On December 4, 1619, thirty-eight colonists arrived from England and ventured ashore to settle the land grant along the James River that became known as the Berkeley Hundred (Berkeley Plantation). They observed a prayer of Thanksgiving for their safe passage to the New World.
Soon, the landing party–including a sawyer, a cooper, a shoemaker, a gunmaker, and a cook–set about constructing a storehouse and an assembly hall for the plantation. December 4 became a day of Thanksgiving at Berkeley, “yearly and perpetually kept holy” as the plantation charter directed.
Berkeley Plantation, built for the family of Benjamin Harrison IV in 1726, was one of several impressive James River plantations constructed during the first part of the seventeenth century. Nearby Shirley Plantation, begun in 1613—although construction of the present mansion dates to 1723–was the birthplace of Ann Hill Carter, mother of Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Sherwood Forest, erected in 1730, was the home of President John Tyler.
Benjamin Harrison V, born at Berkeley Plantation on December 13, 1730, signed the Declaration of Independence and served three terms as governor of Virginia. His son, the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, also was born at the plantation. Just a month after his inauguration, however, Harrison died in office and was succeeded by Charles City County neighbor and vice president, John Tyler. In 1888, William Henry Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin, entered the White House as the twenty-third president.
During the Peninsular Campaign of the Civil War, General George B. McClellan made Berkeley Plantation his headquarters. While stationed at Berkeley, Major General Daniel Butterfield composed the bugle call “Taps” in 1862.
- Search the collection Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 on Harrison to retrieve documents pertaining to Benjamin Harrison, revolutionary patriot, and ancestor of two American presidents.
- View additional photographs of the facade and rooms of the Harrison and Tyler homes. Search on Berkeley or Sherwood Forest in Gottscho-Schleisner Collection.
- Legislative Petitions Digital Collection from the Library of Virginia presents images of 423 petitions submitted to the Virginia legislature between 1774 and 1802. View a petition dated October 22, 1793 in which Quakers from Charles City ask relief from various religious levies. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Act for Establishing Religious Freedom should have prevented these incursions on the religious liberty of the Society of Friends.
- Read more about U.S. presidents including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and James Madison.