Henrico County Historical Society
PO Box 90775   Henrico, VA 23273   (804)501-5682   hchsinfo@yahoo.com
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Henrico County Historical Society's motto, which is Preserving the Past in the Present for the FutureSkipwith Academy in Three Chopt District, Henrico County, Virginia.Log Cabin in Tuckahoe District, Henrico County, Virginia.Mankin Mansion in Fairfield District, Henrico County, Virginia.Dorey Barn in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.Bethlehem Church in Brookland District, Henrico County, Virginia.

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News 2006 - Fourth Quarter

HCHS President's Message - December, 2006

What a busy year this has been! We began by hosting the Conference of Historical Societies of the Virginia Piedmont at Henricus Historical Park. Members of the Varina Woman’s Club were guests for lunch and a tour of Wilton House at the June quarterly meeting in special recognition of their participation in the founding of the Henrico County Historical Society 31 years ago. We participated in three festivals: Glen Allen Day at Meadow Farm, Publick Day at Henricus Historical Park, and Field Days of the Past in Goochland County. This year saw the opening of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and representatives of the Society were also present at the 225 Year anniversary at Yorktown on October 19th. In cooperation with the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution, the Henrico County Historical Society has sold a quantity of Jamestown commemorative pins with the proceeds used to erect gates at Jamestown and restoration of the Custom House at Yorktown. Arcadia Publishing released the book, “Images of America, Henrico County” by Dr. Louis Manarin. A reception at Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives, the first of events sponsored by HCHS to support local museums, was held honoring all veterans.

As we look back over this year’s accomplishments we realize that no one person is ever solely responsible for success. It is through the encouragement and support of family, friends or mentors that we achieve our goals. We would like, at this time, to thank all who participated during this year and to those that have participated for many years to make this Society a success.

We hope you will join us for a festive holiday lunch at Hanover Tavern prior to the December quarterly meeting. Visitors are always welcome.

May you and your family have a happy holiday and we look forward to an exciting New Year!

Sarah Pace

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Colonial Christmas in Virginia - December, 2006

Reprinted in part from an article by Barbara Crookshanks.

Christmas Day was just the beginning of the celebration of the Yuletide in colonial Virginia.

Virginians continued their holiday observances -- both reverent and merry -- throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas and even on to Candlemas on February 2. Most were Anglicans, members of the Established Church in Virginia, and their observances followed the church calendar: December 26 was St. Stephen's Day; December 27 was Saint John the Evangelist Day; December 28 was Holy Innocents Day; January 6 was Twelfth Day or Epiphany.

On Christmas Eve, colonial Virginians decorated their churches with green boughs and hung garlands of holly, pine, ivy, magnolia, and mistletoe from the church roof, walls, pillars, galleries, pews and pulpits. They also decorated their homes with evergreens, symbols of eternal life. Pomander balls made with cloves and oranges brought scents of the season. Both houses and churches were strewn with lavender, rosemary, and bay.

Fruits decorated the dining table in pyramid form. They were too precious to be used in wreaths and garlands as we do today.

The Virginians carried on the customs of Medieval England, including the bringing in and burning of a huge Yule Log, usually of oak. Originally a Norse custom, it was said to bring good luck to the house in the coming year. They also continued the custom of hanging mistletoe kissing balls.

Christmas Day morning began with gunfire as every man fired his musket to announce the start of the holiday. Folks would also set off strings of firecrackers and bang on pots and plans -- anything for noise. However, Santa Claus and the Christmas tree would not become a part of a Virginia Christmas until the 19th century. From the jolly Dutch in New Amsterdam where children were putting out their wooden shoes for Santa to fill, to the inhabitants of the various colonies, there were differences of opinion on how to celebrate -- or not celebrate --Christmas.

Any celebration of Christmas was outlawed in most of New England until early in the 19th century. Massachusetts forbade "the observance of any such day as Christmas or the like..." Connecticut banned the reading of the Book of Common Prayer, the keeping of Christmas and saints' days, the making of mince pies, the playing of cards, or performing on any musical instruments.

