CULTURAL LANDSCAPES OF MENOKIN: AN HISTORICAL ANALYSIS – PART III

Originally prepared in October 2012 and revised in November of 2013, this research conducted and prepared by C. Allan Brown is part of the The Menokin Glass House Project.
The report will be shared in a serial fashion with the intention of a weekly post as time allows.

PART III

Immediately south of Stephens’ property, (see Part II) Thomas Beale II settled on 929 acres at Chestnut Hill about 1673.[1]  Like Fleete and Fauntleroy, Beale had true Cavalier origins which gave this neighborhood even at its earliest settlement an incongruous aristocratic air amid a near wilderness.  His elegant tombstone (probably carved in England c. 1680) is emblazoned with the family’s coat-of-arms and was the oldest standing marker in the county until it was recently removed from Chestnut Hill for safekeeping.[2]  (Further research on Chestnut Hill plantation, especially deeds and plats, may provide clues for understanding Menokin better in relation to its roads, fields, etc.)

Figure 7

It seems likely that the earliest “road” to Menokin entered from what became the Chestnut Hill property to the south and originally may have been an Indian path linking the sites of the so-called “ Mt. Airy burials” and the “Town of the Great Rappahannocks,” both identified on Figure 7.  Keep in mind that in the mid-seventeenth century most travel in the vicinity was by water routes.  Even so, the open character of the understory did not impede travel through the virgin forests.  Robert Beverley in 1705 described the “Oaks, Poplars, Pines, Cedars, Cypress and Sweet-Gums; the trunks of which are often Thirty, Forty, Fifty, some Sixty or Seventy foot high, without a branch or limb.”[3]  Using GIS technology, the Virginia Department of Forestry has located

Fig. 11. Road traces at Menokin as identified by the Virginia Department of Forestry

a trace (which it judged to be “over 250 years old”) that “extends from the high ground at Menokin . . . south, southeasterly and today terminates in Muddy Run marshlands” (see Fig. 11).[4]  In the 17th century, that track likely crossed Menokin “swamp” below a beaver dam that had accumulated there.

The initial “opening” (i.e., clearing and cultivating) of land at Menokin occurred perhaps as early as the late 1650s, following John Stephens’ 1657/58 patent of the original 1,000 acres.[5]  Of course, the Rappahannocks, if indeed they were resident there, may have cleared and cultivated part of the land prior to Stephens’ patent.[6]  Stephens returned to England for a brief period (c. 1662-1664?) and after his death in 1678, his heirs sold the property to John Grymes of Gloucester County in 1685.[7]Grymes eventually owned sizable acreage in Middlesex, King and Queen, and Richmond counties, as well as his home plantation in Gloucester.[8]  At his death in 1709, Menokin passed to his second son Charles Grymes along with another plantation, Morattico, lower down the Rappahannock River.[9]  Charles Grymes was among the foremost gentry planters in early eighteenth-century Virginia and erected an imposing residence at Morattico (but like Fauntleroy’s, too near the river!).[10]Grymes operated Menokin as an outlying “quarter” with 17 slaves, 36 cattle, 32 sheep, and 56 hogs, according to a 1743 inventory.[11]

Grymes’ son-in-law and daughter, Philip and Frances (Grymes) Ludwell inherited Menokin about 1750, after a protracted settlement of Charles Grymes’ substantial estate; yet they soon sold the property to John Tayloe II who already owned much land nearby.[12]  In 1751 when he acquired Menokin, Tayloe was one of the wealthiest gentlemen in Virginia.[13]  However he had not yet begun to build his impressive new house at Mount Airy (constructed c. 1761-1765) and it seems noteworthy that he passed over the opportunity to establish his seat at Menokin.[14]  (For the location of Tayloe’s earlier house, see Fig. 10.) Indeed, he continued to operate Menokin as but one of a number of outlying quarters until he gave the property to his daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, Francis Lightfoot Lee.[15]  Thus, by the early 1770s when Menokin at last became a principal residence, its lands had been in the process of being cleared and cultivated, to some unknown degree, for more than a century.

