See this wonderful article about Mt. Airy Plantation in Richmond County, Virginia (on the Northern Neck) – a young family has recently moved in on a quest to preserve the estate as a home first and foremost, but also as a rare historical treasure. It completely embodies the dreams we have for Edge Hill. We hope our house will look this good by the time we have two elementary school-aged kids! Unlikely, but we can always dream… :)
“Outstanding among the old ante bellum southern plantations is Edge Hill, at Quicksburg. Standing majestically on the edge of a hill overlooking to the east many acres of rich bottom land is the beautiful old colonial mansion house with adjoining slave quarters.”
This post will focus on the history of the Edge Hill property from the time of the English land grants to the construction of our house, with more to follow in subsequent posts.
This post might get a little text-intensive, but we will try and spice things up with photos as we can. Our sources mainly include local texts – we owe much thanks to John Wayland, whose detailed book contains an exhaustive account of how the Edge Hill property has changed hands, which we will now
plagiarize summarize. We also got a nice surprise that we mentioned (ages ago) as the “more information” we were waiting on to do this post: the Google machine led us to the special collections library at Marshall University in West Virginia, where there is a collection of original letters, including several from James Madison Hite Beale, the man who built our house; copies of those letters arrived in the mail last week! MAJOR SCORE! But more on that later; now, to start at the beginning…
The Native Americans once hunted…ha! We can’t go that far back, so we’ll start with the English “acquisition” of the New World.
Land in the Shenandoah Valley initially belonged to one of several wealthy English land barons, and Edge Hill was no exception. Ownership of Edge Hill purportedly transferred into private-citizen hands October 21, 1731, when an Order of Council of the Virginia Colonial Government gave Joist Hite and Robert McKay the right to settle 100 settlers on 100,000 acres in the Shenandoah Valley. One of those settlers was Daniel Holman, who had been chosen to settle the fertile river bottom plot that is now Edge Hill. This transaction was soon challenged by Lord Fairfax, who also had a large land grant in the Valley. Fairfax disputed Hite and McKay’s claim to settle the Valley, and ultimately Daniel Holman petitioned Fairfax directly to clear title to his land. In 1750, he received three Fairfax grants, 550 acres of which ultimately became Edge Hill. This is an overview of the land grants in the region:
And here is a close up of the Holman grants:
You can see “Edge Hill” in the center of the map; also note the “Old River Channel” (referenced below).
Except “Edge Hill” wasn’t Edge Hill back then – it was temperate forest. Enter the mule, plow, and other accoutrements of mastering the wilderness. When Daniel Holman passed away, his son, Jacob Holman, inherited the land. In the Revolutionary War, Jacob Holman rose to the level of captain and in his later years became one of the largest farmers in the Valley, and a significant slaveholder. At death, his will listed 17 slaves by name, which were passed to his family.
When Jacob Holman died in 1784, the property passed to his heirs, and, though separately owned at times, remained in the Holman family for a total of 92 years. In 1823 and 1824 Abraham Hoffman purchased the two parcels of Edge Hill that had been separated in the Holman family’s inheritance scheme for a total of $17,700.
In 1829, five years later, the progenitor of Edge Hill as we now know it entered the scene. Colonel James Madison Hite Beale purchased the reunified Holman land grant for $19,484. At that time, the deed book noted that the parcel contained 613 3/4 acres.
Wait, What? The original parcels were 550 acres, where did that extra 63 and 3/4 acres come from? Was it a gift from God? Well, as it turns out, sort of! Between the time of the original platting of the property showing 550 acres and 1829, the whole Shenandoah River, which forms the east boundary of the property, MOVED! Remember the “Old Channel” noted above? And, instead of a big to-do, the property owners to the East agreed that the 63 and 3/4 acres of their land that was now stranded on our side of the river should be included in the Beale purchase. That’s what I call neighborly love.
So who was Colonel Beale? A little digging has told us quite a bit. Colonel Beale was the son of Taverner Beale, who originally owned Mt. Airy plantation, located just down the road from Edge Hill. In approximately 1800, the locally-famous Mt. Airy stone house was constructed on the property (after the Beales had moved on):
(Thanks, Google Earth!)
Mount Airy is a property with its own richly-detailed past; at one point it became the summer home for the Vanderbilts, and you can read more about it here.
With his well-heeled neighbors in their stone house down the road, in the late 1830s James Madison Hite Beale set off to build his own large farm home. The entry in Life Along Holman’s Creek helps us date construction the best:
We know from the other dates listed that James Madison Hite Beale ultimately sold Edge Hill in 1846 and moved to Point Pleasant, (now West) Virginia, and thus 1840 is listed as the approximate build date of the still-existing house by J. Floyd Wine in Life Along Holman’s Creek.
Additionally, thanks to our amazing find from Marshall University, we know a bit about the personal dealings of Mr. Beale. He was a wealthy business man, and most of the correspondence relates to his business transactions. Attached to one letter we found a great hand-drawn map of the property:
In addition to being a farm owner, the interwebs tell us that:
Beale was elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses (March 4, 1833 – March 3, 1837). He served as chairman of the Committee on Invalid Pensions (Twenty-fourth Congress). He resumed agricultural pursuits.
Beale was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses (March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1853). He served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings (Thirty-first Congress), Committee on Manufactures (Thirty-second Congress). He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1852. He resumed agricultural pursuits. He died in Putnam County, W.Virginia, August 2, 1866.
(We found this description on academystamp.com, where, apparently, we can purchase a copy of James Madison Hite Beale’s signature. Hellloooo Anniversary Present.)
From an ancestry website, we have found images of Beale’s final resting place in West Virginia:
In 1846, as mentioned above, JMH Beale sold the property to a colorful man named Samuel Moore.
Moore and his family will be the subject of the next installment of the known-history posts. In the mean time, if you see anything that seems off, we will pass the buck and blame it on to our sources! But seriously…if you are in possession of more accurate information, please pass it along and we’ll make the appropriate updates!