Colonial Virginians did just the opposite -- and more.

"Nothing is now to be heard of in conversation, but the balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments, and the good fellowship, which are to be exhibited at the approaching Christmas," wrote Philip Fithian on December 18, 1773. He was a young divinity student from Princeton University, tutor to the children of wealthy planter Robert Carter, who lit his great hall with hundreds of candles.

Christmas carols were in the air. They sang many of the same ones we sing today: Joy to the World, The Snow Lay on the Ground, The First Noel, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, The Holly and the Ivy, I Saw Three Ships, Lully Lullay (The Coventry Carol).

As Christmas neared, plantation kitchens were a hive of activity. In 1746, a London magazine reported: "All over the Colony, an universal Hospitality reigns, with full tables and open doors."

Family, friends and even strangers would come and sometimes stay for weeks. Guests needed no invitations. It was Southern hospitality at its finest. Parties sometimes began before breakfast. Dancers seemed never to tire. Philip Fithian entered the Carter ballroom and admired the minuets and country dances which had begun at breakfast and continued until 2 p.m. After dinner, the dancing started up again until it was too dark to dance.

On Christmas Day the "groaning board" in wealthy households would offer beef, goose, ham, turkey, fish, oysters, mincemeat pies, brandied peaches, fruit cakes and plum puddings. There were often a dozen kinds of desserts.

Drink was usually strong and included egg nog, the traditional English wassail bowl, a punch of spiced wine or ale with apples. Port and Madiera were favorite wines. George Washington, whose Christmas toast was "All our friends," had his own recipe for egg nog. It was a potent libation.

Presents were usually quite modest: a kiss and a small toy for children and simple best wishes for friends. However, newly-married George Washington had other ideas. In 1759, he made this Christmas list for his two stepchildren: "A bird on Bellows, A Cuckoo, A turnabout parrot, A Grocers Shop, An Aviary, A Prussian Dragoon, A Man Smoakg, 6 Small Books for Children, 1 Fash. dres Baby & other toys."

Feasting and merrymaking continued throughout the season. Sally Fairfax wrote in 1771: "On Thursday,the 26 of decem. Mama made 6 mince pies, & 7 custards, 13 tarts, 1 chicking pye and 4 pudings for the ball."

On December 27, throughout colonial Virginia, the Masons, dressed in full Masonic regalia, marked December 27, the day of their patron saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist, with a procession from their lodge building to the local parish church. John Harrower, a Scottish tutor at nearby Belvedere Plantation, visited Fredericksburg on December 27, 1774, and wrote in his hornbill: "St. John's Day. This Day a Grand Lodge in Town. And the whole went to church in their Clothing and heard Sermon." Twelfth Night, January 6, was "the traditional last fling of the Christmas season," as described in the book, Christmas in Colonial and Early America. It was also a traditional time for weddings: George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis were married on Twelfth Night of 1759 at her home near Williamsburg.

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Custom House - Yorktown, Virginia - December, 2006

Reprinted from the DAR Comte de Grasse Chapter website.

The Comte de Grasse Chapter of the DAR is privileged to have stewardship of one the most venerable buildings in Yorktown. The Custom House dates from c. 1720, and is one of the few buildings to survive the bombardment of the town by American and French forces in 1781 that drove British General Lord Cornwallis to surrender his army in the Battle of Yorktown, which was the seminal battle of the Revolutionary War. And, it survived again as the Civil War raged through the town during McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in 1862.


The Custom House at Yorktown occupies a unique place in American history. In the early days of the American colonies, there were no publicly owned customhouses as we know them today. Customs collectors were prominent merchants and farmers who kept an office at their place of business or residence -- and in this office, port clearances and other official papers were issued and sealed, and district records were kept. Few of these "private" customhouses have survived to present day.

