American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Southern States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1900



RICHMOND ON THE JAMES
By WILLIAM WIRT HENRY


"And in regions far
Such heroes bring ye forth
As those from whom we come,
And plant our name
Under that star
Not known to our North."

DRAYTON.

ONE the th of April, 1606, a patent was issued by James I. of England to Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George. Somers and others for the establishment of a colony in Virginia. The charter prescribed that it was to be managed by a council of thirteen persons, under the direction of a council of thirteen in England. On December the t9th of that year, one hundred and nine years after the discovery of North America by Cabot, three small vessels, the Susan Constant, the God Sped and the Discovery, sailed for the New World, bearing one hundred and twelve passengers and a crew of thirty nine men.

They encountered many perils by sea, having bad weather and losing their reckoning, but the 26th of April, 1607, brought them to the shores of Chesapeake Bay, and they soon entered a noble stream called by the natives the "Powhatan," but renamed by them the James, in honor of their King. On the 13th of May, they landed on a spot which seemed suitable for a settlement, and called the place Jamestown. The colony previously planted at Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh having perished, this was the beginning of the permanent Anglo-Saxon occupation of North America. From it has developed English possession of the continent with free institutions based upon English representative government.

In 1619, a General Assembly was held, which was the first legislative body elected by the people to convene this side of the Atlantic. It was an English acorn germinating in American soil, and from it has sprung the tree of liberty which has filled the continent. Among the colonists who landed at Jamestown, was the celebrated Captain John Smith, who was destined later to be snatched from the jaws of death by the lovely Indian princess, Pocahontas. From the story of his life, told by himself, and the Rev. Samuel Purchas in his Pilgrims, we learn that he had already been the hero of many adventures. He had been robbed, had encountered pirates, and had been shipwrecked at sea. He had slain three Turks in single combat while serving under Sigismundus Bathori, the Prince of Transylvania. He had been beloved by the fair Turkish lady, Tragabigzanda, besides having had many other afaires du coeur, notably one with the good lady Calamata of Russia.

Nine days after the landing of the colony at Jamestown, and thirteen years before the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth, Captain Newport, with Smith and a party of men, ascended the James River, and discovered the site of the city of Richmond. In Smith's True Relation, printed in London in 1607, he says:

"The two and twenty day of April [or rather May, 1607] Captain Newport and myselfe with diuers others to the number of twenty two persons, set forward to discouer the Riuer some fifties or sixtie miles. . . . In the midway, staying to refresh ourselues in a little Ile fore or flue savages came vnto vs which described vnto vs the course of the Riuer, and after, in our journey, they often met vs, trading with vs for such provision as wee had, and arriuing at Arsatecke, hee whom wee supposed to bee the Chiefe King of all the rest, moste kindely entertained vs, giuing vs a guide to go with vs vp the riuer Powhatan, of which place their Great Emperor taketh his name, where he they honored for King used vs kindlly.

"But to finish this discouerie, we passed on further, where within an ile [a mile] we were intercepted with great craggy stones in the midst of the river, where the water falleth so rudely and with such violence, as not any boat can possibly passe, and so broad disperseth the streame as there is not past flue or sixe foote at low water, and to the shore scarce passage with a barge."

This was the first view had by Englishmen of the situation where the city of Richmond was located.

In September, 1609, when Smith was president, he set out to find a more favorable spot for the colony than marshy Jamestown. He sailed again to the Indian village Powhatan, at the falls of the river, and bought of the natives some land near the present site of Richmond, where the landscape presented such charming features that he called the place "None Such." On his way home he was wounded by the explosion of a bag of gunpowder, and the next month he left the colony and sailed for England, leaving only a small settlement to occupy the site he had purchased. In 1645, "Fforte Charles" was built below the falls of the James, but no permanent settlement was effected. In 1675, Colonel William Byrd was granted 7351 acres of land beginning at the mouth of Shockoe's Creek, which joins the river at the falls, and again, in 1687, he had a patent of 956 acres on the east side of the creek, extending up and down the line of the James River. On a part of these two tracts the present city of Richmond was founded some years later by his son, Colonel William Evelyn Byrd, who gives this account in his journal:

"Sept. 19th, 1733. When we got home we laid the foundation of two large cities, One at Schocco's, to be called Richmond, and the other at the Point of Appamattuck River to be nani'd Petersburgh. These Major Mayo offered to lay out into lots without fee or reward. The truth of it is these two places being the uppermost landing of James and 4ppamattuck Rivers, are naturally intended for Marts where the traffic of the outer inhabitants must Center. Thus we did not build Castles only, but also citys in the air."

