Historical Background Of Mt Pleasant

Initially, archival research was undertaken for the purpose of documenting the sequence of development that occurred on the Mount Pleasant-Swann’s Point tract from the early seventeenth century, on. Central to this work was determining when and by whom the existing Mount Pleasant manor house was constructed and when and by whom the domestic complex was altered over the years. Toward this end, a chain of title was developed using deeds and wills on file in the Surry County courthouse. Early plat books also were examined. A diligent search was made for inventories compiled by the executors of those who owned and occupied Mount Pleasant. This was done with the goal of learning how the Mount Pleasant manor house was furnished by its various occupants. Executors and guardians accounts also were examined.

Real estate tax rolls provided an efficient means of confirming/refining ownership changes and identifying periods during which the structural improvements at Mount Pleasant were enhanced or allowed to deteriorate. In 1820, Virginia’s tax assessors began including a sum that represented the estimated worth of the structural improvements on each property owner’s land. That figure, which included all of the buildings on a landowner’s acreage, purposefully excluded fences, elaborate roadways, wells, and typically, slave quarters. In their “Comments” column, tax assessors sometimes made an explanatory notation, indicating why they had revised an estimate. For instance, they sometimes noted when a new building had been erected or when an older structure was destroyed. Parallel research was done on a limited number of standing structures in Surry County so that their assessed values could be compared with those of the buildings at Mount Pleasant. Whenever Mount Pleasant’s tax assessment changed significantly, the assessments of other properties were examined. This was done so that it could be determined whether the change in assessment was attributable to a modification of the structures at Mount Pleasant or a countywide adjustment in the tax base.

Since almost all of Mount Pleasant’s antebellum owners were known to have farmed with slave labor, personal property tax rolls and wills were used to determine the number of slaves that comprised their work force. Personal property tax rolls and agricultural census records served as a source of information on the types of livestock that were kept at Mount Pleasant during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Agricultural census records provided detailed information on the kinds of crops that were raised from 1850 through 1880. A thorough search was made for references to landscape features, such as planting beds, roadways, and fence lines. Attention also was given to land use patterns and the development of Mount Pleasant’s cultural landscape. This was done through the examination of historical maps and collections of personal papers.

Demographic records were examined in order to learn more about the people who lived at Mount Pleasant at various points in time. Use was made of Slave Schedules, specialized demographic records that are available for 1850 and 1860. These sources were accessed on line and at the Library of Virginia and whenever possible, were compared with the demographic information contained in personal property tax rolls. Among the genealogical sources used were those compiled by members of the Cocke family (published and unpublished) and those available through online genealogical web pages, such as Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com.

Extensive research was conducted at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library, where personal papers accumulated by members of the Cocke family have been preserved. These documents, which literally number into the thousands and are organized in roughly chronological sequence, were found to be scattered among at least four major collections. However, in 2003-2004 work was underway to reassign them to a massive collection simply known as the Cocke Family Papers. It was found that within the calendared folders of the Cocke Family Papers, totally unrelated documents sometimes were clustered together inappropriately. Each item in such folders was examined individually. Special attention was given to all references to Mount Pleasant’s owners and occupants and to plant materials shipped to and from the plantation. A careful search also was made for references to episodes of construction and repairs to the Mount Pleasant domestic complex. Information was compiled on the types of livestock (including breeds) and other animals owned by the residents of Mount Pleasant. One of the most remarkable discoveries was a household inventory compiled by John Hartwell Cocke II’s wife, Anne, describing some of the items that were transported when they moved from Mount Pleasant to Bremo. Another was a draft of the estate inventory of John Hartwell Cocke I, deceased in 1791, a document that would have been filed in the General Court, the bulk of whose antebellum records have been destroyed.

Curiously, John Hartwell Cocke II, when corresponding with family members and close friends, had the habit of writing across the page, then turning the paper 90 degrees, and writing across his own handwriting. The peculiar “plaid” this technique produced was very difficult to read, especially when both sides of a page were used and the ink bled through. Reading also was complicated by Cocke’s own small, cramped penmanship. Interestingly, he lectured his own adult children about the need to write plainly but seemed to ignore his own advice.

Members of the Cocke family generated a great deal of correspondence. Often, they shared information about their personal lives, health, local events, finances and points of view. Of special interest are the numerous letters John Hartwell Cocke II exchanged with his brother-in-law, Nicholas Faulcon, and several other family members, often discussing horticultural practices and animal husbandry. Many of the men and women in the Cocke family exchanged plant materials, reported upon the weather, and shared news of their farming activities. They also communicated their knowledge of scientific farming. It is clear that plant specimens frequently were sent from Mount Pleasant to Bremo and vice versa. Likewise, livestock (usually breeding animals) were shipped from one location to the other, often in the custody of a trusted slave. As time went on, the Cockes exhibited a growing interest in animals of imported bloodlines and in exotic plant materials. They also purposefully selected varieties of fruits and vegetables that matured at different times of the year or were known to store well. This would have provided them with a healthful and varied diet.

