- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Virginia's seven signers have homes scattered throughout the state, most of them at least a two-hour drive from Washington. But some of them, like Thomas Nelson's home in Yorktown and George Wythe's estate in Williamsburg, make stopping by worthwhile.
And of course, there's always Monticello, home of the Declaration of Independence's father and most famous signer, Thomas Jefferson. Families might want to note summer tours geared toward children ages 6-11. The tours are conducted every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting on the hour, and are hands-on with information geared toward children.
The George Wythe House is part of the official Colonial Williamsburg tour and includes the main house with five bay windows upstairs, a smokehouse, laundry house, poultry house, and lumber house. Demonstrations of 18th-century cooking are given daily.
There's plenty of early American history at Colonial National Historic Park in Yorktown and Jamestown, and part of it features Thomas Nelson, another of Virginia's signers. Nelson lived in Yorktown, and although he was a farmer by trade, once the colonies began moving toward revolution, he helped create the Virginia militia and served as its first commander.
Nelson's house is part of the Colonial National Historic Park and has two Revolutionary War-era cannonballs embedded in it. Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the park, says they were placed there by one of the house's owners in the early 1900s as a "conversation piece."
Chericoke, the home of Carter Braxton in King William County, northeast of Richmond, still exists, but it is privately owned by Braxton's descendents and not open to the public. Braxton was a wealthy plantation owner when the Revolution started, but he lost most of his wealth during the war, partly as a result of the conflict and partly because of his business decisions.
Most of the signers' homes were famous for only a brief period, during the Revolution and shortly after. But not Berkeley Plantation, the estate of Benjamin Harrison. Berkeley Plantation is between Richmond and Williamsburg on the James River. It figures prominently in three key periods in American history: its settling in the early 1600s, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
"We have a fair amount of history here," says Malcolm Jamieson, who lives at Berkeley and whose grandfather purchased the property around 1900.
Berkeley's history begins in 1619, when English settlers from Berkeley Castle in England settled on the land, gave it their hometown name, and celebrated the first official Thanksgiving in the United States. Benjamin Harrison IV, father of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, built a three-story mansion there in 1726, which is believed to be the oldest three-story brick house in Virginia that can prove its date.
Berkeley was a frequent entertainment spot for the first nine U.S. presidents. During the Civil War, Union Gen. George B. McClellan camped there for two summer months in 1862 after his failure to capture Richmond. Lincoln visited him there during that time and "Taps" was composed there during that time.
The last two Virginia signers, Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee, were the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Menokin, the 500-acre estate of Francis Lightfoot Lee, is located on Cat Point Creek in Richmond County, not far from Stratford Hall Plantation in Stratford, Va., where he and his brother grew up.
Menokin, built in 1770, is in ruins, but the Menokin Foundation, a private nonprofit organization, is planning to use it as a teaching facility for preservationists, architects, archaeologists and craftsmen instead of spending the millions needed to restore it completely.
Richard Henry Lee is the only Virginia signer whose estate no longer exists at all. Judy Hinson, director of research for Stratford Hall, says the tract of land that Lee's estate, Chantilly, once stood on is private property and "mostly woods."
It's close to Stratford Hall, she says. "There's no trace of a house left, but in the springtime you can see the daffodils that were once planted around it."
The visitor's center at Stratford Hall has a conjectural drawing, based on Lee's writings, of what Chantilly would have looked like.
Mark Stewart


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