He also advertised in the Virginia Gazette of April, 737, "that on the north side of James River, near the uppermost landing and a little below the falls, is lately built by Major Mayo a town called Richmond with streets sixty feet wide in a pleasant and healthy situation, and well supplied with springs of good water."

The founder of Richmond was one of the worthiest and most intellectual men in the Colony of Virginia. His portrait, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, shows a face of remarkable beauty, framed in the curls of a flowing peruke of the time of Queen Anne. He was noted as "the Great Virginia wit," and his writings are among the most valuable that have descended to us from that era. His library was the largest that had ever been brought over to the New World. A catalogue of it, in folio, is now in possession of the Franklin Library in Philadelphia. He was the father of the beautiful Evelyn Byrd, whose death of a broken heart because her father refused to give his consent to her marriage with her lover, said to have been Lord Peterborough, has furnished a theme for poet and novelist. He was buried at his family estate, Westover, and his tombstone, in the old flower garden there, not only gives a history of his life, but tells us also of several of his noble and illustrious friends and their good qualities.

Richmond was established as a town by the Assembly of Virginia in 1742 Originally built on seven hills, it has been called the "Modern Rome," and one of Richmond's gifted daughters once wrote:

"O Richmond! Richmond! Richmond!
Upon thy seven hills
Like one of old, we wot of well
Thy fame the wide world fills."

In 1842, when Dickens visited Richmond, it already covered yet another hill, and he wrote of it as
" delightfully situated on eight hills overhanging James River, a sparkling stream studded here and there with bright islands, or brawling over broken rocks. There are pretty villas and cheerful houses on its streets, and nature smiles upon the country. 'round."

The oldest house in Richmond, the "Old Stone House," situated on Main Street, was built by Jacob Ege in 1737, and is now used as a museum filled with relics and curiosities.

St. John's Episcopal Church, which was built in 1740, is in a state of excellent preservation, and religious services are held in it as they were in the days before the Revolution. It was built under the superintendence of Richard Randolph of Curls Neck, the son of William Randolph of Turkey Island and Jane Bolling, the great great granddaughter of Pocahontas. In its graveyard are many quaint old tombstones, the oldest, that of the Rev. Robert Rose, is dated 1751. The learned and accomplished George Wythe, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and many other famous sons of Virginia lie buried in the graveyard. The most interesting event in the history of the Church, and one with which its name will be forever linked, was the meeting within its walls of the famous Virginia Convention of March 20, 1775. A few months after the adjournment of the first Continental Congress, this convention met to hear a report of its proceedings, and to deliberate on the political situation. The bitter hostility to the patriots on the part of Lord Dunmore made it unsafe for them to meet in Williamsburg, the capital of the colony, and the importance and sacredness of the cause made it appropriate to meet in the sanctuary of God, to whom they humbly looked for guidance on their sea of troubles. The vestry recognized this, and offered to the convention this, the largest building in the town. It was during the session of this convention that Patrick Henry made his famous speech, in which he proclaimed the folly of longer expecting peace, and the necessity of arming for immediate war, ending with the words: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." The very spot where the orator stood is pointed out.

Some six years later, January 6, 1781, Benedict Arnold, the traitor, entered the city at the head of nine hundred British soldiers. That night part of his troops were quartered in the old church, desecrating it as far as they were able.

In 1779, the Legislature ordered the removal of the seat of government from Williamsburg to Richmond, then only a collection of disjointed villages placed amid the ragged ground at the falls of the James. Virginia had been settled largely by sons of country gentlemen, who brought from their far off homes the love of country life. Her citizens preferred that life, and the title "Country Gentlemen" was the most desired. In consequence there were no large cities in the State.

In 1781, the Marquis Chastellux, who served with honor in the French army, thus described the city:

"Though Richmond be already an old town and well situated for trade, being built on the spot where the James River begins to be navigable, that is, just below the rapids. It was before the war one of the least considerable in Virginia, where they are all in general very small, but the seat of the government being removed from Williamsburg it is become a real capital, and is augmenting every day."

In 1782, Richmond was incorporated as a city, and three years later the foundations of the Capitol were laid. Especially beautiful in the summer months, when the grass is as green as emerald and the noble trees give grateful shade, is the Capitol Square. Squirrels play as if at home about the grounds, much to the delight of the children. The square, with its area of about twelve acres, includes the lot on which the Executive mansion stands, and is supposed to be a part of Nathaniel Bacon's plantation, where his overseer was murdered by the Indians, whose punishment by him, without permission of the Governor, Sir William Berkeley, was the beginning of the famous Bacon's rebellion.

