Mount Pleasant Plantation’s story begins in 1620, just a few years after the founding of Jamestown in 1607, the first permanent settlement of the English in the New World. Mount Pleasant, or, as it was called then, Paces Paines, was across the James River from Jamestown and was at first considered part of the government of the town, until it was later organized into Surry County. Hoping to attract more settlers, the Virginia Company offered 100 acres free to anyone who arrived before 1618. Among these were Richard Pace and his wife Isabell, who founded a fortified settlement here of several families.
At a crucial point in Jamestown’s history, Richard Pace and his Native American servant, Chanco, literally saved the fledgling settlement of Jamestown from disaster. The English had been steadily encroaching on Native lands along the James River and to turn the tide, the Powhatan chiefdom led the great “Uprising of 1622”, a coordinated surprise attack on all settlers. Richard Paces’ Native American servant, Chanco, warned Pace of the impending attack, and in turn, Pace raised the alarm in Jamestown allowing the nearby English to come within the protection of the walls and thus save the colony.
Mount Pleasant Plantation continued to play a pivotal role in the early years of the colony. One owner, Colonel Swann, after whom the Plantation was then called “Swann’s Point”, was a member of the Governor’s council and was intimately involved in settling the country’s earliest revolt, “Bacon’s Rebellion”, in 1676, led by Nathaniel Bacon. Upset that corrupt Virginia Governor Berkeley was not protecting the colonist from Native American raids, Bacon raised an army (many of whom were from Surry) to attack the Natives, thus threatening the Governor’s royal authority. Swann helped to resolve the struggle by hosting Royal Commissioners, who were investigating the charges of corruption.
A hundred years later in another rebellion against the crown, The American Revolution, the owners of Mount Pleasant and people of Surry were prominent as members of the local Committee of Safety, which spied out enemies of the Revolution, and one, Hartwell Cocke, became captain of militia during the war.
The southern plantation system, as represented by Mount Pleasant, with its dependence on tobacco and slavery, had its genesis along the banks of the James River, and continued to be the major economic, social and cultural engine that drove the upper South until the Civil War. The plantation system was in full-flower at Mount Pleasant during the residence of John Hartwell Cocke II, 1803-1809. Since the best evidence about Mount Pleasant came from his time, it was decided to make it the focus of all historic restorations.
John Hartwell Cocke II, (1780-1866) well-educated at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, was determined to reform Mount Pleasant and plantation life as it was then known in Tidewater Virginia. He believed that slavery was a hard economic necessity as long as tobacco farming was dominant in the region. It called for the careful, individual hoeing of weeds between the plants, among other hand labor, and so did not lend itself to plowing or weeding by mechanical means. He devoted much of his life’s work to finding a practical and lucrative substitute to tobacco farming. He championed the new “scientific farming” methods of his day, constantly experimenting with ways to increase the land’s yield with new plows, machines, fertilizers, terracing, crop rotation, grain cultivation and livestock husbandry, rather than depending upon the labor of those enslaved on the plantation. He proselytized his successes through articles in national magazines, but was never able to quite convince his neighbors of the value of the latest scientific techniques. He slowly educated, trained, freed and resettled a number of those enslaved from Liberia, an Africa colony, though he still owned many at his death.
Cocke moved with his wife, Anne Blaus Barraud and family to Bremo plantation, in Fluvanna County as early as 1809, where he thought the land of Piedmont Virginia was more fertile. His Bremo plantation, among others, continued the family fortunes through the Civil War. In the meantime, he sold Mount Pleasant to his brother-in-law, Nicholas Faulcon, who continued to farm the plantation and live in the mansion house with Cocke’s his only sister, Sally.
After the Civil War and Cocke’s time (1780-1866), the plantation’s land deteriorated but continued to be worked by owners who let it out as small tenant farms. Disaster hit when the core of the mansion house burnt in 1898. New interiors were built in the early nineteenth century and another rebuilding campaign took place when the von Schillings restored it in the Colonial Revival style of the 1940’s and it once again became a grand brick mansion. Franz von Schilling’s lasting legacy was the preservation of the plantation house and the gift of “Swann’s Point” to the National Park Service, a tip of land directly across the river from Jamestown which effectively halted plans to build a suspension bridge here which would have destroyed the historic landscape of Mount Pleasant.
When Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch bought the property in 2000, they concluded, after much research, that the house and grounds should be restored following the latest historic restoration standards. By 2008, the plantation house restoration was complete.