warden Jeff Dillman and Assistant Warden Nikki Linamen

Our tour leaders: Warden Jeff Dillman and Assistant Warden Nikki Linamen

Next, the group was led into the Chapel which was completed in 1914. The cruciform building is now a shell, but the slag glass windows and one stained glass window remain. This building and several others on the prison grounds are now used by the movie industry as sets standing in for various prisons around the country.

The cell block from inside the exercise yard

The cell block from inside the exercise yard

We were then led into the old cell block. This beautiful building with a clock tower conceals rows of bunk beds that were used into this century to house prisoners. Today, some of the beds are still in place for use by the movie industry while other portions have been cleaned out.

One of the cells in the segregation building

One of the cells in the segregation building

We also got a look at the former exercise yard which still has weight benches set up seemingly waiting to be used again by incarcerated persons. We also got a look at an older building just off the yard which is also still set up as a movie set.

Abandoned equipment still on the exercise yard

Abandoned equipment still on the exercise yard

As a special treat, the Warden and Assistant Warden led us down the hill to the site of the brick foundry. This site dates back to the founding of the prison and produced brick until the 1950’s. Some of the bricks produced went to the sidewalks and reconstruction at Colonial Williamsburg among other places. Three large kilns still stand with their arched roofs intact. It was quite a site and several in the crowd of walkers couldn’t resist going inside the large buildings where they were treated to the oculus in the top of the dome.

Inside of one of the brick kilns

Inside of one of the brick kilns

This was a wonderful adventure for all that attended. The Society would like to thank Warden Jeffrey Dillman and Assistant Warden Nikki Linamen for their research on the site and presentation to the attendees. They were excellent tour guides around a beautiful place with it’s interesting history.

Everyone enjoyed the old brick foundry

Everyone enjoyed the old brick foundry

Visit to Fluvanna

14 Jul

On June 23, 2015, Goochland Historical Society members Catherine Southworth, Christina Dunn, Ginny Olsen, and James Richmond made the trip west to visit one of our neighboring historical societies. The Fluvanna County Historical Society is located in Palmyra, Virginia and is housed in a wonderful old home named Maggie’s Place, next to the courthouse square.

Christina Dunn, Ginny Olsen, James Richmond, Catherine Southworth in front of the historic Fluvanna County Courthouse

Christina Dunn, Ginny Olsen, James Richmond, Catherine Southworth in front of the historic Fluvanna County Courthouse

Fluvanna Executive Director Tricha Johnson and past Director and current Board Member Judith Mickelson greeted the group and introductions were made. The group was then shown around the society headquarters and information was shared about membership and upcoming/past events and their successes. High on the list of things to see is the Jail museum and the group was not disappointed.

Fluvanna's Old Stone Jail Museum

Fluvanna’s Old Stone Jail Museum

Judith Mickelson treated the group to a tour Fluvanna’s historic Old Stone Jail Museum and gave background stories on several of the exhibits. She showed a wealth of knowledge that can only come from years of experience in her job as caretaker of Fluvanna’s rich history. Next she walked everyone around the Courthouse Square and into the historic Courthouse itself which has been beautifully restored.

Judith Mickelson, Ginny Olsen, Christina Dunn and Tricha Johnson relax in Maggie's Place after the tour.

Judith Mickelson, Ginny Olsen, Christina Dunn and Tricha Johnson relax in Maggie’s Place after the tour.

After the tour, the group headed back to Maggie’s Place where Director Tricha Johnson graciously donated several books on Fluvanna history to the Goochland Historical Society library. The group could not have been treated in more warm and welcoming manner by the hosts. The Goochland County Historical Society would like to thank The Fluvanna County Historical Society for their time and knowledge in what we hope will be an ongoing partnership between our two organizations. This was planned to be the first of many trips to neighboring historical societies surrounding Goochland. The hoped for outcome of these visits will be the sharing of information as we are all try to do our part in preserving the rich history of this part of Virginia.


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