Mount Pleasant Changes Hands
On February 18, 1841, John N. Faulcon of Surry County, who identified himself as Nicholas Faulcon’s executor, sold his late uncle’s real estate to Dr.George Wilson, the brother of John Hartwell Cocke II’s second wife, Louisa. The property being transferred included Mount Pleasant, which was described as 1,127 acres that abutted north upon the James River, south upon Jack’s, east upon Swann’s Point (then the land of Edwin White), and west upon Philip St.George Cocke’s plantation, Four Mile Tree. 129  Excluded from the transaction was “the grave yard on the 1127 acres, now enclosed with a brick wall.” The other parcel that John N. Faulcon conveyed to George Wilson was the 200 acres called Jack’s, which abutted north and east upon Mount Pleasant, west upon Four Mile Tree, and south upon Drury Stith “and others” (Surry County Deed Book 11 [1839-1843]:253-254). Through this land transaction,George Wilson came into possession of the 1,327 acres that had belonged to Nicholas Faulcon and his wife, Sally, with the exception of the family graveyard. On the same day Wilson and his wife Mary purchased the Faulcon property, they deeded it to Drury Stith, their trustee, who also was John N. Faulcon’s trustee. In so doing, they acknowledged that they were mortgaging their property in order to secure their purchase money (Surry County Deed Book 11 [1839-1843]:254; Order Book 1838-1843:207).
Between 1842 and 1846 trustee Drury Stith was credited with Mount Pleasant and Jack’s, which were combined into an aggregate of 1,327 acres. Finally, in 1847 the acreage was transferred into the name of George Wilson, who was identified as a resident of Norfolk (Surry County Land Tax Lists 1842-1847). That coincided with trustee Drury Stith’s executing a deed of release to George Wilson, acknowledging that he had paid in full for the late Nicholas Faulcon’s 1,327 acres,Mount Pleasant and Jack’s. Executor John N. Faulcon also relinquished his legal interest in the property (Surry County Deed Book 12 [1842-1848]:449-450).
The Wilsons of Mount Pleasant
By February 18, 1848,George and Mary Wilson had moved from Norfolk to Surry County, and taken up residence at Mount Pleasant. It was on that date that they executed a deed of gift to their son,James D. Wilson, to whom they gave the 200 acres called Jack’s, and 400 acres of land that adjoined the Mount Pleasant tract and lay upon the south side of the road to Swann’s Point. In June 1848 James D. Wilson borrowed funds and used the land as collateral (Surry County Deed Book 13 [1848-1856]:18-19, 38). Real estate tax rolls reflect George and Mary Wilson’s gift to their son, for in 1849 George was credited with 727 acres and the assessor noted that 600 acres had been transferred to James D. Wilson. The improvements at Mount Pleasant, which had had an assessed value of $1,271 from 1840 on, apparently were concentrated upon that portion of the farm which George Wilson retained (Surry County Land Tax Lists 1848-1850).
During the 1850s the county tax assessor credited George Wilson with eleven slaves, four horses, asses, and mules, two wheeled vehicles, a gold watch, two metallic clocks, a piano that was worth $200, and $250 worth of silver plate. In 1852 the assessor indicated that besides his four horses, asses, and mules, he had fifty-seven other cattle. Wilson’s vehicles consisted of a pleasure carriage and a buggy. He had $450 worth of household and kitchen furniture (Surry County Personal property Tax Lists 1850-1859).
In 1850 when a census-taker visited the household headed by Dr. George Wilson, he identified George as a 60-year-old white male farmer, who owned $6,600 worth of real estate. George’s wife, Mary, was age 54. Other members of the Wilson household were James D. Wilson, a 35-year-old farmer who owned $3,000 worth of real estate, and his wife, Julia A.Wilson, who was age 22. The couple had two sons: Charles H., who was age 3, and Thomas A., who was age 2. Two other adults shared Dr. George Wilson’s family home, Mount Pleasant: Anna M. Cabaniss, who was 56, and John R. Cabaniss, who was 28. John R. Cabaniss was identified as a scrivener. Everyone living in the Wilson home had been born in Virginia(Surry County Census 1850). Besides the eight white members of Dr. George Wilson’s household, there were twenty-four slaves who ranged in age from 2 to 92, less than two-thirds of whom were of prime working age. 130 There were seventeen males, five of whom were under the age of 16 and one who was age 70. There were seven females, one who was under 16 and two who were elderly (ages 72 and 92) (Surry County Slave Schedules 1850). Thus, there were thirty-two people living at Mount Pleasant in 1850 and drawing their support from the plantation.
