HISTORY OF KINGSMILL
“The twelfth day (of May, 1607) we discovered a point of land called Archer’s Hope (Kingsmill), which was sufficient with a little labour to defend ourselves against any enemy. The soil was good and fruitful, with excellent good timber. There are also great store of vines... in great abundance. We also did see many Squirrels, Rabbits, Black Birds with crimson wings, and divers other Fowles and Birds of divers and sundrie collours... If it had not beene disliked because the ship could not ride neare the shoare, we had settled there to all the Collonies contentment.”
George Percy, fifth president of the Council of Virginia, and deputy gevernor of the Coloney in 1611
(Note: Spelling errors retained)
The history of Kingsmill - an area located between the north bank of the James River east (downstream) of the first permanent English settlement in North America in 1607 at Jamestown and the current day Interstate Highway 64 - is not simply a story of a large tract of land. It is a story of hundreds of people who carved out a civilization from the rugged wilderness and created a colony, a state, and a nation in the process.
Soon after the British colonists settled Jamestown in 1607, they began to stake their claims to land up and down the James River. The Virginia Colony was quickly formed as a business venture with the main objectives being land ownership, labor, and sheer survival. The Virginia Company of London was charged with the settlement of Virginia under the reign of King James I from 1607-1624. The Virginia Company granted 50 acres of land to each settler who received paid passage to the colony. The settler was obligated to work off the debt with 7 years of service before he could obtain his land.
In 1619, seven men (Richard Kingsmill, William Fairfax, William Claiborne, John Jefferson, William Spence, Richard Staples, and Richard Brewster) were the first Virginia Company members to receive grants of land. The largest parcel of land, 500 acres, was granted to Richard Kingsmill. Soon land deeds were bought and sold, inherited, and consolidated by marriage, resulting in a series of small farms and speculative plots of land with names like Littletown Quarter, Bray, Tutter's Neck, Pettus, Utopia, Southall, Harrops, Hampton Key, Mount's Bay and Winster Fax. In the mid-1730s a British colonel, Lewis Burwell III, established a 1,400-acre plantation along the second fairway of the current Kingsmill River Course. He built one of the grandest of all James River plantations, Kingsmill Plantation, after Richard Kingsmill. It included a manor house, dependencies, sheds and barns, fenced gardens, orchards, and an eventual river landing.
The colonists had many challenges in the early years: Indians, starvation, and war. Battles raged through the fields from the early 17th century as the colonists and native Indians clashed, then later in 1676 during Bacon's Rebellion. A hundred years later, Burwell's Landing and Quarterpath Road were Revolutionary War battle sites between British troops and American patriots.
In 1862, the Civil War regiments of McClellan and Johnston fought the bloody Battle of Williamsburg which took the lives of 3500 men. The Civil War devastated the local economy and decades of tobacco farming did the same to the once fertile soil. Trade was ruined. Cash was non-existent. Kingsmill Plantation slowly deteriorated and some buildings were destroyed by fire. The only dependencies that remain today are the office and the kitchen built in 1736.
The 500-acres of crude forest granted to Richard Kingsmill and others in 1619 were different from the 1250-acre plantation bearing his name in 1736. Change continued until Anheuser-Busch Corporation acquired the 3450-acre complex in 1969.
The property now known as "Kingsmill on the James" had its historic sites preserved by Walter Diggs, the first president of Busch Properties, Inc. In 1972, with a $150,000 allocation from Anheuser-Busch, the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission and an archeological team under the direction of William Kelso, conducted extensive research at Kingsmill. The team examined earth and ruins at seven major digs. Building foundations and thousands of artifacts gave an unusual opportunity to see the development of rural lifestyle from pre-colonial settlement to the elegant Georgian period. The following are some examples of what was uncovered during that archeological digs:
- Colonel Thomas Pettus from Norwich, England, arrived in the Kingsmill area shortly before the middle of the 17th century and acquired the Littletown tract. His plantation left a lasting imprint on Kingsmill. Upon his death the land passed to his son, Thomas. His widowed daughter-in-law married James Bray II, who built an imposing brick home with gardens where many artifacts have been recovered. The Bray mansion was known as a “transition” house–one that would have been constructed between a late 17th-century farmhouse similar to a yeoman’s house in England and the elaborate early 18th-century Georgian mansions. Ash found at the exaction sites indicates the house was destroyed around 1790 by fire.