Of the Capitol itself, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"I was written to in 1785, being then in Paris, by Directors' appointed to superintend the building of a Capitol in Richmond, to advise them as to a plan.

Thinking it a favorable opportunity of introducing into the State an example of the classic style of antiquity, and the Maison Quarree of Nismes, an ancient Roman Temple, being considered as the most perfect model existing of what may be called Cubic architecture, I applied to M. Clerissault, who had published drawings of the antiquities at Nismes to have me a model of the building made in stucco, only changing the order from the Corinthian to Ionic on account of the difficulty of Corinthian Capitals."

The model sent by Jefferson is still preserved, and looks like a miniature of the Capitol with very slight variations. Jefferson says of it: "Here I am gazing whole hours at the Maison Quarrel like a lover at his mistress."

The corner stone was laid in 1785, and on October 19, 1789, eight years to the day after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Legislature convened in it.

The Capitol is full of memories of bygone days. Here were debated and adopted the famous resolutions of 1798-99, drafted by James Madison as the true interpretation of the Federal compact. Here sat the convention of 1829-30, of which Marshall, Madison, Monroe and John Randolph of Roanoke were members, the convention of 1851, which enlarged the right of suffrage and, ten years later, the body which adopted the Act of Secession. Here, in 1862, met the congress of the Confederate States of America, which sat until April, 1865, when it adjourned" Not sine die indeed, yet never to meet again."

In the rotunda of the Capitol is the most valuable marble in America, Houdon's statue of Washington, modelled from life. Virginia had voted this statue to him May 15,1784, and Madison penned the inscription which appears on the pedestal:

"The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia have caused this statue to be erected as a monument of affection and gratitude to George Washington, who uniting to the endowments of the hero, the virtues of the patriot, and exercising both in establishing the liberties of his country, has rendered his name dear to his fellow citizens, and given to the world an immortal example of true glory."

Mr. Jefferson, being then in Paris, engaged Houdon to come to Virginia to make the statue, saying of him: "He is without rival ship, the first statuary of his age, as proof of which he receives orders from every other country for things intended to be capital."

It is a tradition that Houdon spent several days at Mount Vernon before he selected the attitude for the statue. One day Washington was summoned to inspect a pair of horses offered for sale. He asked their price, and was told "a thousand dollars." At once he drew himself up, with an expression of indignation at the price, and Houdon, watching him, exclaimed, "Ah, I 'ave him, I 'ave him!" and immediately set to work to make the pose immortal.

In the Capitol grounds stands Crawford's famous equestrian statue of the great hero.

Thomas Crawford, father of F. Marion Crawford, the distinguished novelist of our day, had received an order from the State of Virginia to make this statue of Washington and also to make effigies of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry to stand at its base. He had just completed his work when he was afflicted with a mortal disease, and when an order came to add the figures of Mason, Marshall, Nelson and Lewis he was unable to fill it, and the monument was subsequently completed by Randolph Rogers. The statue was unveiled February 22, 1858, the one hundred and twenty sixth anniversary of Washington's birth, and a proud day it was in the history of Richmond. Henry A. Wise, Governor of the State, presided and delivered an eloquent address. Senator R. M. T. Hunter was the orator of the occasion, and John R. Thompson and James Barron Hope, who were then the "rose and expectancy of the State," recited poems prepared by them. It is considered one of the best equestrian statues in the world.

A fine marble statue of Henry Clay, executed by Joel T. Hart and erected by the efforts of some patriotic ladies, stands near by. Contemporaries of Mr. Clay pronounced it lifelike. Virginia claims Mr. Clay for a son, as he was born in Hanover County, and did not move to Kentucky until he reached manhood.

On the Capitol grounds is an old building known as the Bell House which, th ough erected many years previous, is chiefly interesting for its association with the Civil War. The bell had been purchased in 1790, when the Directors of Public Buildings were authorized to "fit up a sufficient bell for the use of the Capitol." Tradition says the bell rang an alarm at the time of the "Nat Turner" insurrection, but it is consecrated to the trying times of 1865 to 1865 as is no other object connected with the Civil War. When its well known peal rang out three quick taps and an interval, soldiers and citizens, old men and young, rushed with common impulse to the rendezvous, with hearts and hands ready for the defence of the city.