Among the documents kept by members of the Cocke family were lists of the building materials purchased by John Hartwell Cocke II when remodeling Mount Pleasant (1802-1806), making it into a suitable home for his first wife, Anne. The name of Cocke’s builder, Isaac Lever, also was discovered. Afterward, research was undertaken in demographic records and land and in personal property tax rolls to learn more about Lever and his workmen. The accounts compiled by Richard Cocke VI, John Hartwell Cocke I’s brother and executor (1791-1801), and filed in the Surry County courthouse, also shed light upon the construction and repair activities that occurred at Mount Pleasant while the plantation was entrusted to his care.

Research was done in the E. G. Swem Library of the College of William and Mary. Specifically, Volume 2 of Dr. George Wilson’s Mount Pleasant diary was examined, the original of which is on file in Swem’s Department of Special Collection. It was discovered that there are some discrepancies between the original handwritten diary and the typescript that is available. It should be noted that Volume 1 of Wilson’s Mount Pleasant diary has been lost or destroyed and that a typescript of that particular volume is not available. When Wilson commenced Volume 2, he stated that it was the “Diary continued from [previous] volume, 2nd of the work done on Mount Pleasant farm and also memorandum of such events & circumstances occurring to my family during my residence there as may be worthy of notice.” Discrepancies between the transcription and original diary text were noted and corrected.

A visit was made to the Isle of Wight County Courthouse, where a copy of Dr. George Wilson’s will, presented for probate in 1861, was found. Also located was an inventory of his personal estate in Surry County at the time of his death. Wilson’s will sheds a great deal of light upon the size and composition of his family. Efforts also were made to determine where the Wilsons resided while living in the town of Smithfield.

Because the Cockes were known to have interacted with the Amblers of Jamestown Island, research was carried out in the Ambler Papers that are on file at the University of Virginia and were microfilmed as part of the Antebellum Southern Plantations Series. Microfilms of the collection of Ambler Papers on file at the Library of Congress also were reviewed. No references were found to the Cockes or to Mount Pleasant. During a trip to the Virginia Historical Society, relevant portions of the Ludwell-Lee Papers were examined, as was a treatise on the management of slaves, included in William Galt’s diary (farm journal), with editorial comments by John Hartwell Cocke II.

Research was carried out in the Tucker-Coleman Papers, which are on file at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Rockefeller Library. Specifically, a search was made for references to the Cocke and Faulcon families and Mount Pleasant. Electronic indices to collections of private papers known to have information on the Cockes and Faulcons were searched for relevant material. Among the records groups examined were the Jerdone Family Papers, Sarah C. Watts Papers, and the Barraud Family Papers at the College of William and Mary and the Bagby Family Papers at the Library of Virginia. Online searches were made of indices to the University of Virginia’s Cabell Family Papers, Webb-Prentis Family Papers, and Carr-Cary Family Papers. Use was made of transcripts of the Tucker Coleman Papers, the Barraud Family Papers, and the Galt Papers at the Rockefeller Library.

During the course of supplementary research in the courthouse of Surry County, Sally Cocke Faulcon’s will was located, as were the accounts made by her executors. It was discovered that when Sally made her will, she freed her slaves and offered to cover the cost of their moving to Liberia if they so desired. The executors’ accounts reveal that some indeed elected to relocate. Thus, Sally seems to have shared many of the views of her famous abolitionist brother, John Hartwell Cocke II. Sally Cocke Faulcon’s will also sheds some light upon the types of household furnishings that were in her possession at the time of her death.

Research was carried out on Richard Cocke VI, who was responsible for the late John Hartwell Cocke I’s estate for a decade and used it as a personal residence. Richard’s will, made in 1801, reveals that he, like nephew John Hartwell Cocke II and niece Sally Cocke Faulcon, was an ardent abolitionist.

Using Surry County records, additional research also was done on some of the men known to have served as overseers at Mount Pleasant: Edwin Gray, Blanks Moody, John Bennett, and Drury Stith. Census records, personal property tax lists, and land tax lists were examined in an attempt to learn more about the socio-economic status and age of each of these individuals. Surry County Order Books were examined carefully so that more could be learned about the roles Richard Cocke IV, John Hartwell Cocke II, and Nicholas Faulcon played in the political life of Surry County.

At the Library of Virginia, a guide to the Executive Papers (correspondence of Virginia’s highest-ranking government officials) was examined and research was done on the War of 1812’s impact upon Mount Pleasant. An original July 1, 1813, letter written to Governor James Barbour, which mentioned a British invasion at Mount Pleasant, was compared with the published version, which was found to be different.

Research was carried out on the Civil War to see whether military activity ever occurred at Mount Pleasant. Primary sources were used as were the Official Records of the Civil War and the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, which have been transcribed. Use also was made of trustworthy secondary sources.

At the end of this report are eight appendices that contain supplementary information. Appendix H identifies those portions of the Mount Pleasant-Swann’s Point tract upon which members of the Cocke family lived during the eighteenth and early-to-mid nineteenth centuries.