Richard Ambler established the Custom House in Yorktown. He was born in York, England, in 1690, and immigrated to Virginia at an early age. By 1720, he had settled in Yorktown, then one of the busiest ports on the east coast of North America. In 1721, he purchased lot 43 in Yorktown, located at the corner of Main and Read streets, at the top of the bluff overlooking the busy waterfront.

Ambler built his home and a large (for the times) brick storehouse on the lot. Ambler is the first officially designated collector of customs for the British Crown in Yorktown. At the time and all through the 1700s, Yorktown was the largest port on the East Coastbetween Philadelphia and Charleston. It had a population of about 3,000, about the same as the capital, Williamsburg.

The property passed to his youngest son, Jaquelin, who also served as collector of customs for the port of Yorktown… and sheriff for York County, a member of the Council of State in 1780, and treasurer of Virginia from 1782 until his death in 1798.

During the Revolutionary War, Jaquelin moved his family to the relative safety of the interior of the state, and the Custom House, his home, and other properties were used by colonial troops as barracks. The gardens, fences, and outbuildings were casualties of this occupation. When the British arrived in 1781, they used the same structures, adding insult to injury. After Cornwallis' humiliating defeat in October 1781, the remaining buildings were used to quarter French troops who wintered in Yorktown.

Yorktown's time in the sun passed after the Revolution, and little of note occurred during the years leading up to the "Recent Unpleasantness" (called the Civil War by most). During McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in 1862, General Magruder used the Custom House as his headquarters. Ambler's frame house next door was a casualty of this occupation --but the venerable Custom House survived.

During and after Reconstruction, the building was used as a store, a school, a bank, a barbershop, and at times, a residence. Through all these transmutations, it suffered mightily, but its essential character was retained.

The Comte de Grasse Chapter of the DAR acquired the property in 1924, with the help of Mrs. George Preston Blow of the Nelson House in Yorktown. Mrs. Latitia Pate Evans, whose surname is connected with an early Yorktown family, donated funds for the building's restoration and upkeep. With the meticulous guidance of famous Virginia historical architect Duncan Lee, the Chapter restored the structure, established a walled garden, and constructed outbuildings, all in keeping with the period.

The interior and exterior walls of the building are all original, though repaired and restored in several places. The flooring on the first floor is original to the building; some boards were relocated from other parts of the building to replace especially worn boards. The other floors are from other structures of the period. One of the doors, from the main room to the hall, is original. The trim on the first floor was added during the Duncan Lee restoration in the late 1920s, and while it is consistent with the period, it would not have been used in such a utilitarian structure; it has been retained because of the Lee connection.

The importance of Customs operations, then and now, cannot be overstated. After the Revolutionary War, the struggling young nation found itself on the brink of bankruptcy. Responding to the urgent need for revenue, the First Congress passed, and President George Washington signed into law, the Tariff Act of July 4, 1789. This act authorized the collections of duties (i.e., taxes) on imported goods. It was such an important piece of legislation that it was called "the second Declaration of Independence" by the news media of that era. Four weeks after passage of the Act, on July 31, Congress established the Customs service and defined the authorized ports-of-entry into the United States -- one of which was Yorktown. For the next 125 years, Customs funded virtually the entire government, and paid for the nation's early growth and infrastructure.

In 1972, the United States Customs Service designated the Custom House at Yorktown as one of twelve Historic Custom Houses in the United States. In 1988, on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Customs Service, the Commissioner of Customs re-dedicated "this historic structure, which served as a Custom House from 1789 to 1945 (sic)… in honor and recognition of the two centuries of service by men and women of the U.S. Customs Service, whose contributions and sacrifices have played a significant role in the development of the United States of America and the protection of it's citizens." In 1999, the Custom House was listed in the Virginia Landmark Register and was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Today, the Comte de Grasse chapter of the DAR uses the Yorktown Custom House as its regular meeting place, and shares this unique piece of history with visitors to Yorktown. Docents (in period costume on special occasions) guide visitors through the building. The Custom House is open on Sunday afternoons during the summer and early fall, and can be opened for tours at other times by prior arrangement.

