Some Notes on “Green Spring”

Note: The following is taken from the October 1929 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 37), pp. 289–300.

Map of Greenspring
From the Ludwell Papers, Va. Historical Society Collection.


Formerly the Home of Sir William Berkeley,
Ludwells and Lees.

[At the time these notes were compiled the editor had not seen the ground plan of some of the Greenspring houses, and Mr. Dimmick’s valuable paper in the William and Mary Quarterly and, indeed, did not know they had been published. Circumstances beyond control prevented him from reading current periodicals.]

“Greenspring” in James City County, not far from Jamestown, is one of the most notable estates in Virginia. The old residences which once stood there have long since disappeared; but Mr. Jesse Dimmick, who now owns the property, appreciates its historical interest and has made excavations revealing many foundation walls. This writer has not seen them and even if he had, would consider a description of them Mr. Dimmick’s story. It is intended here to publish a series of notes from various sources giving information in regard to the estate and something in regard to the various mansion houses which once stood there. Through the kind aid of Mr. Fairfax Harrison and Mr. David I. Bushnell, Jr., and the U. S. Air Service, we are able to present an aeroplane photograph taken in the spring of this year. Taking this picture was suggested by the success of similar work in England. It will indicate the nature of some of the aeroplane photographs now being taken in the Southwest and Yucatan by Col. Lindbergh and others.

In the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, V, 383–387, is printed, from the Ludwell Papers in the collection of the Society, a legal opinion, dated 1716, in regard to the second Philip Ludwell’s title to “Green Spring” and some adjoining lands. On June 4, 1643, Sir William Berkeley was granted 984 acres called Green Spring, adjoining “the Governor’s Land”, 3,000 acres, which had been laid out in 1618 for the use of the Governors of the Colony. On June 4, 1646, Sir William was granted 1,090 acres, being the land granted in 1643; but found to contain more acres and also a lease of 70 acres adjoining, part of the Governor’s Land. In Oct., 1652, the grant of 1646 was regranted under authority of Parliament. On March 7, 1661, Berkeley was granted 2,090 acres, including the 1,090 grant. In Oct., 1674, an act was passed confirming Sir William’s title. In a note it is stated that he had held the land for 20 or 30 years “and had been at great expense in building”.

By B. H. Latrobe, 1797
From Ludwell Papers, Va. Historical Society Collection.

During Governor Berkeley’s occupation of Green Spring, it was the social and political center of Virginia. Refugee loyalists, during the Civil Wars in England, were most hospitably received here, and it was the meeting place of the group of the Governor’s adherents, Beverley, Ludwell, etc., known as the “Green Spring Party” who, with Berkeley, had for so long a powerful influence over Virginia affairs.

The “Green Spring” plantation passed from Governor Berkeley to his widow and from her to her second husband, Philip Ludwell, and his descendants. As will be seen from the undated plat found among the Ludwell Papers and printed here “Green Spring” had in the course of time been greatly enlarged.

Statements as to the size of Governor Berkeley’s house have been printed; but the authority for them has not been given. It is probable that he had, at the end of his life in Virginia, quite a large dwelling. The paper just quoted states that he had been at great expense in building. The General Assembly of Feb. 1676–7 was held at “Green Spring”, so there must have been, at least, one room in which thirty or forty men could have sat and transacted business. When the British forces sent to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion arrived in Virginia, Berkeley told them that he had two hundred men, including guards and prisoners at his house. Of course most of these must have been quartered in farm buildings, temporary barracks or tents.

Green Spring house was for a time occupied by Lord Effingham, but as his wife and others died there he transferred his summer residence to “Rosegill” on the Rappahannock. Perhaps Lady Effingham was buried at Green Spring. An epitaph in Bruton Church yard, Williamsburg, states that Sir Thomas Lunsford, Richard Kemp and Thomas Ludwell were formerly buried there.

In this Magazine, XXI, 395–416, is printed the inventory and appraisement of the personal estate in Virginia of Philip Ludwell of London, who died March 25, 1767. He had left Virginia a number of years before and doubtless took many things with him, but the contents of “Green Spring” are numerous and valuable. There is nothing to indicate the size of the house except that there are ten beds, in addition to “trussell” and “field” beds.

Philip Ludwell’s heirs were his two daughters, Hannah Philippa, who married William Lee, of Virginia, then resident in Londan, and Lucy, who married John Paradise, of Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London. Mrs. Lee inherited “Green Spring”, part of Richneck and lots and houses in Williamsburg and Jamestown, and Mrs. Paradise received “Rich Neck” with various lots and houses.

