Category Archives: The People

The Passing of Jack Boucher – Legendary HABS Photographer

Upon receiving the news of Mr. Boucher’s passing on September 2, 2012, I dug into the Menokin Photo archive this morning to look for the images that I knew he had taken here as part of his work with HABS (Historic American Building Survey). Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to share these photographs with the world as a way of paying tribute to the wonderful career of Jack Boucher?

Enjoy!

Read his obituary on our facebook page.

 

The Fruits of Summer

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Joe Smith in his wheat field at Menokin.

Joe Smith stopped by Menokin today with his customary warm handshake, eye-crinkling smile…..and a bag of tomatoes.

One definite advantage to working in the Northern Neck is the abundance of fresh produce. Here at Menokin, our local farming friends are quick to remember us when doling out the harvest of their labors.

Joe has farmed the Menokin property for more than 30 years. His connections to Menokin are many and his roots in the Northern Neck are deep. He was happy to explain that the yellow tomatoes are called “straws” which are on the verge of “breaking” into full ripeness. He also let us know that if we were unable to wait, the green tomatoes are delicious fried up in a pan with potatoes, a dish his mother prepared for him as a boy.Image

Tomatoes are a pretty big deal around here. Farm stands depend on the reliable reputation of a delicious ripe tomato warmed by the sun to lure passers-by to pull in for a purchase.

But many years ago, with the introduction of the steamboat era to this region, tomatoes and tomato canning became a huge industry. According to a 2008 article from the Southside Sentinel “at one time there were 40 tomato canning factories on the Northern Neck, and just about that many on the Middle Peninsula.” The vegetable canning business that grew out of the steamboat era provided jobs at a time when this area was still recovering from the Civil War and, later, the Great Depression.

Each cannery had its own label, the likes of which are considered artwork worth framing and collecting by many in these parts. These two labels were gifts of one such local collector.

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Sure, we may do without many modern conveniences out here in the countryside – like reliable internet and shoe stores. But what we do have is really worth having. Yum.

Field Trip: The Menokin Girls Head to D.C.

Last week the Menokin Staff took a field trip into Washington, DC. The primary reason for our trip was to visit the National Building Museum. Our goal was to research their exhibits and come away with ideas for our Visitor’s Center and collection.

If you’ve never been to the National Building Museum, you might drive right past it. Looking suspiciously like a federal administration building, it was, in fact, constructed between 1882 and 1887,  for the purpose of serving as a fireproof headquarters of the U.S. Pension Bureau’s headquarters. In 1997, the historic building was officially renamed the National Building Museum.

However, it is anything but ordinary.

The interior of the building is dominated by a grand central space, the Great Hall. Measuring 116 x 316 feet, the Great Hall features a central fountain and is divided into three courts by two screens of four colossal Corinthian columns—among the tallest classical columns in the world.

As hard as it was to drag ourselves away from the grandeur of the Great Hall, our first stop, the House & Home Exhibit, was well worth it. This “kaleidoscopic array of photographs, objects, models, and films that takes us on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, challenging our ideas about what it means to be at home in America.” We came away from the exhibit with brains churning with ideas of how to use and display our unique collection of construction artifacts here at Menokin.

After a quick lunch in Chinatown (just a few blocks away), we headed up to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home three miles north of downtown. Founded in 1851 as a home for retired and disabled veterans of American wars, the Soldiers’ Home stands on 276 acres atop the third highest area in the District of Columbia.

The tour focuses largely on the time that Lincoln spent at the Cottage during his presidency. The story is told by a tour guide in a friendly, conversational manor, with lots of questions directed at the audience.  The house itself is very stark. Little or no furnishings occupy the large rooms. There is not a great sense of the people that lived there, but the use of recorded actors recounting stories, reading letters and holding conversations in each room does lend insight to the kind of life that the Lincolns had there.

Both places are well worth the visit.

