Home > 006210. Thomas Harris > Peninsula Pilgrimage

Peninsula Pilgrimage

Source: Elizabeth Valentine Huntley, Peninsula Pilgrimage (Richmond: The Press of Whittet and Shepperson, 1941).

[page 98]

Old Indian Trail. Route 5, Henrico County

CROSSING THE concrete bridge one is in front of the main entrance to Curles Neck Farm. Originally this plantation, in one of the “curls” of James River, was divided into many small farms, but these tracts eventually were consolidated. In 1617, Edward GURGANY patented the land known as “Longfield.” At his death his wife inherited it and in turn willed it to Captain Thomas HARRIS. Two decades later, John PLEASANTS, the Quaker merchant and planter, settled on Curles neck plantation. The next in line of occupancy was Nathaniel BACON, “the Rebel.” After BACON’s uprising against a tyrannical Colonial Governor, BACON̓s land was confiscated, and later was bought by William RANDOLPH, the first, of Turkey Island, Henrico County. At one time “Bremo,” the ancestral home of the COCKE family, was on Curles Neck estate. Today only tombstones mark the spot.

During the Revolution, when LAFAYETTE̓s headquarters were here, Curles Neck was the residence of Ryland RANDOLPH, grandson of William RANDOLPH. Years later, the estate became one of the many owned by Major William ALLEN, of Claremont Manor, Surry County. In 1907, the property was acquired by Charles H. SENFF, Esquire, the builder of the present modem brick house. He was followed by C.K. BILLINGS. During Mr. BILLINGS̓ ownership Curles Neck was the home of “Harvester,” one of the most famous race horses of a generation.

The plantation is now the property of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Billings RUDDOCK. Through their courtesy, the annual Deep Run Hunt Club̓s Spring Race Meet is held here.

[page 101]

Old Indian Trail. Route 5, Henrico County

A MODERN FENCE and farm road divide the prosperous farm of Curles Neck and the once renowned Turkey Island plantation. Tidal swamps, trees of dark foliage and tangled underbrush now cover much of the famous plantation, part of which belonged in 1676 to Colonial James CREWS, one of the leaders in BACON̓s Rebellion. After the uprising, he was hanged near Jamestown. his heirs sold the property to William RANDOLPH, the first, son of Richard RANDOLPH of Morton Hall, Warwickshire, England. This William RANDOLPH was the progenitor of so many distinguished Virginians that the date of his birth has been declared one of the most important in the history of the Old Dominion. At his death, his son, William RANDOLPH, the second, a member of the House of Burgesses, inherited the estate. Long after his day, Turkey Island plantation was on the stormy edge of the battle of Malvern Hill. At this time the old house was fired and destroyed by the gunboats in the James River. By strange irony, a section of the estate was owned at that time by General George B. PICKETT, who had sustained a wound in the battle of Gaine’s Mill, June 27, 1862, but survived to send his division into the famous charge at Gettysburg that made his name immortal in American history. Today, that part of Turkey Island which is not overflown by the James consists of small farms and modern residences.

A very interesting old monument was erected here after the disastrous flood of May, 1771. It bears the following inscription:

“The foundation of this pillar was laid in the calamitous year of 1771, when all the great rivers of this country were swept by inundations never before experienced, which changed the face of nature and left traces of their violence that will remain for ages.”

Less than half a mile across winding old Indian Trail, on a high hill are the site and vine-covered foundation of Malvern Hills. A fancied resemblance between the high ground above Turkey Island and the historic Malvern Hills that rise from the Severn in

[page 102]

Worcestershire Beacon, England, led Thomas COCKE to give the old name to his new home on the James. He was the son of Richard COCKE of England, who came to Virginia in 1630 and here built a house acclaimed “one of the best specimens of Colonial architecture” in the Old Dominion. It showed definite seventeenth century influence, but, unfortunately, it was never well photographed or measured prior to its destruction by fire about 1905. James Powell COCKE sold the estate after the Revolutionary War to Robert NELSON. He was the son of Elizabeth BURWELL and William NELSON, President of the Council, and was brother of General Thomas NELSON, Governor of Virginia. Subsequently, the Malvern Hills property was mortgaged to Charles CARTER of Shirley, but when he died in 1806, he left specific instructions that his executors should not foreclose on the home of his friends. At that time and for at least a generation later, the name of the estate was usually in the plural – “The Malvern Hills.” The singular form did not come into general use until the period of the War Between the States.

The associations of this old property are as martial as social. LAFAYETFE encamped here for the protection of Richmond against British attack by way of the James River. in the summer of 1813, the plantation was garrisoned with several thousand men to keep the British from a similar attack. The fighting here in the great battle of July 1, 1862, occurred a slight distance to the north and northwest of the old mansion. Federal artillery was parked, hills on hills, between the Mellert (Crew) and the West Houses. The Confederate attack was southward up the grade from Western Run. That section of the baffle ground known as the “Wheatfield” lies to the west under the bluff on which the Mellert (Crew) House stands. Although Malvern Hill continued to have strategic value until it fell permanently into Federal hands in June, 1864, its later history has not been conspicuous.

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