Land Use Patterns
Agricultural census records for 1850 reveal that during the 1849 crop year, Dr. George Wilson had 200 acres of his farm under the plow. The rest of his land (described as 400 acres) was classified as “unimproved.” Wilson had invested $200 in farming implements, a substantial sum. His livestock included two horses, two asses and mules, 131 five milk cows, four working oxen, four other cattle, eleven sheep, and fifty swine. His livestock herd was worth $625. During 1849, $150 worth of animals had been slaughtered for consumption. The crops raised upon the Mount Pleasant tract included 250 bushels of wheat, 600 bushels of Indian corn, 300 bushels of oats, 24 bushels of peas and beans, 50 bushels of Irish potatoes, 50 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 15 tons of hay. Dr.Wilson’s apiary had yielded 50 pounds of honey and his dairy cattle had produced 150 pounds of butter. The cash or fair market value of Mount Pleasant in 1850 was $6,600, making it one of Surry’s more valuable farms (Surry County Agricultural Census 1850).
James D.Wilson’s farming operations were much more modest than his father’s. In 1849 he had had under cultivation only 100 of his 600 acres. He owned no livestock, but had in his possession $50 worth of farming implements. During the previous year, he had grown 6 bushels of peas and beans, 15 bushels of Irish potatoes, 40 bushels of sweet potatoes. He was credited with 30 pounds of butter and as having had $30 worth of animals slaughtered for consumption. As he owned no livestock, he may have worked for his father in exchange for a share of Mount Pleasant’s yield (Surry County Agricultural Census 1850).
Between the time of the assessor’s visit in 1850 and his return in 1851, George Wilson apparently made some significant improvements or repairs to his buildings at Mount Pleasant, for their assessed value rose from $1,271 to $1,800. The tax assessor failed to note why he had revised his records, although the analysis of other Surry County properties’ tax records make it clear that the change was not attributable to a revision in the tax base. The assessed value of George Wilson’s buildings remained constant at $1,800 through 1856. Meanwhile, the buildings on the 600 acres that belonged to his son,John D. Wilson, were worth only $50, an indication that his structures were relatively insignificant (Surry County Land Tax Lists 1850-1856).
In 1857 the county tax assessor credited George Wilson with $2,000 worth of improvements, but again failed to explain why the assessment had changed. The buildings at Mount Pleasantwere valued at $2,000 until 1870, by which time, George Wilson no longer owned the property. In 1857 the tax assessor noted that James D. Wilson, George’s son, was deceased and he indicated that there were no improvements on his 600 acres. To put the assessed value of Mount Pleasant’s buildings into an economic context, it should be noted that at neighboring Four Mile Tree (then in the hands of Joseph S. Graves) 132 were structures worth $3,000 (Surry County Land Tax Lists 1857-1870). Of course, during the mid-1830s Philip St.George Cocke had made significant improvements to the domestic complex that his wife had inherited.
In 1860 when agricultural census records were compiled, George Wilson was credited with 250 acres of land that were categorized as improved (or under the plow) and 400 acres that were unimproved. The cash value of the Wilson farm,Mount Pleasant, was $9,000. George Wilson, who was a progressive farmer, was credited with $350 worth of agricultural implements. His livestock, which was worth $500, included five horses, two asses and mules, seventeen milk cows, four working oxen, five other cattle, and thirty swine. He had no sheep in his possession. During the 1859 crop year,Wilson’s cultivated acreage had yielded 450 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of Indian corn, 125 bushels of oats, 50 bushels of peas and beans, 20 bushels of Irish potatoes, 100 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 15 tons of hay. His orchard had produced $80 worth of fruit. During 1858 a total of $280 worth of animals had been slaughtered for consumption. His dairy cattle had provided 144 pounds of butter (Surry County Agricultural Census 1860).
George Wilson’s Narrative
During 1853, 1854, and 1855 Dr. George Wilson kept a daily diary in which he made comments about the weather, his crops and farming practices, family matters, and everyday happenings at Mount Pleasant. In mid-May 1853 he made reference to having some his slaves weed the corn that was in the “racefield;” later in the month he had the area plowed.133  He also mentioned the road leading to the boathouse that was on his property. A month later he wrote about having cabbage plants set out in his garden and putting some pumpkin plants “around the stack,” perhaps a reference to a hay stack. He mentioned the apricots, sweet potatoes, and Irish potatoes he was harvesting and noted that he was having the cow pen moved. He also had pine trees harvested from the land of his son, James D. Wilson, who had died while in Alum Springs, in Rockbridge County,Virginia.