America: First Impressions

Native American Settlement

Before the Menokin plantation was ever developed, this area along Cat Point Creek (also called Rappahannock Creek) was home to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. In 1608, Capt. John Smith recorded 14 Rappahannock towns on the north side of the River and its tributaries. The general plantation site was referred to as “Menokin” by the Rappahannock, which likely translates to “He gives it to me” in the tribe’s Algonquian-based language. Francis Lightfoot Lee kept the name for his home. For more information on the Rappahannock Tribe, visit http://www.rappahannocktribe.org.

Great Stories

John Smith was one of the foremost leaders of early Jamestown.  He’d had an interesting life before that, one which influenced the direction of this country and (as I seem to be constantly promising) which will be explored later in this blog.  He was a controversial but effective leader in the settlement’s first years, and when health problems and an injury prompted his return to England in 1609, he spent his time working for the colony from there, promoting it and encouraging people to move there.

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Talk About Revolutionary Thinking

Robert “Councillor” Carter III – The Great Emancipator

 

Often referred to as “the first emancipator,” Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall in Virginia’s Northern Neck was an American plantation owner, founding father and onetime British government official. He also owned a large number of slaves as part of his vast estate.  

ImageCarter’s personal convictions and relationship with these enslaved families led to their manumission in a 1791 deed of gift.  Nearly 500 slaves were freed, making Carter’s act of liberation the largest in the history of American slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation.

After the death of his wife, Frances Ann Tasker Carter, in 1787, Carter embraced the Swedenborgian faith. He instituted a program of gradual manumission of all slaves attached to his estate by filing a “Deed of Gift” filed with the county of Westmoreland in 1791. He designed the program to be gradual to reduce the resistance of white neighbors.

Frequently, Carter rented land to recently freed slaves, sometimes evicting previous white tenants in the process.  In all, about 452 slaves from his Nomini Hall plantation and large home in Westmoreland County, Virginia were granted their freedom. 

 

 

Tobacco Rolling Roads

There is much evidence at Menokin of human impact on the land. The example below demonstrates that there were tobacco rolling roads on the Menokin plantation. These roads allowed for barrels filled with tobacco to be easily transported to the river. After these barrels were rolled down these roads to Cat Point Creek, they were shipped off to be sold in various markets.

 

These tobacco rolling roads were built to hasten the process of transporting tobacco and further the success of the plantation.  The enslaved men and women at Menokin most likely dug these roads, evidence of which you now see today.

The landscape holds traces of history everywhere. These rolling roads demonstrate that the actions of people centuries ago are still with us today. Even though the forest looks wild, upon closer look you can see the imprint of Frank’s decisions and the labor of slaves.

These tobacco rolling roads helped advance the commercial interests of Menokin. Can you see how people use land today to enhance one’s business? What other ways do people impact and distort the land?

The Locket

In 2009, archaeologists found a beautiful locket in the Menokin house ruin.  This cameo locket portrays the image of a woman.  Who did this locket belong to? Who is this woman?  A 1794 letter from Frank’s brother, William, may just be the key to unlocking this mystery!

In 1785, two years after the death of his wife, Hannah, William Lee sent his two daughters, Portia and Cornelia, to live at Menokin with Uncle Frank and Aunt Becky.  Hannah Lee thought it important that her daughters grow up in Virginia. William wrote to family friends in London, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Thorp, to further explain the desire for his daughters to grow up in Virginia. He writes, “[H]owever superior English education may be to what can be obtained here[,] yet the manners & customs of the ladies in England are so extremely different from the ladies here [in Virginia] that I never knew an instance of a young lady educated in England who could live happily here.”

He also wrote to the Thorpes requesting a momento by which Portia and Cornelia could remember them.  He writes, “Our dear girls at Menokin are so importunate to have a miniature picture for each of them of your self & good Mrs. Thorp…have them set in gold to wear as bracelets…or a locket…the form should be rather a long than a round oval not too sharp at the ends…”

Could this be Mrs. Thorp on the locket?  Did it once adorn the neck or wrist of young Portia or Cornelia Lee?