Note: In recent years there has been water damage to the lower level of the Custom House. The VA DAR has a fund-raising project under way (see insert) or anyone interested in making a donation may contact: http://www.comtedegrasse-dar.org/.

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History of the Purple Heart - December, 2006

Sources: The Military Order of the Purple Heart website and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

George Washington established the original Purple Heart with General Orders of August 7, 1782, which read in part as follows:

Purple Heart.

"The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward. The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit which shall be kept in the orderly room." The order further states: "Men who have merited this distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The order to be retroactive to the earliest stages of the war, and to be a permanent one." Washington ended his order with: "The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all."

The award fell out of use after the Revolutionary War. This important paper came to light during the search for Washington's papers prior to the celebration of his bicentennial in 1932. With it were the dramatic accounts of three soldiers who received the decoration at Newburgh, N.Y., at Washington's Headquarters. The Book of Merit has not been found.

Reinstated in 1932, the Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.

It is estimated that more than 1.6 million have been awarded.

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HPAC Awards of Merit

The Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) 2006 Awards of Merit Ceremony was held October 26th at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

HPAC advises the Henrico County Board of Supervisors regarding the identification, interpretation, rehabilitation, protection and preservation of historical and cultural resources located within the County. Two representatives from each magisterial district are appointed by the Board of supervisors. Those representatives are currently as follows:

  • Brookland District: Valerie Bell and Beverly L.Hale-Cocke
  • Fairfield District: Vee J. Davis and Charlotte W. Melton
  • Three Chopt District: Margaret M. Thistlethwaite and G. Norwood Nuckols, Jr.
  • Tuckahoe District: Beverley H. Davis and Courtney S. Hunt
  • Varina District: Dr. Henry L. Nelson and Richard C. McNeil

The committee appoints Awards of Merit recipients on an annual basis if earned according to the following criteria:
A. Commitment to saving Henrico Historic and cultural resources.
B. Historic impact on the public at large
C. Technical excellence in the application of restoration techniques
D. Sensitivity in the design and incorporation of new elements and additions
E. Excellence of a house restoration.
F. Excellence of adaptive use.
G. Appropriate development sensitive to the historical character of the community.
H. Heritage education including seminars, lectures, special activities, and publications.
I. Preservation plans to protect historic sites, structures and communities.
J. On going care of buildings or sites whose owners have exhibited long-term commitments.
K. Significant archeological surveys and reports

Congratulations to the 2006 Awards of Merit Recipients!

  • Shannon Jones and Sherrill Kaufman for “Early Henrico,” a play based on the curriculum guide “Pride in our community: the Story of early Henrico County.”
  • The late Warner M. Jones, Sr. for his heritage education and impact on the public at large.
  • Michelle Keller, April Sullivan, and Paul Szatskowski for their commitment to saving Nuckols Farm, an historic site.
  • Jeanne McNeil for her research and preservation of the Watson family history and Beth Elon, an historic site.
  • Martin and Paula Ramirez for their restoration and adaptive reuse of Mankin Mansion, an historic site.

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Yorktown Victory 225th Anniversary Banner.

Yorktown Victory 225th Anniversary - December, 2006

Presentation of 18th century military tactics by the Commander-in-Chief's Guard commemorating the 225 anniversary of the victory at Yorktown on October 19th.

Yorktown Victory Center Logo.

Performance by US Army Drill Team at Yorktown Battlefield.

Presentation of 18th century military tactics by the Commander-in-Chief's Guard commemorating the 225 anniversary of the victory at Yorktown on October 19th. Performance by the US Army Drill Team at Yorktown Battlefield.

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The American Civil War Center - December, 2006

In the Cause of Liberty Poster for the American Civil War Center.