In July 1853 Dr. Wilson had some of his slaves cut and haul the poles and sills that were needed to construct a log building in which fodder could be stored. He also had his workers excavate and remove soil from the area in which the new structure was to be erected. The Wilson slaves cut oats, sowed Clarkpeas and Black peas and ran plows “in the young orchard.” On July 19, 1853,George Wilson noted that “Old Betty,” a slave who was in her 90s, had died of old age. He said that “she was a young woman with her first child at the time of the Siege of Yorktown.” He added that she had come to Wilson’s wife as one of Joseph Boy kin’s heirs. At the end of July,Wilson commented that his sheep were old and that he intended to get a new stock of sheep. He also mentioned the peaches, apples, turnips, wheat, asparagus, carrots, figs, cucumber, yellow squash, rutabagas, strawberries, radishes, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, eggplant, cantaloupe, nectarines, watermelons, parsnips, cherries, pears, corn, and some of the other crops that were being grown at Mount Pleasant. Wilson then had an overseer or farm manager but failed to mention his name.
In early August,Wilson’s overseer and some of his slaves began building the fodder house, which was completed within less than a month’s time. In another entry in his diary George Wilson mentioned having his rail fencing replaced. He also commented upon purchasing a stove and its pipe. The slaves reportedly set out cabbage plants “in the lot back of the kitchen where there was a hog pen.” They also stored hay in the stable loft. In October 1853 Dr. Wilson said that he was obliged to sell his slave woman,Sarah, who was “of violent temper and vicious disposition.” He indicated that she had beaten her sister very badly, was guilty of repeated thefts, and had neglected her duties. He said that the previous evening, he had found her “prowling around the house” between 1 and 2 A.M., probably up to “some evil design.” Wilson said that his other slaves had advised him to sell Sarah, for they feared being harmed by her. He commented that selling a slave “is one of the painfull consequences arising from owning” them. He added, “I sincerely & have often regretted that I live in a slave-holding community.” At the end of October Wilson(whose remarks suggest that he was not a practicing physician) said that he had hoped to go to Richmond to the State Agricultural Fair, but that his wife’s illness had prevented his attending. When she died of a hemorrhaging stomach in December, he had her body transported to Isle of Wight County for burial in the family graveyard. They had been married for 48 years.
On January 1, 1854, Dr. George Wilson made a relatively detailed inventory of his silver serving vessels and flatware, his slaves, his livestock, and his vehicles and animal harnesses. It is unclear whether he made such inventories annually or merely was doing so on this particular occasion, perhaps because his wife’s death was a reminder of his own age and imminent mortality. In the Wilson household’s possession were: a silver teapot, two silver dishes (one oval and one round), a silver milk pot, a silver cream pot, a silver bucket, a silver can, twenty-nine silver dessert spoons, two silver soup ladles, one silver punch ladle, two silver butter knives, one silver fish knives, one silver marrow spoon, four silver salt spoons, one silver cream ladle, twelve silver tablespoons, twenty-three silver teaspoons, two silver gravy ladles, one silver-plated coffee urn, two silver-plated cake baskets, two silver-plated waiters, four silver-plated wine coasters, seventeen silver forks, and one silver mustard ladle.
Wilson’s adult male slaves included Jacob, Lilas, Joe, Lander, Osbourn, Charles, John, Ben, Peter, Mingo, Harrison, Wilson, Murdoch, and another male named Lander. His adult female slaves were named Phyllis, Lyzzia, Milly, Maria, and Belinda. Also on hand were several enslaved children: Lyzzia’s son, Joe; Maria’s children, Peter, Sarah, and an infant. The enslaved population at Mount Pleasant was comprised of twenty-four individuals. Wilson’s livestock included two carriage horses, a sorrel mare, two mules, four oxen, fifteen sheep, fourteen cows, seven sows, and twenty-three shoats. Wilson owned a carriage and harness; a buggy and harness; two saddles and bridles; a side saddle; two horse carts with extra bodies for hauling wood and marl; an ox cart and an extra set of wheels; a wagon and harness; and two sets of cart harnesses. On January 1, 1855, when Dr. George Wilson again inventoried some of his possessions, he listed his slaves and livestock but omitted his silver. However, this time he listed his farming equipment which included a wheat thresher, a wheat fan, a corn sheller, double ploughs, single ploughs, three marle shovels, plus an undescribed number of hoes, spades, shovels and forks. Elsewhere in his diary Wilson made reference to his barn, stable, cow pens, and ice house. 134 He also had a fruit orchard that included apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, pears, figs, and cherries.
