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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.


A Nation Remembers Appomattox

15 Apr


Goochland Courthouse Green with the Civil War monument in the foreground.

Goochland Courthouse Green with the Civil War monument in the foreground.


On Thursday, April 9, 2015, people across the country came together for a bell ringing ceremony to commemorate the end of the American Civil War. 150 years ago, Gen. Grant and Gen. Lee ended their meeting in Appomattox marking the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the site of the McLean house and the meeting between the two Generals, was the location of the first bell to ring on the 9th.

Rev. Lauren Lobenhofer

Rev. Lauren Lobenhofer

At 3:15, bells across the land began ringing and continued to do so for four minutes, one minute for each year of the war. This event brings a symbolic end to the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War. The gathering in Goochland was held on the steps of the historic Court house. Society President Wayne Dementi welcomed all who attended and then introduced Rev. Lauren Lobenhofer, pastor of Gum Spring United Methodist Church who provided a prayer for the occasion.

(Kneeling, l to r) Jacob Massey, J.T. Massey (Standing l to r) Sophia Pryor, Dr. James Bowles, Isabelle Duke, Ned Creasey, E. Steve Fleming.

(Kneeling, l to r) Jacob Massey, J.T. Massey (Standing l to r) Sophia Pryor, Dr. James Bowles, Isabelle Duke, Ned Creasey, E. Steve Fleming.

The ringers then stepped up and began tolling the bell. One of the ringers, Isabelle Duke, had a great-grandfather who was among the men from the Army of Northern Virginia who was at Appomattox for the final meeting between Grant and Lee. She remembered stories from her childhood that he would tell about the meeting and the fact that he walked home afterwards. Proof that 150 years is not as long ago as it seems.

Dr. Bruce Venter

Dr. Bruce Venter

Once the ringing ended, Dr. Bruce Venter read from several eye witness accounts to the event. He concluded by talking about the more than 750,000 lives lost during the 4 years of the conflict and the fact that Lincoln’s assassination occurred just a week after the meeting. It was a somber ending for the solemn event.


The Historical Society would like to thank everyone who participated in this commemoration.

Bells Across The Land

26 Mar

bell ring 3April 9, 2015 on the Courthouse Green   3 pm

In conjunction with a major event at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, the Goochland County Historical Society will join in a national commemoration to mark the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. The bells will ring first at Appomattox at 3:00 p.m. on April 9, 2015. The ringing will coincide with the moment the historic meeting between Grant and Lee ended. The Goochland event will begin on the Courthouse Green in Goochland at 3:00 p.m. After an invocation the Courthouse bell will be rung at precisely 3:15 p.m. for four minutes, each minute symbolic of a year of war. The public is invited.

To find out more about Bells Across The Land, visit the National Park Service Website by clicking here.

bell ring 2

Goochland – A Historical Sketch

28 Feb


In the fall of this year, the Goochland County Historical Society will be publishing the 45th volume of our magazine. In commemoration of this, we will be posting a few articles on the blog from the back issues. Our first post will be the first article printed in Volume 1, No. 1, a short history of the county by Helene Barret Agee, the first Society historian.


Goochland County, named for Sir William Gooch, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 1727 to 1749, was formed in 1728 from Henrico, an original shire of the Virginia Colony. The original boundaries of Goochland were from Tuckahoe Creek, on both sides of the James River, west as far as the English King’s Dominion extended. From Virginia were formed the states of Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Tennessee. The present boundaries of Goochland are: Tuckahoe Creek on the east, the James River on the south, Fluvanna County on the west and portions of Louisa and Hanover Counties on the north. The county’s land area consists of 289 square miles. The highest elevation is 520 feet, taken at Shannon Hill, the lowest elevation 110 feet, taken at the point where Tuckahoe Creek joins the James River.

Goochland’s present courthouse is believed to be its third. It was “received” as completed on August 20, 1827, by the Commissioners for the County. The county has had several jails. The last was built of stone and is still standing. The brick wall around the present Courthouse Square was built in 1840.

By virtue of inheritance, Goochland claims Manakintowne, on the south side of the James River where the Huguenots settled in 1700. By the same token the county fell heir to the three original Monacan Indian Village sites namely, Mowhemencho, Massinacak and Rassawek.

Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell in Goochland County on April 13, 1743. When Albemarle was formed from Goochland on October 16, 1744, Shadwell then fell within the borders of the new county and Albemarle inherited this historic site. Thomas Jefferson spent his early childhood at Tuckahoe, also in Goochland, where he was tutored by the Reverend William Douglas and others.

George Washington was the first President of the James River Company which later became the James River and Kanawha Company. The James River and Kanawha Canal, on the south border of Goochland, played an important role in the economic and social life of the county. In the year 1808 the canal was considered one of the most successful internal improvements in the country.

Thomas Mann Randolph, born at Tuckahoe, and James Pleasants, born at Contention, served as Governors of Virginia.
James A. Seddon of Sabot Hill was elected to the First Confederate Congress and later became Secretary of War, Confederate States of America.

Goochland furnished a son for the cabinet of each of the opposing governments during the War Between the States, Edward Bates of Belmont in the cabinet of Lincoln, and James A. Seddon in the Confederate cabinet of Jefferson Davis.

Other members of the Bates family in Goochland also became prominent: Frederick Bates was governor of Missouri from 1824 to 1826; James Bates a member of Congress from Arkansas, and Thomas Fleming Bates a member of the Virginia Convention of 1829.

General Nathaniel Massie (born 1763-died 1813) served with the Goochland Militia. Later moving to Kentucky where his father, Nathaniel Massie, Sr., had been granted lands, he established, in 1791, a village which later became Manchester, one of the four earliest settlements in what is now Ohio. He laid off the town of Chillicothe, and became the first Major General of the 2nd Division, Ohio Militia, when Ohio was admitted as a State, serving until 1810. He held many high offices, including the presidency of the Senate.

During the Revolutionary War Lord Cornwallis and is troops invaded Goochland. They encamped at Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Elk-hill, for ten days and destroyed all barns with contents and appropriated all cattle, sheep and hogs for the sustenance of their army, and all horses capable of service. Colonel Tarleton raided Rock Castle (Queen Anne Cottage) and tore from the walls the Tarleton coat-of-arms and carried it away. Upon retiring from the County, Lord Cornwallis admired an imposing view overlooking the James River and declared that if he should ever reside in America this would be his choice for a home site. This location has since been known as Cornwallis’ Point.

On his way to Monticello to visit Thomas Jefferson in 1824, General Lafayette visited Goochland and spent the night at the Courthouse.

During the War Between the States, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren and his troops paid a visit to Goochland, leaving souvenirs at many places, especially Sabot Hill, Dover and Eastwood. Goochland recalls with pride eighteen-year-old James Pleasants who single-handed, “killed one Federal and captured thirteen.”

Those who are interested in Genealogy will be glad to know that Goochland’s official records were not destroyed during “the War”, and that eight counties were formed from Goochland soil since its separation from Henrico on 1, May 1728. These counties are: Albemarle (1744), Cumberland (1749), Amherst (1761), Buckingham (1761), Powhatan (1777), Fluvanna (1777), Nelson (1808), Appomattox (1845). Their early records are available in the Goochland County Clerk’s Office.

Ben Dover

27 Jan

Between the villages of Manakin and Sabot stands Ben Dover. The approach to Ben Dover with its surrounding magnolias and shade trees is a journey to another place and time. It is hard to believe but underneath its current façade, stands the last of the grand Italianate mansions that once graced this part of the county.

Ben Dover

Ben Dover

In 1853, William B. Stanard had Ben Dover built in the Italian Villa style that flourished in the middle of the 19th century. The house is thought to have been inspired by an illustration published in Andrew Jackson Downing’s The Architecture of Country Houses (1851). Along with neighboring Eastwood and Sabot Hill, Ben Dover differed greatly from the typical regional style employed at other plantations in the area such as Boscobel and Joe Brooke. The home originally featured an irregular roofline, decorative fenestrations, and a three-story tower. It was constructed of locally fired bricks and then stuccoed to resemble ashlar. Some of the opulent interior flourishes were silver plated doorknobs, hand-painted ceilings and marble mantles with cast iron fireguards.

Ben Dover before renovations

Ben Dover before renovations

The end of the Civil War saw an economic decline that brought about the sale of the plantation in 1872 to James Murray, a British engineer. After Murray’s death, his family sold Ben Dover to former Union General W. Horace Rose. During Rose’s tenancy, Ben Dover began a series of alterations in a battle to hold off the heavy deterioration of the house brought about by the flat roof and the use of porous handmade bricks. Rose had the house painted white and added an extensive five-bay porch. Another change Rose brought to Ben Dover was the addition of the pool, pool house and bowling alley. The circa 1905 single-lane Brunswick bowling alley is considered one of the best preserved in Virginia. This little alley helped secure the inclusion of Ben Dover to the National Register of Historic Places.

Brunswick Bowling Alley

Brunswick Bowling Alley

In 1925, Ben Dover was acquired by William T. Reed, Sr., the president of Larus & Brother Tobacco Company and a major figure in Richmond society during the 20th century. Reed counted among his friends Virginia Governor Harry Flood Byrd and aviator Charles Lindbergh who made a landing at Ben Dover in the 1927. Due to heavy damage caused by water seepage, the tower and second story of the porch had to be removed. It was at this time that Reed changed the Italian style façade of the house to Colonial Revival. The interior of the house, though updated, remained largely intact.


The interior of Ben Dover is very spacious and still has remnants of the opulence that once graced it. The hand-painted ceilings are long gone but the marble mantle and cast iron fireguard still exist in the dining room. In the basement you can see the room that Rose converted into a dance hall. A long staircase leads you to the second floor with high ceilings and large bedchambers. A smaller stairway then leads you to the third floor with two more rooms.


Ben Dover is a historical asset to the county and the region. It is notable for its changing façade that shows how plantations adapted to changing tastes. It is also notable as one of the two remaining plantations, out of five, visited by Ulric Dahlgren during the Goochland part of his ill-fated raid on Richmond in 1864. Beautifully landscaped grounds feature several supporting outbuildings including the wonderful bowling alley. For all of its historical assets, Ben Dover was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April of 2000.

Dining room with marble fireplace

Dining room with marble fireplace

Contributed by James Richmond of the Goochland County Historical Society

Ben Dover is currently listed for sale through realtor Pam Diemer ( As with the Lockkeepers House, the Historical Society is hoping for a buyer that will respect the history of these two properties. To learn more about Ben Dover: read Volume 4, number 2 of the Goochland County Historical Society’s magazine.

A Shrine of History, Chivalry and Romance

17 Oct

Norton 1In the files of the Goochland County Historical Society, there are often little pieces of history that get overlooked. In the file marked “Norton Family of Sabot Hill” there is a newspaper clipping donated years ago by a descendant of that family. We know the Norton’s owned Sabot Hill from 1883 until 1903, which helps date the clipping to that time period. It has been suggested that this could have been an advertisement to interest buyers.  If so that would put the date closer to 1903 when the Norton’s sold Sabot Hill. The newspaper name is cut off and we do not know the author so we cannot give credit where it is due. So sit back and enjoy this little slice of the “sunny southland”.

Sabot Hill

A Shrine of History, Chivalry and Romance.

Sabot Island, Feb. 18th. – Mr. Editor – Having had occasion to visit Sabot Hill, I desire to chronicle some of the striking features of this notable plantation that impressed me, it being the grand old homestead of one of Virginia’s noblest sons, Hon. James A. Seddon, who was Secretary of War, and where Jefferson Davis frequently met to counsel with his cabinet and all the leading statesmen, and where he outlined many a speech, the general tenor of which was an endeavor to revive the drooping spirits of the people and to inspire confidence and hope.  Sabot Hill bears the same relation to the upper James that Westover does to the lower James.  At the entrance I noticed a massive stone wall, which formed a fence up the winding accent to the ridge leading to the magnificent mansion.  As I looked at the house and grounds, I could but wonder at its beauty and its wonderful state of preservation.

Some years since, Mr. Arthur Seddon sold Sabot Hill to Prince Nestorowitsch, from Russia, who spent many thousands in improving the estate, and surely could not have more lavishly adorned the walls and ceilings.  The former are finished with oil in the most delicate tints, while the latter are decorated with beautiful and elaborate designs in water colors and gold leaf which would attract the eye of the finest artists.  Indeed the beautiful polished floors, the imported marble mantels, rosewood doors, silver hinges, the huge white pillars and broad winding staircase of Corinthian design, lavishly ornamented with gold leaf, adds each in its own graceful way, to the charm of the interior of this home of cultivation and refinement.

Norton 2

Mr. Seddon surely made no mistake in selecting this spot to build such a palatial home.  The broad acres of rich and gently rolling uplands, the fertile low grounds and island, outbuildings and tenant houses, and all, are in keeping.

