Sunday, September 29: This morning I leave my dad’s house in Yorktown, taking a detour off of I-64 to stop at Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. The eleventh generation of one family continues to own, operate and work this colonial plantation.
It is also the oldest family owned business in North America, dating to the establishment of the farm by Edward Hill I in 1638. The home has been continuously inhabited by descendents of the same family since 1738. The mansion is referred to as “The Great House.” (Shirley Plantation: Shirley’s History)
The most important building, the Great House, is closest to the James River, with buildings of lesser importance further away. The Great House was originally flanked on either side by freestanding wings, which have since been dismantled.
According to the plantation brochure: Shirley Plantation is America’s first plantation; it was founded in 1613, only six years after the first permanent English settlement of Jamestown. Shirley Plantation survived Indian uprisings, Bacon’s Rebellion, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and the Great Depression.
Pork was a major staple in Colonial Virginia. As much as 10 tons a year were butchered, cured and smoked at Shirley. Hogs were butchered in the winter months, then rubbed with salt and cured in tubs for two weeks. The meat was hung from the rafters and pegs in the smokehouse. The smoking process lasted two weeks and required burning a fire outside the Smokehouse day and night to supply coals. Green wood was placed on the hot coals in the pit to create a rolling smoke. The most popular types of wood used for flavoring included hickory, oak and apple. Apple wood was preferred at Shirley.
I get a tour of the house, and see the original family furnishings and portraits. However, we’re sadly not allowed to take pictures in the house.
After the tour, I wander around the grounds to get the full lay of the land.
Shirley’s dovecote is round and made of brick. Shirley’s dovecote was built between 1723 and 1738 and has 6 rows of 18 roosts for a total of 108 roosts. Doves were an important source of dietary protein, both from their meat and eggs. Outside the dovecote, I run across some goat and chicken crossings.
It’s bizarre to me that I’ve lived my whole life in Virginia, and I’ve traveled the road between Yorktown and Richmond too many times to count, yet this is the first time I’ve ever taken time to stop and visit this plantation.
After leaving Shirley Plantation, I drive another 15 miles to Richmond, where I stop in to visit Sarah at Joe’s Inn, where today she’s working as bartender. After about 45 minutes, she gets off and joins me at the bar.
After our lunch, I head back home to the dreaded northern Virginia, to prepare for another week of work. 😦