On Monday, January 16, 1854, George Wilson said that during the previous night his home narrowly had escaped being destroyed by fire. He said that thanks to “the carelessness of the negro girl the Curtains in my room were set on fire which soon spread rapidly over them.” He said that thanks to “great exertion of all the family, they were torn off & not much injury done except to the bedcurtains which are entirely ruined.” He said that he was in the dining room with family members when his granddaughter’s screams alerted them to the blaze. He added that had the bed caught on fire, it would have been difficult to save the house.
Revealing that he, like the Cockes and Faulcons, was an enlightened farmer,George Wilson said that he had sent some of his workers “down on the hill side opposite the first low ground field to search for some marl to haul down to the lower field on the river.” He said that they had found marl of “the quality usually found on this place.”
On February 14th Wilson said that a vessel had arrived around noon with some pieces of marble for Philip St. George Cocke, who intended to erect a cenotaph “in the grave yard of his family that is on this plantation.” Three days later Wilson complained about how difficult it was going to be to bring the two larger pieces of marble ashore and said he didn’t know how they would be gotten up the hill. He added, “It is a silly business altogether in General Cocke to send such pieces to the country.” 135 On April 4, 1854, said that Philip St. George Cocke’s men were erecting the cenotaph in “the old burying ground attached to this Farm.” He said that it was “the most singular memorial of the dead I have ever seen – there are a number of names inscribed in the stone: but very few of them mentioned were buried here: it is more a genealogical cenotaph than anything else.” 136 On March 3, 1854,Dr.Wilson noted that his son, James D.Wilson, had been reburied after his body was brought east from Alum Springs.
On May 7, 1854, the corpse of a black man washed ashore at Mount Pleasant. Wilson, on the basis of the man’s attire, surmised that he was a sailor who had fallen overboard. He said that he had the man “buried on the high land.” In late September Wilson noted that he had “had a lightening rod put up today by some men from Norfolk, at the east end of the house.” He said that it had a “patent silver point at the top,” was 61-feet-long, and cost $15.25. He added that there was a lightening rod at the west end of the house “of the old constructed kind, the staples that confine it to the house are not insulated, therefore not so safe as the one put up today, for all the rod passes through glass balls where the staples are confined to the wall.”
On November 22, 1854, Dr. George Wilson noted that he had gone to Four Mile Tree where there had been a sale. He purchased three pair of blinds and some brick molds. He said that Joseph Graves had purchased the property from Mr. Cocke, who was moving to Powhatan County and selling his crops and everything else in preparation for the delivering the plantation to Graves. 137 In a diary entry dated November 28, 1854,Wilson said that his men had been “engaged repairing the Hill leading to the Neck Orchard and Ice House.” The following month Wilson said that he had intended to build a new ice house, as the poles inside the old one were rotten and the structure was inconveniently located. He added, however, that the old one could be repaired and that it keeps ice well. Later, he had the fence repaired that cordoned off the Orchard Neck. He also noted that he intended to make a winter cow pen at the east end of the garden. In early December he said that he had had the butchered hogs put into the cellar, probably a reference to sides of meat being salted and cured.Wilson said that he had recently served as security for his brother,R.F.Wilson, the owner of a cotton factory, and for his son,Richard, both of whom had a considerable amount of debt. He said that he would be grateful when all debts were settled.
When Dr. George Wilson made an inventory of his some of his personal property at Mount Pleasant on January 1, 1855, he listed his adult slaves:Jacob, Silas,Ben,Joe, Landen,Peter,Harrison,Osborn, Mingo,Nelson,Charles,Phyllis, Lizzy, Milly, Maria and her child, Dolly (Mrs.Garrett’s slave), and old Charity. Wilson’s young slaves were Murdoch,Joseph,Peter,John,Belinda and Sally. He also had two carriage horses, a sorrel mare, two mules, a carriage and harness, a buggy and harness, two horse carts, extra wood and marl carts, two steer carts and wheels, three old steers, two young steers, twelve cows, seven calves, eight sows, twenty-five pigs, twenty-seven shoats, a bull, a boar, a wheat thrasher, a wheat fan, a corn sheller, double ploughs, single ploughs, three marl shovels, hoes, spades, and shovel forks.