That circumstance surely influenced the site-planning decisions made by the Lees and their generous benefactor, her father, John Tayloe II.  It seems logical to assume that the approximate 1,000 acres of Menokin were first “entered” and “opened” from the south; with sequential clearing of the several, adjacent plateaus proceeding generally northward over time.  A chronicler of agricultural practices in late colonial America explained why large tracts were required for tobacco cultivation, in the constant search for “fresh” fields as old ones were exhausted of their fertility: “This want of land is such, that they reckon a planter should have 50 acres of land for every working hand.”[16]  A field typically was considered “worn out” after 3-4 years of tobacco cropping; and required about 20 years lying fallow to regain its fertility.[17] Selective felling of the most useful hardwood trees within the surrounding ravines (yet with care not to denude the “highly erodible soil”)[18]  had likely also been ongoing for some decades.  The extensive canebrakes of the adjacent tidal marshlands may have been left largely intact until the nineteenth century.  Most significantly, an existing pattern of fields, fences, and (at least rudimentary) roads no doubt was already in place by 1769 when Menokin house was begun.  And, of course, the resident laborers long had known it as their home (some for perhaps more than one generation).[19]


[1]Virginia Land Office Patent Book 6, p. 24.  The plantation remained in the Beale family through the early nineteenth century.

[2]Harper, Richmond County, p. 32.

[3] Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia ed. Louis B. Wright (Chapel Hill, 1947), pp. 123-124.

[4]Virginia Department of Forestry, “Forest Stewardship Plan for Menokin” (July 2002), p. 28.

[5]Wells, “Menokin in Time,” p. 8.

[6] For native American agricultural practices, see Michael Williams, Americans and Their Forests:  A Historical Geography (Cambridge, U.K., 1989), pp. 35-43.

[7] Wells, “Menokin in Time,”., pp. 8-9.

[8] Ibid., pp. 10-12.

[9] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

[10]  For information on the elegance of Morattico, see Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Mansions of Virginia, 1706-1776 (Chapel Hill, 1945), pp. 62-67, 409-410.

[11]Wells, “Menokin in Time,” p. 14.

[12]Ibid., pp. 14-15.

[13]See Laura Croghan Kamoie, Irons in the Fire:  The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia’s Gentry (Charlottesville, 2007), p. 33.

[14] See William M. S. Rasmussen, “Palladio in Tidewater Virginia:  Mount Airy and Blandfield,” in Building By the Book ed. Mario di Valmarana (Charlottesville, 1984); Camille Wells, “Dower Play/Power Play:  Menokin and the Ordeal of Elite House Building in Colonial Virginia,” in Constructing Image, Identity and Place ed. Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch (Knoxville, 2003), pp. 2-21.  William Tayloe, the original settler, had built a house nearer to the Rappahannock River, about 1682; it reputedly burned in the early eighteenth century.

[15]Wells, “Menokin in Time,” pp. 18, 28.

[16] Harry J. Carman, ed., American Husbandry (London, 1775; reprint, New York, 1939), p. 165.  See also Lois Green Carr and Russell R. Menard, “Land, Labor, and Economies of Scale in Early Maryland:  Some Limits to Growth in the Chesapeake System of Husbandry,” Journal of Economic History v. 49 (1989), pp. 407-418; Paul G. E. Clemens, “The Operation of an Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Tobacco Plantation,” Agricultural History v. 49 (1975), pp. 517-531.  At Menokin, the most productive soil has been considered to be the Kempsville Sandy Loam found as the topsoil of the upper plateaus.  For an interesting account of period clearing practices, see Carville V. Earle, The Evolution of a Tidewater Settlement System:  All Hallow’s Parish, Maryland, 1650-1783 (Chicago, 1975), pp. 30-34.

[17] Earle, Evolution, p. 25.

[18]Wildlife Service, “Rappahannock River,” section 3-2.  This is the Rumford soils of the slopes.

[19]Camille Wells has noted that listings of slaves by their given names “suggest that when [John] Tayloe arranged to buy Menokin in 1751, he agreed to buy its inhabitants as well,” idem, “Menokin in Time,” p. 18.  (See also Ligon Brooks’ research notes in Menokin Foundation files.)

 

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