John Paradise was a friend of Dr. Johnson and a member of one of his clubs. The dining table at which the great Doctor, Fanny Burney, and other celebrities sat was brought to Virginia by Mrs. Paradise and was lately (possibly still is) the property of a member of the Gait family in Williamsburg.

The Ludwells were people of large estates and of great political and social prominence. If the Berkeley house was not large enough for them they doubtless, like many other great planters, built such a mansion as they desired. But of this we have no positive evidence, nor, so far as this compiler knows, is there any picture or description of any of the old houses, except that designed for William L. Lee by Latrobe.

In this Magazine, VIII, 24, 25, was printed a letter from Mrs. Ralph Izard, Paris, March 11, 1782, to Mrs. William Lee at Brussels. Mrs. Izard quoted a letter from her husband, then in Virginia, dated Oct. 30, 1781: “I am now at Mr. W. Lee’s plantation on James River, on my way to South Carolina *  *  * The House in which I am now visiting is a very large Mansion, at least as large as ours at Goose Creek and in a much more ruinous condition than when you saw it”.

Ralph Izard’s South Carolina home has long since disappeared and there remains apparently no descriptions or pictures of it, so nothing can be learned in regard to “Green Spring” by comparison with the Izard house.

It is probable that the house referred to by Izard in 1781 was burnt or pulled down, as there was published in The Richmond Enquirer in March, 1816, an advertisement offering “Green Spring” for sale. The plantation contained 2,934½ acres and “the mansion house and wings of brick were erected by the late proprietor, W. L. Lee”. Among the Lee papers in the collection of this Society is “A design for a house at Green Spring, by H. B. Latrobe, March, 1797”. It is printed with this paper.

William Lee died at Green Spring, June 27, 1795, and was buried in Jamestown Church yard near the Ludwell tombs. His wife, Hannah Philippa (Ludwell) Lee had died at Ostend, Aug. 13, 1784, and been buried in the family vault of the Ludwell’s in Bow Church yard near London. William Lee, in his will, left his son, William Ludwell Lee, all his real and personal estate in James City County, Jamestown and Williamsburg. William Ludwell Lee died at Green Spring, January 24, 1803, and was buried near his father in Jamestown Church yard. He bequeathed all his library, except his family Bible, to Bishop Madison, freed all his negroes and provided for them, and gave the remainder of his estate to his sisters.

Our Assistant Secretary, Mrs. J. A. Johnston, performed the wearisome task of going through all the letters in the “Lee Papers”, “Lee Transcripts”, and “William Lee Letters” in the manuscript collection of this Society and extracted everything having any bearing on Green Spring. They are printed here in chronological order:

Letter dated Chantilly in Virginia, July 7, 1770, to “Dear Brother”:

I came a week ago from Williamsburg and was present when the division was made between you and Mr. Paradise—The Green Spring Land was valued at 20/ per acre—The whole land west of Powhatan, Mrs. Lee has by will, and so alotted her now, together with 164 slaves, 217 head of cattle, 190 head of sheep with 17 horses, one improved and one unimproved lot in Jamestown, and the following lots in Williamsburg were valued at £14997. 6. The houses in Williamsburg were divided by lot—The large brick house that Rind lives in—the mansion it is called, where my uncles1 family lived in Town, with the blue Bell, a large house just behind the Capitol, fell to your share.—The remaining furniture at Green Spring with the books, are to be sold for common benefit, and the money divided. I desired Wilkinson to buy two of the beds, and some chairs on your account, to be in the house when we went down to visit the Estate.

The gardens and orchards at Green Spring are extensive and furnished with a variety of good fruit. Out of the 164 slaves mentioned above but 59 are crop negroes—I mean exclusive of boys. 12 are house servants, 4 carpenters, one a wheelwright, two shoemakers, three gardeners and hostlers. The horses are really useless and consume a great deal of corn, the plantation business being done with oxen—The gardens are indeed in tolerable good condition—The Green Spring improvements were valued at £700. The house at Green Spring wants repair much. I fear that the long gallery will fall in despite of props, having already quitted the house a little. The walls appear good, and I believe the timbers are likewise so. I am informed that Major Taliaferro says he will make a thorough repair for  500.—The woolens sent in last year for your people are through—light and insufficient. Good Welch cotton seems upon the whole to answer best. The weeding hoes were good for nothing—much loss is sustained from not having proper instruments of husbandry.—

(Lee Papers, IV, pp. 149-162)

N.B.—Most of the household furniture are sold and many of the Books a few articles still remain at Green Spring some of little or no value. Such as are saleable may be disposed of if desired, the Books remaining on hand after being repeatedly advertized for sale, were put into the Book sellers hands but few of them have yet been disposed of.

(Lee Letters, V, p. 364)

Courtesy of U.S. Air Service

Letter from Richard Henry Lee, “Chantilly, Oct. 9, 1772,” to Landon Carter, Esq.