On January 18, 1855,Dr. George Wilson said that he was “having put on the roof of the dwelling house another coat of Blakes fire proof paint & had it ground up with the best linseed oil.” He commented that he was afraid that the manufacturers’ claims were “all a hum-bug.” He said that the coat of paint put on in the fall of 1853 had partially washed off, presumably because the oil in which the pigment had been ground was of poor quality. At the end of the month he said that while there was a little snow on the roof of the house, “some of the straw with which the chimney in my chamber was burnt with fell on the roof of the back room and set fire to the moss on the old shingles: the shingles also quickly caught- but for its being discovered soon after, the whole roof would have been on fire & the house burnt down.” He added that as soon as the weather cleared, he would have “the moss all scraped off” and the roof, painted. As a page is missing from Wilson’s diary and his verbiage is not very descriptive, it is unclear how the fire got started. In his business accounts, which were at the end of his diary,Wilson mentioned that he had had his blinds painted around the same time. In February Wilson had his slaves prune the apple trees in the Neck Orchard and fell the trees that were diseased. Wilson noted that “it is a very old orchard, yields but a few apples; I believe it would be better to cut them all down, they shade the ground so much that no crop will flourish under them.”
In mid-March 1855 Dr. George Wilson and widowed daughter-in-law Julia installed wallpaper in the room upstairs over his room. He hired some men “to plaster the basement & mend some of the walls in the house.” He said that he brought most of his own workers in from the field so they could help. He added that he was anxious to complete the plastering, for “no work makes more dirt & inconvenience to the whole house as pulling down old plaster & putting up new.” As the hired plasterers left Mount Pleasant on April 21st, it appears that it took a little over a month for them to complete their work.Wilson had a large trough removed from the cellar, where meat usually was salted. In July 1855 he had new shingles installed on the roof of the machine house. Dr. George Wilson seems to have had a plantation elsewhere (probably in Isle of Wight) that he had placed in the hands of a tenant named James Bennet. The property apparently was in Bennet’s hands from at least July 1, 1850, toJuly 1, 1854 (Wilson 1853-1855).
In 1929, Lucy Brooke Garnett Jordan, one of Dr. George Wilson’s granddaughters, who lived at Mount Pleasant from 1855 to 1861, said that the farm was beautiful and that there was “a profusion of flowers and fruit trees everywhere.” She said that in the center of her grandfather’s garden was a large magnolia tree shaped like a sugar loaf. On the descent to the river there were large crepe myrtles that “were the admiration of people passing up and down the river on steamboats.” Mrs. Jordan said that there was a vegetable garden from which “old Uncle Mingo” gathered strawberries, cut asparagus, and picked peas. She said that her grandfather “did not very much approve of slavery” but felt that “as long as they were on his hands he must take care of them!” She said that the wife of her uncle, James D.Wilson, was very strict and that Dr. George Wilson was a very devout Episcopalian who insisted that his slaves attend daily worship services with his family. However, he also allowed them to hear itinerant Baptist and Methodist preachers whenever they came through (Jordan, September 2, 1929).
The 1857 Anniversary of Jamestown
By 1854 plans had gotten underway to hold a celebration in 1857 to commemorate the first settlers’ arrival. The Jamestown Society of Washington asked Jamestown Island’s owner, William Allen, to allow the celebration to be held upon his property. Although he was concerned about potential damage to his wheat crop, it was agreed that the focal point of the festivities would be to the east of the old churchyard and in the area traditionally considered the first landing site. During spring 1857 the Jamestown Society of Washington and the Virginia Historical Society joined forces and began making preparations for the May 13th celebration. A May 8, 1857, newspaper account indicated that carpenters were on the island, erecting cabins, and that a large refreshment saloon was being built, along with a speakers platform and a dining hall capable of seating 500 people. On the morning of May 13, 1857, celebrants from Washington,Baltimore,Norfolk, and Richmond arrived by steamboat. By noon, there were thirteen steamers, several schooners and a yacht offshore. There also was a large military encampment on the island. One contemporary observer declared that “Drums were beating, colors flying, pots boiling, and glasses rattling.” While “gallant-looking officers on horseback were galloping about the field, companies of soldiers were marching and maneuvering.” Meanwhile, “the great unorganized mass just swarmed about the pavilions without doing anything in particular” (McCartney 2000:I:264-266). Most certainly, those at Mount Pleasant would have observed the festivities and the uncommon amount of river traffic, but it is uncertain whether any members of the Wilson household chose to participate in the goings-on.
