I think my favorite part of our Virginia adventures last week was the family history aspect. After gallivanting through Jamestown, we took the ferry across the James River to Surry, Virginia. We left behind the commercialization of history and national commemoration and discovered a couple of key finds particular to our own family history:
- Bacon's Castle, Surry: Built in 1665 by our merchant-planter ancestor Arthur Allen, this is the oldest standing brick building in Virginia. Among the most distinctive High Jacobean architectural features are the triple stacked chimneys and flemish gables. Because our Allen family had money, they aligned themselves with the high Governor Berkley, who was criticized in 1676 for not protecting the "lower" citizens from Indian attack, prompting Bacon's Rebellion. Allen's son, proprietor of the home at that time, fled to Jamestown, and the rebels, led by Nathaniel Bacon, occupied the house for a few months. They've made great efforts to recreate the colonial-era garden. It was incredible to walk around this place--I know nothing about these people, but I took an immediate pride in this, my family.
- St. Luke's Church, Smithfield: We wanted to find the grave of another ancestor there in Isle of Wight County, Joseph Bridger (same line as William Pitt). Our records indicated that he was buried at the Old Brick Church, which we learned was St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Smithfield. Known as the Old Brick Church, colonists began construction on this building as early as 1632. It is advertised as the oldest Anglican church in America. Well, after asking at the bank for directions to the church, the banker woman ran in to call the church woman to make sure they stayed open for us (it's a VERY small town--but it is the home, after all, of Smithfield ham). So we were greeted by Charlotte, the executive director of this the oldest church. She grabbed a key and took us back off the beaten path to the church (we thought the gift shop on the road was the church). She let us in the old door, to this incredible site: Apparently, after construction started, the colonists needed funding to finish building. Joseph Bridger, our illustrious (and prominent, Barbara reminds us) forebear, funded the church. And thus, he is buried right there at the altar, under a beautiful stained-glass window. The church also holds a stained glass window dedicated to Pocohontas, a neighbor as well as another family progenitor for us.