Berkeley Plantation—A Virginia and National Historic Landmark
Berkeley’s history begins in 1619 when settlers observed the first official Thanksgiving in America. The estate was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Virginia. Berkeley was also the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, and ancestral home of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president. During the Civil War, General George McClellan’s Union troops occupied the buildings and surrounding fields. While at Berkeley, General Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar tune “Taps”, first played by his bugler, O.W. Norton. The original Georgian mansion, built in 1726 of brick fired on the plantation, occupies a beautifully landscaped hilltop site overlooking the historic James River. Five terraces of restored gardens extend a full quarter mile from the front door of the mansion to the riverbanks.
Guides tell stories of Thanksgiving, the Harrisons, the Civil War, and present owners of Berkeley. Native American, colonial and Civil War artifacts can be explored in the museum. Self-guided grounds tours include gardens, original dependencies, and reconstructed slave quarters.
After the tour, and time to explore the gardens, we will go to the Coach House for lunch and an author talk by Heather Cole:
The Harrison Presidents
Berkeley Plantation was the childhood home of one US president and the ancestral home of another. Join historian Heather Cole as she tells the stories of the two Harrison presidents and the themes that ran through both of their lives: military service, devotion to family and duty to nation. William Henry Harrison, born at Berkeley Plantation in 1773, was nicknamed “Old Tippecanoe” for his military service in the Northwest Indian Wars, rose to general during the War of 1812 and served briefly as 9th president of the United States. Benjamin Harrison was born in Ohio 60 years later and saw his grandfather elected president when he was seven years old. His path included military service during the Civil War and a law career before entering politics and making his way to the White House as 23rd president of the United States.
Heather Cole is the author of Virginia’s Presidents: A History & Guide (The History Press, 2023) and a forthcoming book on the Ohio presidents. Copies of Virginia’s Presidents will be available for purchase after the talk for $24. Read more about the book and the author below.
A boxed lunch will be included during the author talk.
Location: 12602 Harrison Landing Road, Charles City, VA 23030
About the Book—Virginia’s Presidents: A History and Guide
What do George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Zachary Taylor have in common? They were all born in Virginia–-making the Old Dominion the birthplace of more United States Presidents than any other state in the Union.
Among these eight Virginians were those who established a new nation, drafted our founding documents, fought in numerous battles, led the country through wars and created an international peacekeeping organization. But these men also used their power to force Native Americans off their land, perpetuate the institution of slavery in new states and territories, and prevent women from obtaining the right to vote.
Across the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond are more than two dozen presidential homes, museums and historic sites that tell the stories of the eight Virginia-born Presidents. While some were originally founded to enshrine the memory of our Founding Fathers, most presidential homes and museums no longer uncritically celebrate their lives. Instead, many of these sites have expanded their interpretation to include a more complicated and nuanced story about our Presidents and include the stories of the other men, women and children–-enslaved and free–-who supported them in their political, military and civilian careers.
Virginia’s Presidents: A History and Guide (The History Press, 2023) tells the stories of the Virginia Presidents and the historic sites that interpret their lives. It includes profiles of each of the eight Presidents and descriptions of the museums, historic sites and presidential homes in Virginia and surrounding states that tell their stories and, by extension, the story of our nation.
About the Author
Heather S. Cole is a public historian and writer living in Staunton, Virginia. She has worked in a variety of museums and archives, including as an interpreter at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton. She currently works as a digital archivist for the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi and does freelance work organizing family archives, writing corporate histories and editing personal memoirs. Her fourth book, Ohio’s Presidents: A History & Guide, will be published by The History Press in summer 2024. To learn more, visit HeatherSCole.com.
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