The Departure and Demise of Dr.George Wilson
On November 26, 1859, George Wilson of Surry County made his will. 138 He named his son, George R. Wilson, as his executor, and made bequests to his surviving family members. 139 The testator gave his son, George R., one of his three brick tenements on Bank Street in Norfolk and gave the other two tenements to his married daughters, Mary Ann Garrett 140 and Georgeanna Wayne. 141 He also left daughter Mary Ann “my house and lot in the Town of Smithfield adjoining the Masons Lodge.” 142 He bequeathed to sons George R. and Richard F. Wilson 143 “all my silver plate and silver plated ware and all my library of books and maps.” He left his servant woman, Lizza, to his widowed daughter-in-law, Julia A. Wilson. Dr. George Wilson instructed his executor to sell the rest of his property and divide it into five equal shares. Although George R. Wilson and Mary Ann Wilson Garrett were to receive funds, trust accounts were to be established for his other heirs. Trusts were to be established for son Richard F. Wilson (and Richard’s children, Richard Jr. and Alice); for Georgeanna Wilson Wayne; and for the benefit of children of the late James D. Wilson and his wife, Julia A. (Charles, Thomas, and William). 144 The widowed Julia A.Wilson had the right to use the funds held in trust for her children toward their support and education. Dr. George Wilson said that he was purposefully leaving less to his sons Richard F. and James D., as he already had given them real estate and substantial sums of money (Isle of Wight Will Book 27:350-353).
By 1860, Dr. George Wilson’s health seems to have begun deteriorating. He returned to Smithfield in Isle of Wight County, seemingly to be nearer some of his kin. When the census-taker visited the Wilson home in Smithfield in 1860,George was identified as a 70-year-old white male farmer, who was in possession of $19,700 worth of real estate and $15,655 worth of personal property. Other adult members of Dr.Wilson’s household were his daughter Mary A.Garrett (age 41) and daughter-in-law Julia Wilson (age 30). Mary A.Garrett’s children were: Fenton (age 16), Georgianna (12),Lucy(10),Emily(8), and Henry(5). Julia Wilson’s children were:Richard(14),Charles(13),Thomas(12), and William (10). All twelve members of Dr. George Wilson’s household had been born in Virginia (Isle of Wight County Census 1860).
Dr. George Wilson and his household were living in the town of Smithfield at the time of his death. His will was presented to the Isle of Wight County court on September 2, 1861. On September 6, 1861, an inventory was made of the decedent’s real and personal estate in both Isle of Wight County. Then, on December 24, 1861, a tabulation was made of his real and personal property in Surry County. The Wilson home in the town of Smithfield was amply furnished. Although many of the items at Mount Pleasant were utilitarian in nature and reflective of a working farm, it is evident that the Wilson family planned to spend time there, for they left the house comfortably furnished. The appraisers made reference to a mirror in the dining room, a storeroom, the cellar, and an “office.” Dr. Wilson had thirteen slaves at Mount Pleasant along with horses, cattle, swine, geese, turkeys, and ducks. Several types of crops were being raised. There also was an abundance of agricultural equipment, carts, a wagon, and stored livestock feed (Isle of Wight Will Book 27:350-353, 356-358, 455-458) (Appendix G).
On April 2, 1863, George R.Wilson, who identified himself as George Wilson’s executor, conveyed Mount Pleasant to Alexander Aldrich. The farm was described as 642 acres that adjoined the land of Joseph S. Graves (Four Mile Tree), James D. Wilson (the 200 acre tract called Jack’s and an additional 400 acres from the Mount Pleasant tract), and the land of Edwin White, then owner of the farm known as Swann’s Point (Surry County Deed Book 14:394; Jordan, September 2, 1929).
Mount Pleasant During The Civil War
On April 12, 1861, the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, signaled the beginning of the Civil War. For the past several years, politicians North and South had been heatedly debating secession but neither side seems to have realized that the issues under dispute might culminate in a long, bloody war. When President Abraham Lincoln issued a call to arms, the response was enthusiastic. Several states in the upper South quickly aligned themselves with the Confederacy. Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861, and the state’s voters ratified a secession ordinance on May 23rd. At that juncture, the Confederacy’s seat of government was moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. From that point on, the focus of the war in the east was the territory separating Richmond from Washington, D. C., the federal capital. As a result, much of eastern Virginia’s landscape was devastated by war and the state was bereft of a large portion of its male population. (Catton 1960:59, 62, 75; Wiley 1964:12-14, 26, 59, 62).
In April 1861, when Virginia decided to secede, federal troops based at Fort Monroe, marched into Hampton in a show of force. Although local residents were reassured that they would not be disturbed unless they acted with hostility, shortly thereafter a Union gunboat fired upon the Confederate artillery at Sewell’s Point. Later, when it became clear that Hampton’s occupation was inevitable, the Confederates put the city to the torch. In late summer 1861 Virginia’s Confederate troops were concentrated in the northern part of the state. This left the peninsula vulnerable to a Union Army advance from the direction of Fort Monroe (West 1977:39-41).
General Robert E. Lee was made responsible for seeing that Richmond was defended. He had earthworks built on Jamestown Island and two upstream locations and had water batteries erected at Mulberry Island and Day’s Point. These fortifications were intended to prevent Union naval vessels from moving up the James, circumventing the land-based defenses the Confederates planned to build around Richmond. Early on, Swann’s Point was considered a possible site for a battery of two or three guns. It was believed that having cooperating batteries at Swann’s Point and Jamestown Island would improve the Confederates’ chances of stopping Union vessels from proceeding upstream (Miller 1911:X:305-306; U.S.W.D. 1891:Ser. 1:II:Part 3:387; Riggs 1997:28).
By early 1862 Fort Monroe had become the Union Army’s base of operations in the drive to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, and bring the war to a timely end. Major-General George B. McClellan, who was cautious by nature, headed the Union forces that undertook what became known as the Peninsular Campaign. On April 4, 1862, when he and his men left Fort Monroe and commenced advancing up the peninsula, he quickly discovered that the Confederates had taken elaborate steps to conceal their withdrawal toward Richmond. Heated combat occurred on May 5, 1862, what became known as the Battle of Williamsburg. Afterward the Confederates slipped away and Union troops swarmed into the city (Webb 1881:37-49, 55-56, 60-62, 71; Rawson et al. 1898:Ser. 1:VII:742; U.S.W.D. 1891:Ser. 1:XI:Part 1:581).
Around the time the Union Army took control of Williamsburg, a telegraph station was erected on Jamestown Island and McClellan’s men built cabins that were scattered about. Also present were “contrabands” or runaway slaves who had taken refuge on the island, which was behind Union lines. Sentinels were posted on Jamestown Island, for there was some concern that Confederates would slip across the James and infiltrate the Union-held territory on the peninsula (Rawson et al. 1898:Ser. 1:VII:473, 566).
Meanwhile, on the lower side of the James River, General John E. Wool, in support of General McClellan’s offensive on the peninsula, dispatched troops to Norfolk and Portsmouth which quickly fell under their control. At that point, the citizens of nearby Suffolk braced themselves for an attack, as Union troops moved into Nansemond County. On May 12, 1862, the First New York Mounted Rifles rode into Suffolk, while Confederate forces retreated to safety behind the Blackwater River. In January 1863 Confederate General Roger A. Pryor and his men advanced toward Union lines but ultimately were driven back. In response to the Confederate attack, the Union Army constructed fortifications along the Nansemond River, rimming Suffolk, and they also increased troop strength. Thereafter, the Blackwater River became the dividing line between the two armies, remaining so for the duration of the war (Johnson et al. 1956:I:151-152).
In July 1862 the War Department decided to improve its ability to communicate with General McClellan in the field. Telegraph wires were run from Williamsburg to Jamestown Island. Messages then could be transported between the island and McClellan by boat. Signal lights, flashing on both banks of the river, also served as a mode of communication. It was reported that the Confederates on the bluff across from Jamestown were too numerous to be safely assaulted by picket parties. It also was learned that there were shipbuilding activities at Cobham Creek. By mid-June 1864, telegraph wire was strung across the bottom of the James River to Swann’s Point, providing communication to the southern shore. From there the wires extended to Cabin Point, Garysville and City Point. Telegraph service to Swann’s Point was interrupted frequently, for the wires were cut, repaired, and then cut again. When local guerillas were identified as the culprits. General B. F. Butler responded by notifying the residents of Surry County that there should be no more interference with the wires or “their houses will be burned and some of them hanged.” Even so, telegraph service was interrupted until the Federals extended their submarine cable from Jamestown Island upstream to Fort Powhatan, 22 miles away (Riggs 1997:78-79, 97-98, 126; U.S.W.D. 1891:Ser. 1:XI: Part 3:177-179; Rawson et al. 1898:Ser. 1:VII:473, 639-640, 642, 650). Throughout this period it is likely that both Union and Confederate troops passed through Mount Pleasant on their way to and from Swann’s Point. It is probable that hungry men availed themselves of field crops and perhaps livestock. However there is no evidence that there was any direct impact upon Mount Pleasant during the Civil War.
