The Scotchtown Post: Insight into Patrick Henry and the Place He Lived for a Few Pivotal Years
Why I went to Scotchtown, where Patrick Henry lived for a bit.
Even though I've visited before, you might have read my reasoning on visiting sites multiple times (if not, here it is) and know that I'm always coming up with new questions that lead me back. And always looking for new bits of history; buildings, people, daily life, culture, art... I love it all, even the wallpaper.
So- why Scotchtown specifically?
Patrick Henry did not live there long- but he lived there on the eve and into the American Revolutionary War. All the speeches, meetings, debates, and decisions about creating an independent United States of America, the pivotal years, happened while Henry lived at Scotchtown.
Let's take a look.
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Scotchtown: a little history of the land and the home.
It's easy to look at history and get caught up in one vital moment of it, but the truth is: the land, and the home existed before and after Henry's time there.
While this blog tends to focus on the 17th and 18th centuries forward, several Native American tribes made this land their home. Captain John Smith even created a map of the area that included identifying who lived where. Click here for more information.
Fast forward into the 18th century- in 1717 when Charles Chiswell acquired the land on a grant and ultimately built the home.
It was next left to John Robinson through marriage to a Chiswelll daughter. The same John Robinson who died in 1766 and, through efforts to pay off his debt (as was the process upon death in the 18th century) an entire scandal was unleashed.
Robinson was Virginia's treasurer prior to his death and it was discovered he mismanaged government funds. Ironically, he opposed Patrick Henry's famous resolves and Henry ended up purchasing his home, Scotchtown for not much over $600 at auction.
As the war took hold and Patrick Henry moved into his next chapter of life, with his wife Sarah having died at Scotchtown, he sold the property (for way more than the purchase price!). It went through multiple owners and Preservation Virginia acquired it in the 1950s.
The building was not in original form and the research and restoration were next!
What I learned there.
I'm keeping it simple, in typical Daphne fashion. Giving you just enough to satisfy a bit of curiosity and, possibly, the interest to dig deeper!
- The home is set high off the ground. Rumor/legend/historical hypothesis is that it may have been for Sarah's (wife) health that Henry purchased it, including the higher elevation of the home. When you stand in a room and look out the window, if you're far enough back, you cannot see the ground.
- The quirky, yet symmetrical rooms, have walls on a sharp angle due to the fireplaces. There are 10 in total.
- The use of the rooms aren't 100% certain, but the dining room is most likely due to a door that opens out - possibly for the enslaved cook and servants to deliver food to the table.
- The main hallway is wide and they've added a floor covering to 1) preserve the most original room in the building's wood floors and 2) show the style of the period.
- The docent shared a story of Sarah (mother) bringing young Patrick to church services led by Samuel Davies. Davies was known to be a charismatic and passionate orator. Was this an influence on Henry to use his speaking skills in his future endeavors?
- A nod to George Washington sits in the room set up as Henry's law office. The portrait is one of several painted by Charles Wilson Peale (and I forgot to ask if it's an original!). For those that may not know, Henry had a solid relationship with Washington and in fact, married a Dandridge well after Sarah's death...Martha's cousin!
The Henry family.
- It's known that Henry had MANY children. His 5 with wife Sarah occupied Scotchtown. A portrait of daughter Betsy hangs above the fireplace in the room set up as a guest room. Also set up based on the knowledge of Henry's devotion to his family is a "family room" for the Henrys to spend casual time together.
- Colonial Williamsburg's Patrick Henry is where I first learned about Henry's sister: Madame Elizabeth Russell. As this article says, she was a changemaker. Her portrait hangs over the fireplace in Scotchtown's dining room- a place where you get a taste of the role of the enslaved in the home. Madame Russell could be considered an abolitionist in today's terms as well as someone who broke the glass ceiling in many ways when she became ordained and, also, moved to Saltville, the frontier of Virginia.
- John Henry, Patrick's father and a Scotsman who served as justice in the Hanover County Court, has a place at Scotchtown to be remembered as well. Hanging in the "law office" space is a map created by John. While he may not have been taken seriously by all his contemporaries as far as the accuracy of that map, it displays the importance he laid on exploring the land and ensuring the future of colony.
Note from author: reminder that I use the names of our Nation Builders in and out of character, when appropriate. Click here to read more about the program and click here to read an article by Richard Schumann, Colonial Williamsburg's Patrick Henry.
- The "family room" setup includes a violin on a side table and several children's games of the era.
- A hunting rifle and musket, which would've been typical for a rural home, leans against a wall in what is displayed to be Patrick Henry's bedchamber.
- A desk and chair, along with "paperwork," are set up both in the bedchamber and office space.
- In the dining room, you see a tea caddy owned by Sarah (mom) along with a tea service. The table is set with what would've been a typical meal of the period for the Henry family.
The questions it inspired me to take back to Williamsburg.
I'm blessed as a history nerd: I have access to actor historians that use primary sources as well as tradespeople and interpreters that do the same. They live and breathe factual history. It is what Colonial Williamsburg is all about. I also have access to the fantastic Rockefeller Library- in fact we can all get info online.
Cheers to living where I used to vacation- the largest living history museum in the world!
- Living at Scotchtown, who were Patrick Henry's neighbors?
- Was the decision to purchase Scotchtown a result of Mrs. Henry's health needs or a financial decision?
- How long did it take to get to Williamsburg as well as to St. John's Church where the famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech took place? How did Patrick Henry prefer to travel?
- Being so "rural" how did messages and correspondence get from Scotchtown to Williamsburg, all the county courts Henry practiced law in etc. prior to the creation of the post office?
- Who were some of the most famous guests at Scotchtown?
- What was the biggest impact John Henry (Patrick's dad) had on Patrick? On American history, maybe through his surveys and maps?
- What impact did both Sarahs in Patrick's life have on him?
- Did Samuel Davies have impact on his oratory skills and interest?
I'm looking forward to seeing Patrick Henry's upcoming performances and to him wandering the Palace Green... I have a whole bunch of new questions and a much better understanding of this great orator and legendary voice of the Revolution.
Do not worry~ I'll come back and add updates to any answers I find/learn.
And did I cover everything about Patrick Henry... not even CLOSE. More to come!
Where have you visited that you want to visit again? Why?
Tell me in the comments! Please share some of your favorite historic sites and why we should visit them.
I always invite you to visit my hometown of Williamsburg and while you're in the area, make the one-hour drive to Scotchtown.
As always, closing with words from history.
This time, Henry's own words... a small excerpt from his famous 1775 speech in Richmond. Please read the full text here.
March 23, 1775: St. John's Church, Richmond Virginia:
"Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?"
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There is a huge practical disclaimer to the content on this blog, which is my way of sharing my excitement and basically journaling online.
1) I am not a historian nor an expert. I will let you know I’m relaying the information as I understand and interpret it. The employees of Colonial Williamsburg base their presentations, work, and responses on historical documents and mainly primary sources.
2) I will update for accuracy as history is constant learning. If you have a question about accuracy, please ask me! I will get the answer from the best source I can find.
3) Photo credit to me, Daphne Reznik, for all photos in this post, unless otherwise credited! All photosare personal photos taken in public access locations or with specific permission.