From these noble grounds one of the most beautiful views along the James can be seen.  For miles you can see the sparkling waters of this historic river.

“To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible form, she speaks

A various language; for his gayer hours

She has a voice of gladness and a smile,

And eloquence of beauty; and she glides

Into his dark musings with a mild

And healing sympathy.”

A short distance west of the house is the garden of noble dimensions.  The stately magnolias, the box, the marimosa, the great willow, and many other rare and imported trees spread their branches and their leaves which stir lazily in the charmes, languorous stillness of one of Virginia’s golden summer evenings.  The velvet turf, the broad and picturesque avenues which lead me past the tall hydrangeas, the nodding Eulalia grass, the clinging fragrant Wistaria, and Hilliana honeysuckle, the sweet English violets, the Persian lilacs, the Perle d’Or, the Jacqueminot and other countless varieties of fragrant roses, brought to my memory the days when “Love’s Young Dream” was continually being sung in this same rural spot.  Beyond this garden, the peaks of the Blue Ridge can be seen, also the C. & O. R. R. as it follows along the James in its broad and crooked course around the hills.

Owing to financial trouble, Sabot Hill was sold from Prince Nestorowitsch to a syndicate of wealthy Southern gentlemen.  Two years since they sold it to Major Augustus Norton, of Ohio, who was president of the First National Bank in Athens.

Major Norton’s family, when he came to Sabot Hill, consisted of a wife and eight children, but soon thereafter, his eldest daughter, Miss Frances Johnson, married Prof. S. C. Price, and now lives in Mt. Clemens, Mich.  Mrs. Norton is a great-great grand-daughter of Major General Israel Putnam, of fame in the French and Indian War, and in the War of the American Revolution.

Norton 3

This family possesses high literary and artistic talent and has added very much to our social surroundings.

There are other fine estates in this section for sale, and we would like to have many more families like this to come and settle in this part of our “Sunny Southland.” S.L.J.

To read more about “Sabot Hill”: read volume 10, No. 2 of the Goochland County Historical Society’s magazine.


10 Apr

Shielded by a row of trees from an uncomfortably close highway is one of Goochland’s most familiar historic landmarks, Woodlawn. Located at an intersection of Broad Street Road and old Three Chopt Road, the house is just 5 miles west of the Henrico County line. This closeness to a main road helps to make this one of Goochland’s most visible entries on the National Register of Historic Places.



Elisha Leake, a Captain in the Revolutionary War, built Woodlawn sometime during the last quarter of the 1700’s. Leake was the owner of two grist mills on Tuckahoe Creek, documented by the mill stones carved into the pine mantel of one of the fireplaces in the home. Elisha Leake died in 1806 and is buried on the property in the Leake family cemetery. His much younger wife, Frances, renounced the provisions of his will and claimed her dower rights, giving her the “Great House” and over two hundred acres of land in the area. She allowed John Trevillian to operate “Trevillian’s Tavern” in the house, which is how it is designated on the Goochland County map of 1820.

Plat of Woodlawn, labeled Greathouse, 1806

Plat of Woodlawn, labeled Greathouse, 1806

In 1834, Colonel Thomas Taylor of Goochland purchased the property known as “Woodlawn Plantation”. Taylor would go on to glory for his part in the Battle of Chapultepec Castle in 1847. Thomas Taylor is said to have placed the United States flag on the Castle, bringing and end to the Mexican-American War. Colonel Taylor’s son, Americus Vespucius Taylor, a veteran of Guy’s Battery of the Confederate Army inherited the house in 1883. Americus left his initials carved into the fireplace bricks and woodwork, testament to his place in the history of the house.

1820 Wood map

1820 Wood map

The house remained in the Taylor family until 1937 when it was sold to Flora Newby Billet who began a total restoration. The 2-½ story Federal house is noted for its hand made bricks, hand sawn beams and four chimneys that conceal pent closets. One of these pent closest conceals a staircase to the second floor. Woodlawn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and the house stands today as a private home with a very public history.



Contributed by James Richmond of the Goochland County Historical Society

For more information on Woodlawn, read Volume 1, No. 2 of The Goochland County Historical Society’s Magazine. A reproduction of the 1820 map of Goochland by John Wood is available for purchase from the Society. For information on the National Register of Historic Places, visit