Shirley Plantation

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Shirley Plantation 2006.jpg
Main house of Shirley Plantation, July 2006
Shirley Plantation is located in Virginia
Shirley Plantation
Shirley Plantation is located in the United States
Shirley Plantation
Location5 mi. N of Hopewell off VA 608, Hopewell, Virginia
Coordinates37°20′31″N 77°15′39″W / 37.34194°N 77.26083°W / 37.34194; -77.26083Coordinates: 37°20′31″N 77°15′39″W / 37.34194°N 77.26083°W / 37.34194; -77.26083
Builtc. 1723
Architectural styleGeorgian
NRHP reference No.69000328 [1]
VLR No.018-0022
Significant dates
Added to NRHP1 October 1969
Designated NHL15 April 1970[3]
Designated VLR5 November 1968[2]

Shirley Plantation is an estate located on the north bank of the James River in Charles City County, Virginia, USA. It is located on State Route 5, a scenic byway that runs between the independent cities of Richmond and Williamsburg. Shirley Plantation is the oldest active plantation in Virginia and the oldest family-owned business in North America, dating back to 1614 with operations starting in 1648.[4] It used the forced labor of about 70 to 90 enslaved people for plowing the fields, cleaning, childcare, and cooking. The plantation was added to the National Register in 1969 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.


The Shirley Plantation, c. 1900–1906. Photo by William Henry Jackson.
Shirley Plantation dovecote

The lands of Shirley Plantation were first settled in 1613 by Sir Thomas West, 3rd Baron De la Warr and were named West and Sherley Hundred. The land was cultivated for growing tobacco to be shipped around the colonies and to England.

In 1638, a portion of this land was granted to Edward Hill, thus beginning the occupation by the Hill family. The original 450-acre (180 ha) plot was expanded by marriage and gradual land acquisition. The land passed to Edward Hill II who was owner during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. He sided with Governor William Berkeley, and Bacon's rebels proceeded to plunder his home. The land was then inherited by Edward Hill III in 1700. Edward Hill III's only son, Edward Hill IV, died at 16 of consumption, leaving no male heirs. The property reverted to Edward Hill III's youngest daughter Elizabeth who married John Carter (eldest son of Robert "King" Carter), in October 1723. The construction of the present mansion and outbuildings began c. 1723. The mansion, called the "Great House", was completed in 1738 and was located close to the original house built by the Hills that became known as the "Hill House". The Hill House stood until the late 1860s, when it was demolished and the building materials were salvaged and used to construct the mansion at Upper Shirley.

The house has been occupied by the Hill Carter family since 1738 and has housed eight generations.[5] It was at Shirley that Anne Hill Carter was born, and on 18 June 1793 married Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee in the mansion's parlor. The couple were later parents of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Shirley Plantation used enslaved people to cultivate cash crops. Between 70 and 90 enslaved Africans were forced to labor on the plantation, plowing the fields, cleaning, and cooking.[6][7]

The house is largely in its original state and is owned, operated and lived in by direct descendants of Edward Hill I. The house was placed on the National Register in 1969 and recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The upper floors are occupied by members of the eleventh generation of the Hill Carter family, while the bottom floor is open for tours.



The three story "Great House" is constructed in the Georgian style with red brick walls and white trim boards on a square foundation. The house has no actual front door, as both the riverside and courtyard side entrances have a two-story portico with Doric columns supporting a pediment. The entrance is located in the center, framed by a pair of long rectangular windows on either side. The hipped roof rests on an entablature containing dentil moldings. The roof is broken up by dormers and two large brick chimneys. In the center of the roof is a white pedestal supporting an overturned pineapple.[8]

The house is surrounded by several support buildings, including a two-story kitchen with living quarters for the Africans they enslaved,[9] a two-story laundry with living quarters, a smokehouse, a stable building, an ice house, a large storehouse, and a dovecote.


An article in 1989 criticized the failure of tour guides to discuss the historical existence of slavery and oppression on the estate. In it, the owner Helle Carter said she was most concerned about the "proud" local heritage while trying not to "step on anybody's toes", leaving visiting children to ask basic questions like "Where are the slave quarters? What did the slaves do?"[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Shirley". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 29 December 2008. Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  4. ^ McCormack, Kathy (2 August 2010). "After 378 years, NH family farm goes up for sale" (Press release). Dover, New Hampshire. Associated Press. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  5. ^ "Shirley Plantation". Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Shirley Plantation". AfroVirginia. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  7. ^ a b Writer, CHARLES CLARY Staff. "SLAVERY NOT EVIDENT AT JAMES RIVER PLANTATIONS". Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  8. ^ unknown (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Shirley Plantation" (PDF). and Accompanying photo
  9. ^ "Slavery and Servitude". Shirley's History. Shirley Plantation. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Masson, Kathryn & Brooke, Steven; Historic Houses of Virginia: Great Plantation Houses, Mansions, and Country Places; Rizzoli International Publications; New York City, New York; 2006 ISBN 0-8478-2861-1
  • Gleason, David King; Virginia Plantation Homes; Louisiana State Press; Baton Roughe, Louisiana; 1989 ISBN 0-8071-1570-3
  • Roberts, Bruce; Plantation Homes of the James River; University of North Carolina Press; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; 1990 ISBN 0-8078-1879-8

External links[edit]