Carter's Grove

The Martin's Hundred

Williamsburg, VA

October 29th, 1999

For those who are traveling to the Colonial Williamsburg area for a glimpse at pre-American history, a point of history high on my list is Carter's Grove, an area along the James River several miles outside the city, and maintained by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Shortly after the creation of Jamestown, a group of London-based businessmen in 1617, formed what was called the Martin's Hundred. Having been granted 21,500 acres, they financed 100 men and women to establish a community in the New World in order to produce agricultural products to be returned to London for sale. Those who came had few skills and no particular agricultural experience. They erected a wooden fort with but a single building in it. This community was known as Wolstenholme Towne, and became the administrative center for the Martin's Hundred. The venture produced limited results until the morning of March 22, 1622, when as usual, the local Powhatan Indians wandered unarmed, into the settlement. At a prearranged signal the Indians struck with deadly force, using whatever lay about as weapons, then massacred all those within reach. Caught totally off-guard the unprepared settlers fell easy prey to their determined attackers. Only the Fort itself remained secure as those inside began adding deadly fire from inside. When the savages finally withdrew, all structures but the fort itself had been set ablaze. The bodies of over half the settlement lay strewn about. Dozens of women were seen being carried off by the Indians, with most never being heard of again. Although the plantations would be resettled and agricultural efforts resumed, the town itself would never be rebuilt. It would lay dormant for centuries.
We stopped by the reception center as we arrived and watched the 14 minute movie which laid out the history of the area for the last 400 years. We then proceeded across an elevated walkway to the re-created slave quarters. Here we met several interpreters who directed us through the buildings and outdoor spaces as they revealed much about the lives of the Africans slaves whose labors supported the eighteenth century plantations.
We then moved on to the Archaeology Museum where we learned that in 1977 archaeologists found the outline of the fort, and uncovered many of the graves of those who perished in the Martin's Hundred Indian attack. This underground structure houses many of the artifacts which have been discovered on the grounds. In the museum is a very interesting movie featuring the method used to recover two full-face helmets that were found on the property. Beyond the museum is the partially re-constructed Wolstenholme Towne and Fort. Many of the grave locations are marked with placards describing what was found and what conclusions were drawn from the findings. Within the fort grounds are barrels which offer the visitor, with a push of a button, an audio description of specific parts of the structure.
We took the foot path around the edge of the river as we walked to the rear of the Carter's Grove mansion. In the early 1720's Robert "King" Carter purchased all the land along the James River that had made up the original site of Wolstenholme Towne. The area which he would later name Carter's Grove. Between 1750 and 1755 Carter Burwell, grandson of Robert "King" Carter built the Carter's Grove mansion, a famous example of colonial Virginia plantation architecture, with detached flanking dependencies and a remarkable series of carved paneled rooms. This great house was a symbol of the Burwell's wealth and prominence in the colony and was the center of an agricultural enterprise that encompassed five neighboring plantations. The Burwell family sold the house in 1792 and moved west. The mansion changed hands many times as it slowly slipped into deterioration. In 1928 the McCreas bought the property. With their wealth of new southern tobacco they poured millions into the reconstruction and facelift until the mansion was once again a show place of Virginia. Their efforts were contemporaneous with the initial restorations of Colonial Williamsburg. Carter's Grove would remain a symbol of the grandeur of Virginia's past for the remainder of the McCreas influence. In 1964, through the principle interest of Winthrop Rockefeller, the then chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the mansion and surrounding grounds were acquired from the McCrea's estate. One room in particular interest within the Mansion is called the "refusal room", for as the story goes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both had marriage proposals refused here. Another great story is, that the slash marks on the handrails were reputed to have been made by a British officer as he rode his horse up the staircase during the Revolutionary War. The truth of these and other tales is less important than the romantic lure it inspires of a home steeped in history.

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