Smith’s Fort Plantation – just one of Surry County’s Treasures

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: August 13, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.

SURRY – Governor Ralph Northam recently announced that last year Virginia’s tourism industry generated $26 billion in visitor spending, supported 234,000 jobs for Virginia communities and provided $1.8 billion in state and local revenue.  Pat Bernshausen, Surry County’s Tourism Coordinator, is on a mission to see that the county gets its share of Virginia’s tourism dollars.  

With that in mind, she launched an innovative campaign this summer introducing and/or reminding locals and tourists alike of 50 Things to Love in Surry County.

With its rich historical background, it’s no surprise that several local historic sites are prominently featured on her list of special things about Surry County.  One of these, Smith’s Fort Plantation, located just across the James River from Jamestown Island, certainly deserves a place on the list.

“Smith’s Fort is one of our ‘must see’ locations,” Bernshausen said, when asked about the list she has been revealing one gem at a time on facebook and instagram.  “Because it tells the history of the county beautifully – blending stories of Native-American, European, and African-American culture.”

“It is the site of a second fort initiated by Capt. John Smith of Jamestown fame,” she continued, “as a fall-back position for protection against the Native Peoples and potential Spanish attack.  Earthworks mark the spot of the unfinished fort site which was only partially completed in 1609, because 80% of the colonists died in 1609-1610 due to starvation and disease.”

Bernshausen explained that the present site includes a portion of the land which was given by Chief Wahunsenacawh (Powhatan) as a dower gift for his daughter Pocahontas’ marriage to John Rolfe in 1614.  The couple are not known to have lived on the property, but their son, Thomas Rolfe, later farmed tobacco there. And the basement museum and gift shop contains a copy of the letter John Rolfe wrote to then governor of the colony, Sir Thomas Dale, requesting permission to marry Pocahontas. 

“The existing house on the property was built by Jacob Faulcon in 1761,” Bernshausen related. “The property was in a state of decline when it was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who restored the home and sold it to Preservation Virginia in 1933 for a dollar. It is a small home with only two rooms and center hallway on both the first and second floor, but it retains most of its original features including the woodwork and floors.  The Blue Room is particularly charming, as it contains original arched cupboards with butterfly shelving.”

“There are many interesting furnishings and objects in this rather small home,” she added, “Site Coordinator Tom Forehand and his staff are masters at telling the stories and interpreting the property and its contents.  It’s a lovely and very interesting place – well worth a visit.”

Guests can tour the home and property which is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout most of the year, and should plan to spend 45 minutes to an hour to see everything. The site also is open on Mondays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Tours of the old fort site are self-guided and the site is only accessible on foot.  For further information on this and any of the 49 other Treasures on the list, call 757-294-0644.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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