Although skirmishes occurred at Cabin Point and City Point in 1862, it was on May 5, 1864, that Union General B. F. Butler landed 30,000 men at City Point and Bermuda Hundred, at the mouth of the Appomattox River, intending to move against Richmond via Petersburg. Between May 5 and May 11, Union cavalry undertook raids in the direction of Petersburg and later in the month fighting occurred at City Point, which ultimately became a staging area and supply point. On October 16, 1864, Union troops from City Point set out for a few days’ reconnaissance into Surry County. In late March 1865 President Abraham Lincoln went to City Point with his wife and son, intending to combine a family vacation with a conference with General Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln and Grant conferred on March 25th and then the president took the military railroad to the lines around Petersburg, touring them on horseback. On March 27th and 28th Lincoln met with Generals Grant and Sherman and Admiral Porter aboard the vessel River Queen, which was anchored at City Point. He stayed on through April 1st so that he could stay abreast of Grant’s progress (Long 1971:493, 504, 584, 656-662). Finally, on April 12, 1865, at 4 P.M., General Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Courthouse. Shortly thereafter, the Army of Tennessee capitulated and isolated forces in the Trans-Mississippi West lay down their arms. The war clouds dissipated but one form of suffering yielded to another (Robertson 1991:31; Johnson et al. 1956:IV:729-747). Real estate tax rolls reveal that by 1846 Philip St. George Cocke, John Hartwell Cocke II’s son and a resident of Powhatan County, was credited with Four Mile Tree, which his wife, Courtney, had inherited from her parents. In 1847 Four Mile Tree’s buildings were twice as valuable as Mount Pleasant’s. In late 1854 or early 1855 Joseph S. Graves purchased Four Mile Tree from Philip and Courtney Cocke (Surry County Land Tax Lists 1846-1857).  That is, they were age 16 or older, but under the age of 55.  Asses and mules are more heat tolerant than horses and therefore were the animal many farmers preferred to use for plowing.  In early October 1862, when Joseph S. Graves and a few others visited the Jamestown Island plantation of William (Orgain) Allen of Claremont, they were shot and killed by some of Allen’s slaves who had seized control of his property. This occurred after the Union Army had swept up the Peninsula and some runaway slaves had taken refuge on Jamestown Island (McCartney 2000:I:273-274). Graves reportedly had gone there to search for some of his slaves (Jordan, September 2, 1929).  An August 5, 1853, reference to the corn crop indicated that it was “on the land rented of Julia’s known as the race field tract.” As Julia was the widow of James D. Wilson, the racefield appears to have been located upon their property, which during the early nineteenth century was known as Jack’s.  On January 10, 1854, Wilson’s slaves cut ice, which was two inches thick, and filled the ice house.  An inscription on the cenotaph reveals that Philip St. George Cocke’s father, General John Hartwell Cocke II, was responsible for having it built. It was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the famous architect of VMI and Belmead, and was made in Westchester County, New York, and sent to Surry in 1852-1853 (Cocke Family Papers MS 2433 Box 36).  On March 23, 1857, Richard F. Wilson, who was visiting Mount Pleasant, sent word to John Hartwell Cocke II that he had planted some new cedar trees at the Cocke family graveyard. As he found the burial ground overgrown with vegetation, he cleared it and pruned the young locust and wild cherry trees that were there. Wilson added that “The cenotaph looks very well” and hadn’t “settled any since it was erected.” He said that he would put a few planks across the gate entrance to the graveyard to keep out cattle, but asked Cocke’s permission to let him have a plain, wooden gate made, which he expected to be inexpensive. Wilson said that his wife, Ellen, said that she was planning to put some rose cuttings in the graveyard (Wilson, March 23, 1857).  In March 1855 Dr. George Wilson noted in his diary that his son, Richard, and his family had gone to see Mr. Philip St. George Cocke, where they intended to live.  George R. Wilson was married and had one child.  As noted above, the testator’s wife, Mary, was deceased. The couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, died prior to 1853 and was buried in the family cemetery in Isle of Wight County.  Mary Ann Wilson Garrett and her husband produced five children: Mary, Fenton (a girl), Georgeanna, Lucy, and Emily.  She was the wife of William A. Wayne.  Dr. George Wilson purchased the lot next door to the Masonic Lodge on November 26, 1829. He acquired the lot for $150 plus and taking responsibility for the balance of the late William Bryant’s unpaid debts. The decedent’s lot was being sold by Polly Bryant of Norfolk (Isle of Wight Deed Book 30:428-429).  Richard F. Wilson married and had two or three children. He was the manager of Four Mile Tree but in 1855 moved to Powhatan County, where he became the manager of another estate.  James D. Wilson and his wife, Julia, had three children. He died at Alum Springs but his body was later re-interred in the family graveyard in Isle of Wight.