The three-story Georgian brick rises high over the valley with a panoramic view of the James River, a major artery for trade from the early days of Jamestown and other new world settlements of the 1600’s, to the bustling city of Richmond, VA, today. Surrounded by terraces of flowering rose gardens and other flowers for cutting, and vegetable gardens that supply food for the workers and the neighboring communities, this is a working farm. This is the Berkeley Plantation.
Berkeley Plantation receives no federal or state funds, which is the choice of the current owner, Malcolm E. Jamieson. Income is derived from the 450 acres of soybeans, corn and other crops, as well as monies from rental properties and use of the property as a tourist attraction. In addition, celebrations of every sort, including weddings, receptions, and corporate events, help to keep the Berkeley Plantation self-sustaining.
Major movies, including Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins, and a Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks production of John Adams, starring Tom Hanks, have been filmed on location there. Documentaries for the History Channel on the lives of Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been filmed there as well.
Three major periods in history have impacted the Berkeley Plantation. The first Thanksgiving of the early settlers was held on the property, even before the much-touted Thanksgiving that would come later at the Jamestown settlement. In addition, it was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. President, and Benjamin Harrison, 23rd U.S. President. The Seven Day Battle of 1862 was fought on the grounds and surrounding properties during the Civil War. Only the encampment and use of the home by Union General George McClellan and his troops saved the home from destruction, a fate common to many historical homes of that time.
The property fell into disrepair until it was purchased in 1907 by John Jamieson, a former drummer boy in the Union Army in 1862. Mr. Jamieson had been part of the contingent of General George McClellan that was established on the property during the Civil War. After the war, he went on to become a major businessman with many holdings. When he began to look for stands of timber for his shipbuilding business, he remembered the Berkeley Plantation. After visiting the property, he purchased the almost 1,400 acres and eventually moved his family there. The home was in serious deterioration with the roof caving in. Over the next seventy-five years, he, and then his son, began the long and painstaking recovery of the jewel known as the Berkeley Plantation. His grandson, Malcolm, continues the tradition.
Today, the Plantation is a major tourist attraction just south of Richmond, VA. Also nearby are Williamsburg and the Jamestown settlement. In keeping with his desire to preserve the land and its beauty, 300 acres along the James River have been put into a Historic Easement, thereby preventing any future development in the unlikely event the property were to be sold. In an effort to keep the flame of history burning, Malcolm’s children plan to keep the property and continue the tradition of their great-grandfather, John Jamieson.
Interviewed by Angela Broyles on January 14,2011.
Contact The Berkeley Plantation at
12602 Harrison Landing Road
Charles City, VA 23030-3339