There is also on the grounds a statue of the great soldier, Thomas J. Jackson, executed by Foley, the celebrated English sculptor, and presented to Virginia by some of his English admirers. Old soldiers say of this, that it is the best likeness extant of their great leader. "Look! there is Jackson, standing like a stone wall," is inscribed on the pedestal.

One of the most interesting sites in the city is that now occupied by the Monumental Church, on Broad Street, on what was formerly known as Academy Square. Here a certain Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire erected a large wooden building for an academy of fine arts. He was full of enthusiasm, and visited Paris to present his plan to the French Academy, which body gave their approval, but his scheme failed and the building was turned into a theatre. Here assembled in 1788 a brilliant coterie of statesmen, Marshall, Madison, Mason, Monroe, Randolph, Henry, Lee, Wythe, Pendleton and others, who met to discuss and finally ratify the Constitution of the United States as framed in Philadelphia.

Twenty three years afterwards on a fatal December evening it was the scene of a dreadful disaster, when seventy two persons, including the Governor of the State, who were attending a performance at the theatre, perished in the flames which destroyed the building. The portico of the church covers the tombs and charred remains of most of the victims of the fire, and a monument bears their names.

The house of Chief Justice Marshall stands on the street named in his honor. It was built in 1795, and is as simple and unpretentious as was its distinguished owner. Still in the possession of his descendants, the house has not been remodelled and but few changes have been made inside. By some mischance, in the absence of Judge Marshall, the house was built rear side front. The handsome hall and staircase, with their carved balusters of cherry, are at the back, opening towards the garden, the dining room looks out on Marshall Street, and the entrance for visitors is by a small door on the side street. Here lived and loved, in the simple, good old fashion, the great lawyer and his lovely wife, Mary Willis Ambler. Their married life was a peaceful idyl lasting forty two years. Folded in his will was a touching tribute to his wife, ending:

"She became at sixteen a most devoted wife. All my faults, and they were too many, could never weaken this sentiment. It formed a part of her existence. Her judgment was so sound and so deep that I often relied upon it in situations of some perplexity. I do not recollect once to have regretted the adoption of her opinion. I have sometimes regretted its rejection."

Both Washington and Lafayette visited the city in 1784, and were welcomed by the citizens and legislature then in session, who expressed their appreciation of the great services they had rendered the country. In response toe an address made upon the occasion of this visit, Washington said: "That this growing city may enjoy the benefits which are to be derived from liberty, independence and peace, that it may improve such of its advantages as a bountiful nature has bestowed, and that it may soon be ranked first in the Union for population, commerce and wealth, is my sincere and fervent wish." Lafayette visited Richmond again in 1824. Houdon had made a bust of him, which Virginia gave to France, and a copy of which she kept in the rotunda of the Capitol. By chance, just before his visit, the nose was broken off, and there was great concern lest he reach the city before it could be restored. Happily, however, the nose was finished in time.

The Swan tavern, still preserved on Broad Street, was an ancient place of entertainment kept by Major Moss, who was said to be "full of good feeding, breeding and fellowship." His home was the Lincoln's Inn or Doctors' Commons of Richmond, for there assembled in term times the non resident judges and lawyers. Though of unpretending exterior, the Swan was of highest repute for good fare, good wine and good company. An annex to the Swan was the house where Aaron Burr was kept prisoner during his trial for treason in 1807, the Federal Court having then no prison under its control. Chief Justice Marshall presided at the trial, and the Court sat in the Hall of Delegates in the Capitol.

Edgar Allan Poe spent many of his boyhood days in Richmond, with John Allan, a rich merchant of Scotch descent who adopted him. Until recently, the fine old residence of Mr. Allan was standing on Fifth Street, and near by was the residence of William Wirt, who loved the place and thus writes of it:

"I never met with such an assemblage of striking and interesting objects as here, the town dispersed over hills of various shapes, the river descending from west to east, and obstructed by a multitude of small islands, clumps of trees and myriads of rocks, the same river, at the lower end of the town, bending at right angles to the south and winding many miles in that direction, its polished surface caught here and there by the eye, but more frequently covered from the view by trees, among which white sails exhibit a curious and interesting spectacle; then again, on the opposite side, Manchester, built on a hill, which, sloping quickly to the river, opens the whole town to view, interspersed with flourishing poplars and surrounded to a great distance by green plains and stately woods, all these objects falling at once under the eye constitute by far the most finely varied and most animated landscape I have ever seen."

