Williamsburg Stories and Tips

Our Second James River Plantation, Berkeley

Berkeley Plantation  Photo, Williamsburg, Virginia

Our second choice to visit was the Berkeley Plantation, the site of America’s first official Thanksgiving. On December 4, 1619, 38 brave men arrived from Berkeley Parish in England to seek their fortunes in Virginia, just 12 years after Jamestown. They came ashore at Berkeley and gave thanks to God for a safe journey. Their instructions were: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."

Berkeley is Virginia’s most historic plantation. We were amazed at how wonderfully its condition has been maintained. The original mansion, built in 1726 of brick fired on the plantation, occupies a beautifully landscaped hilltop site overlooking the historic James River. Berkeley's 10 acres of formal terraced boxwood gardens and lawn extend a quarter-mile from the front door to the James River. The gardens are still maintained to this day, although not as well as in the early days, when the Harrison family still occupied the home. At Berkeley, the date of the building, 1726, and the initials of the owners, Benjamin Harrison IV and his wife, Anne, appear in a date stone over a side door. The early Georgian mansion is said to be the oldest 3-story brick house in Virginia that can prove its date and the first with a pediment roof.

Benjamin Harrison, son of the builder of Berkeley and the plantation's second owner, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time Governor of Virginia. Benjamin Harrison VI installed the handsome Adam woodwork and the double arches of the "Great Rooms" in the mansion in 1790 at the direction of Thomas Jefferson. William Henry Harrison, Benjamin's third son, born at Berkeley, was the famous Indian fighter known as "Tippecanoe," who later became the ninth president of the United States in 1841. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd president. George Washington, and later, the succeeding nine presidents of the United States, all enjoyed the famous hospitality of Berkeley. "Taps" was composed at Berkeley when General McClellan headquartered 140,000 Union troops in 1862.

An audio-visual program and museum exhibit area are available in the basement, where the original hand-hewn floor joists are visible. The basement also displays models of early plantation buildings and farm equipment. Costumed guides conduct tours of the mansion daily. Lunch is served in the Coach House Tavern on the property. The gift shop has a unique collection of historical mementos and charming gifts.

Berkeley Plantation is located on Virginia Route 5 12602 Harrison Landing Rd. Charles City, Virginia 23030 Telephone 804/829-6018 Toll Free 888/466-6018 OPEN DAILY 9am to 5pm.

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