We hope to answer these questions with further research. In the meantime, tell us what you think and check back at Menokin Monitor for updates on this locket and other objects at Menokin.

We’d like to thank the Virginia Chapter of the Colonial Dames whose generous grant helped stabilize the locket.  The locket is on display in Menokin’s Visitor’s Center.

George Mason and Gunston Hall

The Northern Neck region is teeming with important founding fathers.  George Mason, whose Declaration of Rights laid the groundwork for the current Bill of Rights to the Constitution, is another patriot who well represented Virginia and furthered freedoms for Americans.  In fact, George Mason put Frank on the road to the Continental Congress and subsequent signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Frank was not originally chosen to represent Virginia in the First Continental Congress.  During the dramatic summer of 1775, Frank did serve on the Virginia Convention.  However, during this summer Virginia delegate Richard Bland became ill and sought a replacement.  The first choice was George Mason.

Mason, however, routinely avoided public office.  Politically clever Mason, though, saw his refusal as an opportunity to nominate a high quality candidate and a fellow Northern Neck man to boot.  Frank was Mason’s top choice. He wrote, “I took the occasion at the same time to recommend Colo. Francis Lee.”  The other Virignia delegates agreed with Mason’s nomination and elected Lee to the Convention with an easy majority. Frank Lee, upon hearing of his election, made quick preparations and him and Rebecca packed up and moved to Philadelphia, not to return to Menokin until 1778. [1]

George Mason authored the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. His Declaration was the first document in America to call for freedom of the press, religious tolerance, restricting unreasonable searches, and the right to a fair trial.  He was a member of the Constitutional Convention, but ultimately refused to sign the new Constitution due to his disagreement over the power of the federal government and the continuation of the slave trade. [2]

So next time you’re in the Northern Neck region, stop by Gunston Hall and pay your respects to George Mason and thank him for nominating Frank to the Convention and for believing in his political acumen and patriotic fervor.

Gunston Hall is open every day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s) from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm.  For more information, visit their website.

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Notes:
[1]  Camille Wells, “Frank Lee’s Achievements,” (working paper, The Menokin Foundation, 1997), 23.
[2] “George Mason,” Gunston Hall: Home of George Mason

Architecture Firm Chosen To Lead The Menokin Project Team

We have chosen the architecture firm of Machado and Silvetti Associates, LLC to lead an interdisciplinary team in the planning and design of the Menokin Project. We are certain that Machado and Silvetti will implement our vision to present Menokin through its many parts and pieces rather than through a traditional reconstruction. Further, this renowned firm will help our Foundation realize its goal to become an internationally recognized learning center for heritage and natural resource conservation through innovative practices and technology.

Our glass house project is an innovative and groundbreaking approach to historical preservation.  We will not restore the house to how it looked in the late 1700s, but instead recreate the missing parts of the house by using glass.

After the loose pieces of the house were removed and categorized,  we  were faced with the challenge of stabilizing and preserving the house, while at the same time furthering the public’s understanding of how the house was built and the historic make-up of the house. We wanted the ruins to be a safe place where people could learn and discover. The glass concept allows visitors to see the inner workings of the architectural structure  of the house, while also allowing visitors to envision what the house looked like at its prime.  Menokin, through this project, fulfills its aim to interpret Francis Lightfoot Lee’s life as well as further current knowledge of architecture, archaeology, and preservation.

Machado and Silvetti, headquartered in Boston, is best known for its contemporary designs that are attached to historic settings. The firm is one of the few practices in the United States that specializes in merging innovative and contemporary agendas with historic structures and contexts. A recent project includes designing a research and exhibition center within a historic landmark fort in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

We are confident Machado and Silvetti will further our aims to be an innovative and internationally renowned education center. Construction on the glass house is projected to begin in 2015. We will continue to post updates on the glass house project at Menokin. We welcome any comments or questions!