The tracts of land today known as Swann’s Point and Mount Pleasant boast a rich architectural history stretching back to the very early days of Virginia’s settlement. Plantations sprang up on the South side of the James River, across from Jamestown as a result of an ever-expanding effort to reap the financial rewards of the New World. In 1620 Richard Pace, an ancient planter, patented land on part of this tract and developed a small, fortified settlement.
With the death of Pocahontas in 1617 and the rise of Opechancanough as the great werowance, it was only a matter of time before the natives moved to exact revenge for their mistreatment by the English. The Native American uprising of 1622—the “Massacre” as the English called it—combined with disease, famine, and the effects of “seasoning,”—nearly destroyed the colony. “Paces Paine,” as this tiny palisaded enclosure was called, played an historic role in the outcome. Chanco, a Native American convert to Christianity who was living in the Pace household, reported to the impending attack to his master, and authorities in Jamestown were quickly alerted. Nonetheless, many settlers died in the assault, necessitating a pull back to the Jamestown fort. Chanco’s decision to side with the foreigners sealed the fate of the Anglo-Native relationship. Recent archaeological testing under the direction of Nicholas Luccketti has the located the likely location of Paces Paine in a field northeast of the main house.
Pace’s property became part of a larger tract, Swann’s Point, patented in 1635 by William Swann. The eastern end of this vast parcel, fronting on Gray’s Creek, was the scene of significant development in the seventeenth century. The western end of the property, the Mount Pleasant tract, was first improved by Pace, but otherwise remained undeveloped until the end of the seventeenth century. Luccketti’s excavations have identified what may be the remains of several buildings from this period: an enslaved quarter site at the far west end of the field to the west of the house, a house with a brick chimney but presumably with earthfast posts in the field to the south of the house, and an earthfast building in the yard immediately to the north of the house, under the filled terrace of the river-front garden. It would appear that these improvements were made by Major Samuel Swann. Interestingly, Swann was disliked by Virginia Governor Francis Nicholson. He moved to Carolina and there married Elizabeth Lillington, the governor’s daughter of his newly adopted colony.
The next owner of the property, Joseph John Jackman, was an uncle of Arthur Allen of Bacon’s Castle, and acquired the property from Samuel Swann in 1706. Within three years, Jackman transferred the property to George Marable I of Jamestown. Thereafter it quickly passed through him to a relative, John Hartwell. John and Elizabeth Hartwell’s daughter (also named Elizabeth) married Richard Cocke IV of Surry County. Richard’s brother was Benjamin Cocke, who married the daughter of Arthur Allen of Bacon’s Castle.
The Cockes were a distinguished Virginia family. Richard I immigrated about 1630, and by 1632 was a member of the assembly and was a lieutenant colonel in the Henrico militia. The family had vast holdings, including the plantations Malvern Hill[s?] and Bremo. Through astute marriages to other gentry families and cultivation of their land (mainly in tobacco), the Cockes were able to build a significant empire. As second sons, however, Richard IV and his brother Benjamin were forced to take up land outside of the family holdings in Henrico. They married well in Surry County, sustaining the social and economic positions they had come to enjoy.