—So far as I am able to judge I think Mr. Peele2 has much merit in his profession, but in the article of mixing colors for duration, he would seem to be dificient, by the picture he has drawn of Lord Chatham. The colors of that piece have greatly faded in the short time since it was done. I observe in your letter to Mr. Peele that this is one of your capital objections to the copies that have been already taken of your mother’s picture.—I would beg leave to refer you to my brother Frank on his return from Annapolis where he will have had many opportunities of seeing Mr. Peeles performances etc. etc.

(Lee Papers, IV, pp. 254, 255)

London, January 3, 1775. To Mr. Edward Brown—

George Fauntleroy should be kept in the strictyest order—The servants you must well as well as you can, but the women at 4 years will not pay their passage *  *  *  *  * The bedding etc. that are not wanting on the passage by all means contrive to my Estate for I cannot send anything for its use this year; write to Fauntleroy & #38; tell him he must make the best shift he can, as I will not permit anything to be bo’t. in the Country.

(Lee Letter, Book 1, Page 27)

London, February 9, 1775. To Mr. Edward Brown—

Give me what information you can about Green Spring—and take care of the Trents particularly—

(Lee Letter, Book 1, page 52)

London, February 10, 1775. To Col. Richard Henry Lee:

—This year Fauntleroy tells me I am to expect little Tobo & no money, at the same time talks of buying goods in the Country besides sending a much larger Invoice than was ever before demanded by the Estate, tho’ the Negroes have decreased in No. ever since they were divided. All this surely requires some attention else in a little time the only use of the Estate will be to support Mr. F. like a gentleman. His proceedings are not approved by some near him who I believe wish both me and Mrs. Lee well, however you can judge best & will act accordingly. I am sure both you and my Brother Loudoun have already had as much trouble with the Estate that it gives me pain whenever I am obliged to mention any disagreeable circumstances, but I think both your goodness & affection will induce you to pardon me.

(Lee Letter Book 1, p. 56)

London, May 22, 1777. To R. H. Lee, Virginia:

*  *  *  *  *  * I understand you have the chief direction of our late brother P.L.L’s estate *  *  *  *  * this sum I do not wish to touch a shilling of at present, but if the account is properly adjusted and signed by my brother’s estate or administrators, I mean to let it remain as a nest egg for my little female humming bird (now ten days old) until she is either married or of age. The Green Spring Estate will remain for my boy, etc., etc. since I would rather wish to leave them wise and virtuous than over rich.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 54)

Nantes, August 9, 1777. To W. Aylett, Virginia:

*  *  *  * It would be a most pleasing circumstance if I could be informed how things are going on at Green Spring & I must beg the favor of you to give-to the manager there to have all tobacco that is on Hand prized into Hhds.—keep them ready at a moments notice to be brought to the water etc., etc.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 5)

Nantes, Sept. 1, 1777. To R. H. Lee:

—Before this was finished Mr. King delivered me your favor from Williamsburg in June. Fauntleroy has turned out as I always expected, but there is no helping it now, but I hope Ellis will do well as the specimen of the accts. he has sent show an attention to things that have not been regarded before. I am fully sensible from my own experience how much your private interest must have suffered by your application to Public Concerns, therefore instead of complaining I have to thank you heartily for what you have done for me.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 34)

Nantes, Oct. 2, 1777. To R. H. Lee, Virginia:

*  *  *  *  * I before mentioned receiving your letters from
Green Spring and Williamsburg *  *  *  *  * Many thanks for
your attention to my Estate and hope you will continue it.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 66)

Paris, Nov. 4, 1777. To R. H. Lee, Esq.:

*  *  *  *  * The management of the Estate at Green Spring I leave entirely to you and Loudoun, only observing that until the commerce is more open and secure, as you are so far removed from the scene and must necessarily be largely taken up with your own private affairs *  *  *  *  * it would generally be well to convert the tobacco and all other produce of the Estate into money whenever a proper price is offered. Mrs. Lee, her son William Ludwell and Daughter Portia are well. She joins me in affectionate love to you, our dearest sister and the sweet children particularly my Goddaughter Hannah who stands Godmother to our daughter Portia.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 100)

Letter dated Greenspring, Jan. 25, 1778, addressed “My Dear Brother”:

—Our Assembly having just adjourned I am on my way home and I have directed Ellis to make out his accounts and write you fully concerning your affairs under his direction.

Considering the most infamous condition Fauntleroy left everything here, I think Ellis has done well and is going to do much better. I can assure you that as far as I can judge you have got a prize in him and I hope to soon see your affairs here in a flourishing condition. To the things Ellis has written for I think you should add a small box of well assorted medicines for the use of your people—This is certainly a very sickly place and medicine here is now so scarce and so excessively dear, that in this way they are without remedy.