- Three generations of Burwells maintained the family seat at Kingsmill during the 18th century. Lewis Burwell acquired about 1,400 acres of land on the James River, and was related by marriage to Elizabeth Kingsmill Tayloe Bacon (Richard Kingsmill’s daughter). His youngest son, Lewis, inherited the land in 1710. He was appointed Naval Officer for the Upper District in 1728, leading to the development of the landing later known as “Burwell’s Ferry". Evidence of the landing can still be seen today. A petition to the Burgesses in 1736 made note of the fact he had laid out “great sums of money in building a mansion house… and in making gardens and other considerable improvements.” While thousands of fragments were recovered from the site, two striking metal artifacts uncovered by archeologists on the Kingsmill Plantation tract in 1973 were conclusively identified as parts of the coats of arms of the colonial property owners at the site. Other artifacts included a lion’s paw, approximately a foot high, hammered out of sheet copper. Such a symbol was part of the coat of arms of the Burwell family of Suffolk, England.
Archeological discoveries also led to the restoration of the Kingsmill and Pettus Plantations. More discoveries were made during the building of the River Course. On the 17th green, near the place where a tavern once stood, a large number of artifacts were uncovered. At the Kingsmill Plantation beautiful brick walkways, which had been under layers of earth for more than 200 years, were discovered leading from the Kingsmill Plantation house to the dependencies. However, they are not visible today. On the advice of the Smithsonian Institution, the brick walkways were covered again with soil to prevent the deterioration and crumbling that have occurred if left exposed. Many of the artifacts found on the Kingsmill site are on display at the Resort. The James River Institute for Archeology assumed stewardship of all the items.
In 1974, a young senior at East Carolina University named Bill Voliva came to work at Kingsmill as a summer intern. He was so impressed with Kingsmill and the Master Plan that after he graduated, he came back to Kingsmill in 1975 to work at the new Southall Recreation Center. In 1994 he was promoted to General Manager. Like his predecessors, Voliva wanted Kingsmill to remain environmentally sound and an attractive,“park-like” residential community. However, the community needed to be expanded and improved, and this presented challenges.
For example, along the James River bank, running from the marina eastward to the property line, Busch Properties (BPI) found the cliffs were being eroded by about a foot a year. To remedy the situation BPI, working with the permission of the Army Corps of Engineers, undertook a massive restoration and stabilization effort. They brought in equipment to restore the river bank on a two-to-one slope, then planted on the bank to stabilize it for years to come. Although difficult, this presented an opportunity for another improvement. The river bank was edged with massive boulders to break up the waves, which allowed sand to accumulate behind the boulders and widen the beach.
Another challenge was the discovery of relics and traces of the Utopia Archeological site near the head of what is now River’s Edge. In colonial times, the Utopia site had been an area where slaves had lived. It became obvious this historical site and its relics were in danger of falling into the river. To prevent further loss, many important relics were excavated and transported carefully to the Smithsonian. The 25 graves were relocated about 250 yards inland in strict conformity with rules and laws governing such relocations and reburials. A memorial area marks the site today, with a monument that tells the story.
After the purchase of Kingsmill by BPI, a wide range of corporate real estate services were made available, including the development of Kingsmill, the Kingsmill Resort and the Busch Corporate Center. BPI had a Master Plan drawn up for the layout of the main roads and residential parcels. Historical records revealed the names of colonists who had received grants of land in 1619, so it was natural that Kingsmill’s streets should be named after them—Richard Kingsmill, William Fairfax, William Claiborne, John Jefferson and William Spence, to name a few.
The overall theme was to keep 40 percent of the area in green spaces, and that is still the plan today. There are common areas of woods, streams, and hiking trails with over five miles of paved hiking/biking trails, as well as unpaved trails through the woods, across bridges, over creeks, and ravines. The population densities provided for in the original plan have been modified and reduced over time, and Kingsmill residents have been the beneficiaries. BPI wisely determined that preserving the leafy character of the community would not only provide enjoyment for the residents, but also maintain property values over the long term.
Today, the undisturbed nature of Kingsmill with numerous varieties of maple, oak, holly, hickory, gum, pine, crepe mrytle, dogwood, magnolia and elm trees dotting pathways. An ecologically-inspired rain garden along Southall Road offers liriope, winterberry, sweet flag, Christmas fern and nandina to nourish the soil with nutrients. There's an expanse on the Kingsmill Pond where turtles lazily sun themselves beside a foot bridge harkening back to those early days where much may have been the same.
From the days when colonists arrived from England, to what is now known as Kingsmill on the James, the vision of the community has been shaped and nurtured by the land and its inviting environment - woodlands, wildlife and the waters of the James River. So vital an impact has the land maintained over its history that the developers of Kingsmill on the James, pledged to design the residential community with the beauty of the environment in mind and to create a park-like space in which people of can live surrounded by natural beauty and a sense of tranquility.
For further information on the history of Kingsmill, please click on links below: