History

Welcome to the history of Mount Pleasant Plantation and its people, whose struggles and triumphs richly reflect those of our nation from its beginning, through the Civil War, and down to its rebirth as an historic restoration in 2008. You will see a Summary History, as well as detailed description of the archeological, architectural and family research that made the restoration possible.

The Archaeological section presents the findings of three phases of work done by a team of archaeologists headed by Nicholas Luccketti, of James River Institute of Archaeology. The first phase, 2000-2003, saw intensive archival research and an archaeological survey of the grounds closest to the mansion. These areas were prioritized since construction and repair activity around the house could destroy archaeological resources. The main features were located, such as buildings, wells, cellars, paths, gardens, etc. and yielded an intriguing picture of the plantation over time. All findings were recorded and the artifacts studied and preserved.

In the second phase, full-scale excavations were done of the detached Kitchen, built at right angles to the land-side façade of the house. This defined the early nineteenth century working yard of various paths, fences, drives, smokehouse and other buildings. Along the way, other features were discovered, including slave quarters, possible camp sites of the Quiyoughcohannock tribe, and the earliest known English settlement of 1620 known as Paces Paines.

Restoration of the mansion began in 2001, with demolition of twentieth century wings and architectural details, so the archeological work was often one step ahead of construction work. Frequently, construction work was halted in order to further explore an archeological feature. This helps explain the eight year restoration period of the mansion! The final, third phase will concentrate on areas further from the mansion and is currently in planning.

The History of the People of Mount Pleasant section, particularly that of the Paces, Swanns, Cockes and Faulcons parallels that of the first English families to settle in the New World. They were influential in the earliest years of the Virginia colony, participation in the American Revolution, the growth of the tobacco/slave plantation system and finally, the great changes wrought by the Civil War. Of course, most of our information deals with the wealthy owners of Mount Plantation’s land, since it is their lives that were recorded in deeds, inventories, letters and public records and much less so with servants and slaves. An important exception is that of the Skipwith family, some of whose members were freed by John Hartwell Cocke II, as attested in Dear Master, Letters of a Slave Family, ed. Randall M. Miller.

The Architecture section illustrates how understanding changes in the house over time, led to determining the best way to restore it. Historic Architect, Willie Graham, assisted by Mark Wenger, performed extensive investigations of the physical clues left in the mansion and studied the surviving building accounts. They discovered many renovations of the mansion over the centuries, divided into Periods I (around 1740) through VI, and the present. As mentioned under Restoration, the accumulation of evidence was greatest for the period of 1803-09, when John Hartwell Cocke II owned the plantation, so it was decided to restore Mount Pleasant to his time.