(Lee Papers IV, pp. 119-20)

Part of a letter from Wm. Lee to R. H. Lee. Jan. 2, 1778.

—With respcet to myself, I do not see how after maturely weighing every circumstance, any more than you did, how it was in my power to take any other course than I did, however disagreeable, laborious and unprofitable it may be. Your wise caution will be attended to, and let the issue be what it will, I shall endeavour to be content, tho’ you must acknowledge it will not be over and above comfortable to be tossed about continually from one Post to another with a Family to carry along with me. I am determined however, not to complain, for, if my Country is benefited, and our Glorious Cause is successful, my greatest object will be accomplished.

With respect to my Estate and affairs in Virginia, I cannot give any particular directions, they must be left to the friendly care and guidance of yourself, and our bro. F.L.L., only remembering that if the course of events should, hereafter, call us to reside in Virginia, we would wish to find something comfortable to set down with, at the close of life.

(Lee Transcripts, pp. 410, 411)

Letter from Wm. Lee, dated Nantes, Feb. 15, 1778, to R. H. Lee:

—With respect to the affairs at Green Spring, in general they must be left with you to act as you see best. I wish particular attention may be paid to rearing young negroes, and taking care of those grown up, that the number may be increased as much as possible; also putting several of the most promising & ingenious Lads apprentices to different Trades; such as Carpenters, Coopers, Wheelwrights, Sawyers, Shipwrights, Bricklayers, Plasterers, Shoemakers & Blacksmiths; some women also should be taught to weave.

The planting of White Mulberry Trees should not by any means be neglected ; the corners of the Pannels of the Fences, round all the fields, will be proper places.

If, ever I return, the Culture of Silk will be my principal object, which I am morally certain, will succeed even to the most sanguine expectations.

(Lee Transcripts 3, p. 419)

N—a, June 24, 1778. To Mr. Ellis, G.S., N.A.:

I am glad to hear that my estate under your management is brot. into some order & I hope in a little time you will be able to make amends for not having received anything from it for three years past.

It is not in my power at this distance to be very particular, but in general I wish you to get as much of the swampy lands as psosible made into Timothy Meadows instead of setting any Hay or Fodder. I think they will be more beneficially employed in increasing and supporting well a large stock of cattle and sheep to manuring your lands, etc., etc. I wish to have a large quantity of white Mulberry trees raised, they should be planted by the sides of the fences and round all the fields—Take care of the fruit Trees & Gardens, and put some promising young lads apprentices to all the useful trades such as carpenters, House-joiners—Wheelwrights—Sawyers—Blacksmiths—Bricklayers—Ship-carpenters. *  *  *  * Take care of the people. The women with child should never be hard worked or oppressed, and the children should always be plentifully fed and have necessary cloathing. I wish them all to be treated as human beings whom Heaven has placed under my care.

(Lee Letter Book 2, p. 265)

Letter to E.B. dated Frankfort, June 13, 1779:

Yesterday morning between 1 and 2 o’clock our little Brutus bid us all farewell for ever after a tedious and painful illness.

(Lee Letter Book 3, p. 69)

Letter to E. B. dated Frankfort, June 23, 1779:

*  *  *  *  * Take particular care of Rosewell’s letters, the
policy of insurance and all papers relative to Sam Griffin’s vessel that was lost, which if I remember right were left all together in the dealdesk where I used to write. All the other papers and books left by me in that Desk and those that I left in my closet would be put into a box by themselves and then put up with all the books, letters, Papers etc of every kind relative to the former mercantile business to be brought with you when you come. There are 2 large Boxes sealed of old family papers in the store room up one pair of stairs, they may be marked H.P.L. No. 1 & 2 to be kept until called for, and left with Mr. R. Wray or any friend that will take care of them.

(Lee Letter Book 3, p. 90)

Letter to F. L. Lee, dated Brussels, Feb. 12, 1782:

*  *  *  *  * I shall conclude by telling you that my family (excepting myself) are in tolerable good health; it consists of Mrs. Lee, one son William Ludwell, 7 years old; two daughters Portia 5 years old, and Cornelia 2 years old.

(Lee Letter Book 4, p. 48)

Feb. 28, 1782:

Wrote to R. H. Lee p Marquis de la Fayette to advise of all damage done to the Estate at Green Spring last Campaign. To have the Fruit trees replaced, to have young fellows put apprentices to the trades of coopers, carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths and bricklayers, to have the whole of Powhatan Swamp converted into a Timothy field meadow.

(Lee Letter Book 4, p. 46)

(to be continued)