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Landmark Lost: George Wythe’s Chesterville Plantation
By Nancy E. Sheppard

GWCP imageIt once sat on what is now the land for NASA Langley Research Center, on the border of Poquoson, York County, and Newport News/Hampton. This was land where Revolutionary War Founding Father, George Wythe, was born and is now an active archaeological site. But the thriving plantation and the house Wythe built are now considered a Landmark Lost.

The land was originally granted to three separate persons in 1635: John Laydon, Thomas Garrett, and Elizabeth Thompson had a total of 900 acres. The Laydon Grant (which covered 500 acres) passed to John Howitt, then to Humphrey Lee, and Edmund Swaney before finally sold to Thomas Wythe I in 1691.

When Wythe I died, his grandson, Thomas Wythe III, inherited the property and manor house, where it is thought George Wythe was born. The property then passed to Thomas Wythe IV and then, finally, to his brother, George, in 1748.

George purchased the former Garrett and Thompson grants as well additional land, rounding out his total acreage to 1050 acres. In 1771, he purchased windows, nails, and hardware from London and built his new home. Legend states that Thomas Jefferson had a hand in designing the brick, three bay-gabled house, though there is no evidence of this. The house is said to have resembled, among other buildings, the Fairfax Courthouse of 1800. He named his plantation, Chesterville.

The plantation thrived, growing tobacco, barley, corn, and wheat. They also raised livestock and had active apple and pear orchards. The grounds boasted not only the palatial house, but also a storehouse, granary, servant’s quarters, a stable, and a separate kitchen.

Wythe left the plantation in 1775 for the duration of the Revolutionary War. Chesterville found itself in controversy when its caretaker, Hamilton St. George, was suspected to be a British spy who gave information as well as supplies to British troops from the plantation. Angry locals chased St. George away from Chesterville and all the way to England. Afterwards, French allies, including Count Rochambeau, used the home for the remainder of the war.

George Wythe moved to Richmond in 1788, though he continued to operate the plantation. He originally sold the property in 1795, but the new owner fell into default, and Wythe repurchased the property at auction. In 1802, he sold it to Col. Houlder Hudgins, who purchased it for his daughter, Mary. George Wythe died four years later.

The property was divided amongst Mary Hudgins-Winder’s children when she passed away in 1845. Her son, Levin, lived in the house but abandoned it just prior to the 1861 Battle of Big Bethel. When he returned after the conclusion of the Civil War, he found the house ransacked, but still in good shape.

In 1875, Frances Schmelz bought Levin Winder’s portion of the property and the Wythe house for his daughter, Frances, and her husband, Robert Hudgins. Their son, Robert, Jr., lived in the Wythe house until it was destroyed in 1911 when a kerosene stove exploded. He rented out then land through the 1930’s and, in 1950, sold the remainder of the property to NASA’s predecessor for expansion of their facilities.

Today, the foundation for George Wythe’s house has been identified, as well as the remains of several facilities from the property. It is an active archaeological site that has helped us learn more about our history and the life of one of our local-born Founding Fathers, and is a Landmark Lost.

 





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