Dating back to 1614, Shirley Plantation is the oldest active plantation in Virginia & the oldest family-owned business in North America

Shirley Plantation is an estate in Charles City County, Virginia, USA, located on the north bank of the James River. It is located on State Route 5, a picturesque route that connects the independent communities of Richmond and Williamsburg.

Shirley Plantation is Virginia’s oldest functioning plantation and North America’s oldest family-owned enterprise, going back to 1614 with activities beginning in 1638.

The plantation was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Shirley Plantation 2006. Source
Shirley Plantation.Source: Madmiked/Flickr

A section of this property was handed to Edward Hill in 1638, kicking off the Hill family’s tenure. Marriage and subsequent land acquisition helped to extend the initial 450-acre (180 hectare) tract. During Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the land was owned by Edward Hill II.

He supported Governor William Berkeley, and Bacon’s rebels raided his residence. In 1700, Edward Hill III inherited the property. Edward Hill III’s sole son, Edward Hill IV, died of consumption at the age of 16, leaving no male successors. In October 1723, Edward Hill III’s youngest daughter Elizabeth married John Carter (eldest son of Robert “King” Carter). The current home and outbuildings were built about 1723.

The home, dubbed the “Great Residence”, was finished in 1738 and was placed adjacent to the original house erected by the Hills that became known as the “Hill House”. The Hill House remained until the late 1860s, when it was dismantled and the building components were saved and used to create Upper Shirley’s home.

Exterior.Source: miss cure 10/flickr

On a square foundation, the three-story “Great House” is built in the Georgian style with red brick walls and white trim boards. Both the riverbank and courtyard side entrances feature a two-story portico with Doric columns supporting a pediment, therefore there is no true front door. The entry is in the middle, bordered on either side by a pair of large rectangular windows. The hipped roof is supported by an entablature with dentil moldings. Dormers and two big brick chimneys break up the roof. A white pedestal in the center of the roof holds an upturned pineapple.

Shirley Plantation Source: Sharonmleon/Flickr
Shirley Plantation drivewayource Daniel Farrell/Flickr
The Dovecote of Shirley Plantation. Source:Madmiked/Flickr
Hanging meat inside the smokehouse. Source: Madmiked/Flickr

The Hill Carter family has lived in the mansion since 1738, and it has sheltered eight generations. Ann Hill Carter was born in Shirley and married Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee in the mansion’s parlor on June 18, 1793. The couple went on to have the famed Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a child.

The main house at Shirley Plantation Source Madmiked/Flickr
Vine canopy at Shirley Plantation.Source Daniel Farrell/Flickr

The mansion is mostly in its original condition and is owned, maintained, and lived in by direct descendants of Edward Hill I. The top floors are occupied by members of the Hill Carter family’s eleventh generation, while the bottom level is open for tours every day from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

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