The Valentine Museum, which was given to the city by one of its most 'valued citizens, the late Mann S. Valentine, contains archaeological specimens numbering more than one hundred thousand, also an art collection and a number of original works donated by his brother, Edward V. Valentine, Virginia's talented, sculptor. A short walk brings you to the studio of this artist, where, among many beautiful and interesting figures, the chief interest centres in the model for the recumbent statue of General Robert E. Lee, the marble of which is in the annex to the Episcopal Church in Lexington. This statue has won for Valentine the admiration and love of the people of the South.

At once the capital and the citadel of the Confederacy, Richmond was the objective point of assault in the Civil War, and the greatest generalship on both sides was displayed in its attack and its defence. From May, 1862, to April, 1865, it may be said to have been in a state of siege, holding out steadily and grandly against great odds. During this period it is said that fifteen pitched battles and more than twenty skirmishes were fought in the effort to capture it. When its defenders were finally obliged to leave the city to its fate, they set on fire the warehouses to prevent the capture of the tobacco which they contained, burned the bridges behind them as the last soldier crossed the river, and left the business portion smoldering in flames, a barren trophy to the victors. It is in consequence of this that so few of the typical old buildings remain standing, for the flames leaped from house to house and destroyed many old landmarks. The city was not long in rising from its ashes and taking on new life, and there could be no greater contrast than that between the city of 1865 and the Richmond of today. Nevertheless it will always be remembered as the capital of the Lost Cause, and, as such, it will be invested with a pathetic interest. Its suburbs, attractive as they are from their natural beauty, derive their chief interest from having been the scenes of the conflict. In many places there remain the earthworks thrown up for the defence of the city, and every avenue out of the city for miles around leads to battlefields. Many monuments mark the love and veneration of the people for the heroes of the war. Foremost of these is the equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee by Mercie, a French sculptor. It represents the great general riding slowly down the line, mounted on "Traveller," his well known war horse. It is located in Lee Circle, one of the most beautiful parts of the city. A monument, the cornerstone of which has already been laid, will be erected to the memory of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States. His residence while occupying that office is a building imposing in appearance, with grounds beautifully laid out, and adorned with fountains and flowers. It is known as the "White House of the Confederacy," and is kept in admirable condition by a band of devoted women, the Confederate Literary Memorial Society. The residence occupied by General Lee and his family is in the care of the Virginia Historical Society, and contains the extensive library of books, manuscripts and publications of that society.

A favorite drive is to Hollywood, silent city of the dead, which nature and art have united to beautify. Here sleep many of Virginia's famous men; among them, Monroe and Tyler, Presidents of the United States, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, John R. Thompson, the poet, John Randolph, caustic Master of Roanoke, and Mathew F. Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas." A beautiful monument of granite, pyramidal in form, and covered with Virginia creeper and ivy, marks the graves of twelve hundred Confederate dead.

T h e Government h a s lately finished a fine road, leading from Chimborazo Park to the National Cemetery, where lie buried 6547 of the Federal soldiers who fell in the attempts to capture the city.

Nature has done much for the city. The climate is pleasant and healthful; trees shade and flowers beautify the residences. The river glistens as it flows around wooded islands and rushes toward the sea over craggy rocks. Numerous lines of travel centre in its midst and there is a growing spirit of enterprise among its citizens. The water power is very fine, and besides being utilized for many manufactories, is about to be used for the generation of electricity on a large scale. Richmond claims the honor of being among the first, if not the very first city, to be lighted with gas. A man named Henfrey visited the city early in the present century, and induced some of the prominent citizens to witness experiments made by him in which he poured flame instead of steam from the spout of a tea kettle. Money was raised by subscription and a lighthouse was bñilt. On a tower forty feet high was a large lantern with many jets, and gas was generated in the basement and conducted by a pipe to the burners. Not, however, until many years after were the gas works erected, and though Henfrey's light was short lived, his tower remained a monument of the enterprise of the citizens.

The people of Richmond are refined and hospitable. "It is the merriest place and the most picturesque, I have seen in America," wrote Thackeray.

The city is filled with the echoes of the past. She cherishes tender memories of brave men and gracious women. Rich in historic interest, progressive in her industries and in education, Richmond easily takes the lead in the State. Perhaps it is not too much to say that her great mental activity today, and her rapid advancement of late years in material concerns, gives her a position by no means insignificant among the cities of America, a fitting capital of the "Mother of States and of statesmen."

Also see the Early Virginia Biographies.

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