The dedication ceremony for the American Civil War Center was held at historic Tredegar Iron Works on October 6, 2006. It is the first exhibit of its kind in the country, exploring the American Civil War from three perspectives: Union, Confederate, and African American.

The American Civil War Center has been well received and represents a cooperation to present the event that shaped the entire nation in which the Richmond region was pivotal. The displays include a private African American collection as well as collections provided by the White House of the Confederacy.

President of the American Civil War Center, H. Alexander Wise, Jr. with former Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore standing in the background.

President of the American Civil War Center, H. Alexander Wise, Jr. with former Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore standing in the background.

The exhibit presents the story of the Civil War, its causes, and its legacies from the viewpoints of Unionists, Confederates, and African Americans -- the war's three main participant groups. The Center's interpretive approach comes from a Foundation-sponsored symposium in which Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson was asked why the Confederates fought. "The central tragedy, the great irony of the war," he observed, "is that all three groups were fighting for the legacy of the American Revolution, but they profoundly disagreed about what that legacy was." The war was a matter of honor and principle for all three as each acted to uphold its own vision of America. Each remembered the war differently as well, and to this day the war means different things to different people. (Reprinted from the American Civil War Center Website)

Performance by the Greater Richmond Children's Choir.

Performance by the Greater Richmond Children's Choir

Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. – 5pm daily, Mon.-Sun.

Admission: Adults: $8, Students/Senior (W/ID): $6, Children ages 7-12: $2, Children 6 + under free


  • From the West:
  • From I-64, take interstate 195 to the Downtown Expressway
  • Take the Downtown Expressway through the toll plaza (50 cents)
  • Get off the expressway at the Byrd Street/2nd Street exit, and go straight
  • Turn right on S. 5th Street
  • Go to the end of the street and turn right onto Tredegar Street
  • Turn right into parking lot at Richmond Civil War Center sign
  • From the East:
  • Take I-64 West to Richmond
  • Get onto I-95 South
  • Take the Downtown Expressway exit 74-A
  • Take the first exit, Canal Street (20 cents)
  • Turn left onto S. 5th Street
  • Go to the end of the street and turn right onto Tredegar Street
  • Turn right into parking lot at Richmond Civil War Center sign
  • From the North:
  • Get on I-95 South
  • Take the Downtown Expressway exit 74-A
  • Take the first exit, Canal Street (20 cents)
  • Turn left onto S. 5th Street
  • Go to the end of the street and turn right onto Tredegar Street
  • Turn right into parking lot at Richmond Civil War Center sign
  • From the South on I- 95:
  • Take the Downtown Expressway exit 74-A
  • Take the first exit, Canal Street (20 cents)
  • Turn left onto S. 5th Street
  • Go to the end of the street and turn right onto Tredegar Street
  • Turn right into parking lot at Richmond Civil War Center sign

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Scenes from the Year - December, 2006

Glen Allen Day:

Supervisor of the Brookland District, Richard Glover.

Supervisor of the Brookland District, Richard Glover, in Glen Allen Day Parade.

Henrico County Chief of Police, Col. Henry Stanley.

Henrico County Chief of Police, Col. Henry Stanley in Glen Allen Day Parade.
Dr. Henry Nelson in his vintage car representing HCHS in Glen Allen Day Parade.

Dr. Henry Nelson representing HCHS in his vintage car.

Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (right) in Glen Allen Day Parade.

Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (right).

Second Vice President Gayle Davis at Glen Allen Day.

Second Vice President Gayle Davis at Glen Allen Day.

Field Days of the Past, Goochland County:

First Vice President Linda Dickerson and previous HPAC Award of Merit recipient Trevor Dickerson represented Henrico at Field Days of the Past in Goochland County.

First Vice President Linda Dickerson and previous HPAC Award of Merit recipient Trevor Dickerson represented Henrico at "Field Days of the Past" in Goochland County

Many thanks to Diane Brownie for representing HCHS at Henricus for Publick Day!

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News 2006: Fourth Quarter
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