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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Patrick Henry's Scotchtown House by Cynthia Howerter

I recently visited Scotchtown, the large 18th century house near Richmond, Virginia where American Founding Father Patrick Henry and his family lived between 1771-1778.

Front of the house. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

Built in the 1720s by Charles Chiswell, a local planter and iron mine owner, the house passed through several owners before being purchased by Patrick Henry in 1771. The house is stunning with its beautiful architecture and period furnishings.

Parlor/office. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

The spell-binding account of Patrick Henry's personal and professional life during the tumultuous days of our country's beginnings, delivered effortlessly by our knowledgeable docent Susan, was an incredible treat! I never realized what an interesting man he was until Susan, a local history professor, told us about his life and his many accomplishments. She literally made his life story come alive.

Bedroom. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

Patrick Henry, it turns out, was the kind of human being we all wish we knew. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other founding fathers called him friend as did many people from all walks of life.

The family dining room. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

Patrick was born in 1736 in Hanover County, Virginia to John Henry, an educated Scottish immigrant, and his wife Sarah Winston Syme.

The kitchen is housed inside this building, not far from the main house. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

In 1754 at age eighteen, Patrick wed sixteen-year-old Sarah Shelton, the daughter of a local wealthy family. After failing as a businessman, he needed to find an occupation that allowed him to support his growing family. He decided to study law on his own and received his license in 1760 at age twenty-four after passing the law examination. Thus began his career as a lawyer in Hanover County.

Inside the kitchen. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

In 1763 during a Hanover County trial, Henry's arguments, known as the "Parson's Cause" speech, challenged British authority. His performance in court was electrifying. Not only did he win the case, his fame spread quickly and he was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1765 at age twenty-nine which launched his political career.

In 1765, news reached Virginia's legislators of the passage of the Stamp Act by the British Parliament. Although Virginia and all of the American colonies were under British rule, Virginia's House of Burgesses opposed the Stamp Act's taxation on constitutional grounds. An outspoken opponent of the Act, Henry penned his "Stamp Act Resolves" which disagreed with Parliament's authority to tax the thirteen colonies and submitted it to the Burgesses. His outspoken opposition to the Act helped plant the seeds for the colonies to revolt against the British Crown in the 1770s.

In 1769, Patrick was permitted to practice law before the Virginia's highest judicial body, the General Court.

Now involved in the law and politics, Patrick purchased the Scotchtown plantation in 1771 and moved there with his wife and five children. Shortly after settling in, he and Sarah welcomed their sixth child into the world.

The kitchen. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

After the Boston Tea party took place in December 1773, the colonies began uniting in their opposition to British authority. Henry was elected to attend the Continental Congress's first session which met in Philadelphia in September 1774. It was there that the delegates from the thirteen colonies experienced his persuasive speaking talent. He declared that "I am not a Virginian, but an American," which assisted in solidifying the representatives' resolve to band the colonies together as a cohesive unit.

Children's toys in the drawing room. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick rode his horse from Scotchtown to St. John's Church in nearby Richmond where the second Virginia Convention was meeting and gave his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. Soon after this oration, his wife died in April and was buried on the grounds of Scotchtown.

In April 1775, Lord Dunmore, Virginia's royal governor, had British soldiers confiscate the gunpowder stored in Williamsburg's Public Magazine. Though grieving the recent loss of his wife of twenty-one years, Patrick led the Hanover County militia company that he commanded to Williamsburg and insisted that Dunmore either return or pay for the powder. Lord Dunmore was not pleased and in May, called upon Virginians to give no aid or support to Patrick. Timing is everything; the American Revolution had already started and Dunmore's edict was ignored.

In June 1776, Virginia colonists elected Patrick to serve as the first governor of Virginia for a one year term. He was reelected in 1777, serving three consecutive one-year terms between 1776-1779. He also served as governor for two additional one-year terms between 1784-1786, living each time in the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg which had formerly been the dwelling of British-appointed Royal Governors.

The laundry building. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

In October 1777, the forty-one-year old widower married twenty-two-year-old Dorothea Dandridge, the granddaughter of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood and a cousin of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. During their twenty-two-year marriage, they had eleven children together.

In 1778 while serving as Virginia's governor in Williamsburg, Patrick and his family left Scotchtown and sold the estate. The house passed through several owners until it came into the possession of the Sheppard/Taylor family in 1801 where it remained until Virginia Preservation purchased it in 1957 for $17,000.

Scotchtown was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

This is the back of the house which is virtually identical to the front. Photo by Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

I hope you make it a point to visit Scotchtown which is located near Richmond and Ashland, Virginia. You won't be disappointed. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly and the house is beautiful.

Check out Scotchtown's website for times and activities by clicking here -> Patrick Henry's Scotchtown.

Thank you to Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown for permitting me to photograph and display my photos of Patrick Henry's house. A special thank you to our incredible tour guide Susan who also recommended some great books about Patrick Henry. And my sincere appreciation to Garnet Stevens, Scotchtown's Site Coordinator, who graciously explained the policy for photography for Preservation Virginia's Historic Sites and made my husband's day by talking about the Philadelphia Flyers.

All photographs ©2017 Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of Preservation Virginia/Scotchtown.

Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter grew up playing in Fort Rice, a Revolutionary War fort owned by family members, and lived on land in Pennsylvania once called home by 18th century Oneida Chief Shikellamy. Hunting arrowheads and riding horses at break-neck speed across farm fields while pretending to flee from British-allied Indians provided exciting childhood experiences for Cynthia and set the stage for a life-long love of all things historical. A descendant of a Revolutionary War officer and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), history flows through Cynthia's veins.

Find Cynthia Howerter on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Are you going through difficult times or know someone who is? Do you need encouragement to get through a tough situation? There's nothing like 25 true stories from people who have been in your shoes and succeeded. You can purchase a copy of the award-winning non-fiction anthology that Cynthia co-authored with La-Tan Roland Murphy from Amazon by clicking here > God's Provision in Tough Times   Available in paperback and Kindle.


  1. Wonderful post! Thanks Cynthia! I have been wanting to go here sometime.

  2. Thank you, Carrie! I know you'll love Scotchtown, and hope you get to visit it soon.

  3. Patrick Henry had a full life. Besides being Governor twice he and his wives had 17 children.

  4. He did, Janet! Thanks for reading the article!

  5. Wonderful pictures of Scotchtown. I've enjoyed visiting there myself and we are fortunate to have many opportunities of this type in the Richmond area, from Meadow Farms to Agecroft. Thanks for sharing your tour with us, Cynthia.

  6. Thanks so much for reading the article and commenting, Grace! And thank you also for letting me know about Meadow Farms and Agecroft as I wasn't aware of them. Perhaps I'll be able to visit them as well.

  7. Wonderful post Cynthia. Thank you for sharing and sharing the pictures. Interesting and unusual the house is the same in the back as the front.
    Wow, 17 children! I did not realize that.

  8. Thanks so much for the kind words, Mrs. Tina! I hope you get to go to Scotchtown; it's quite a place.

  9. Colonial times are so interesting! Thank you for sharing the information and the photos.

  10. Thank you, Melissa, for your kind words! I'm so glad you enjoyed the article and pics.


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