Spencer, Virginia

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Spencer is an unincorporated community in Henry County, Virginia, United States. It takes its name from its earliest settler, James Spencer Sr., who moved from Loudoun County[1] to Henry County with his sons in the eighteenth century. Spencer's son ensign James Spencer, Jr. died of wounds suffered during the Revolutionary War. (On his death, his widow remarried Nathaniel Bassett.)

Label of Spencer Bros. Tobacco, one of three early plug chewing tobacco companies founded by the Spencer family of Spencer, Virginia

Spencer was the founding site of the Spencer Bros. Tobacco Company, as well as the D.H. Spencer & Sons Tobacco,[2] both begun by the Spencer family, with operations at Spencer, and later at Martinsville, Danville and elsewhere.[3] The family-owned firm later became one of the nation's largest manufacturers of plug chewing tobacco with its well-known brand 'Calhoun' and others.[4] The Spencer family built Grassdale Farm, their tobacco plantation, beginning in the eighteenth century.[5] Grassdale, once called "The Homestead," is on the National Register of Historic Places.[6]

The Spencer family also controlled the Danville & Western Railroad (later merged into the Southern Railway), which stopped in the town, as well as a small collection of other buildings, including a post office, doctor's house and other appurtenances.[7] The family later sold their tobacco company to the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company[8] in one of the first consolidations in the industry. The firms of D. H. Spencer and Sons and Spencer Brothers agreed in December 1903 to form a corporation with Reynolds in return for stock in the enterprise. R. J. Reynolds had grown up in nearby Critz, Virginia, and he and the Spencers were bitter rivals.

Grassdale Farm was once owned by Thomas Jefferson Penn, who built Chinqua-Penn Plantation outside Reidsville, North Carolina, where the Penn tobacco-manufacturing interests were located. The Spencer family and the Penn family are related[9] (Jeff Penn's mother was Annie Spencer Penn, and the Spencer coat-of-arms appears above the entry at Chinqua-Penn.) 'Jeff' Penn sold Grassdale to his first cousin Margaret Dillard (née Spencer) Shackelford and her husband Dr. John Armstrong Shackelford,[10] who subsequently restored the home.[11]

In addition to Grassdale Farm, the Spencer-Penn School and Aurora are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[12]

Margaret Spencer Shackelford's sister Mary Holt married Kennon C. Whittle, a justice on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, who lived at Belleview, built by their shared ancestor Major John Redd. A third sister, Blanche Spencer, married Julian H. Robertson Sr. of Salisbury, North Carolina, a textile company executive, private investor and philanthropist.[13]

Spencer is part of the Martinsville Micropolitan Statistical Area.


  1. ^ "Index to Loudoun County, Virginia, Land Deed Books A-Z, 1757-1800". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "History of Patrick and Henry Counties, Virginia". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "Men of Mark in Virginia". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Rumored Tobacco Merger, Independent Manufacturing Interests May Join Their Forces, The New York Times, December 16, 1903
  5. ^ While dying of his wounds suffered at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, James Spencer Jr. speaks of his 'mansion house now a building.'
  6. ^ "National Register of Historical Places - VIRGINIA (VA), Henry County". nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Grassdale, National Register of Historic Places
  8. ^ "The Tobacco Worker". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "A History of Henry County, Virginia, with Biographical Sketches of Its Most ...". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  10. ^ John Armstrong Shackelford, MD, Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society
  11. ^ "Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present". google.com. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  12. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  13. ^ "Goodells Name Law School Classroom for Tiger Fund Founder". Washington and Lee School of Law. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 

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Coordinates: 36°37′11″N 80°00′26″W / 36.61972°N 80.00722°W / 36.61972; -80.00722