Location: Brookneal, Virginia
Webpage: Private Museum
General Description: Patrick Henry was one of the founding fathers of the United States as a strong defender of the rights of colonial Americans, both in the courts and in the Virginia House of Burgesses and Continental Congress. In 1765 he attacked the Stamp Act in the House of Burgesses comparing King George to Julius Caesar and Charles I. Also in 1765 at the Second Virginia Convention he made his most famous speech when he declared “Gentlemen may cry ‘peace, peace’ – but there is no peace.” “As for me, give me liberty or give me death.” As the first elected governor of Virginia, serving three terms from 1776 to 1779, he was a strong supporter of General Washington and the Continental Army. He participated in drafting the first Virginia Constitution including its Declaration of Rights in 1787 and argued strongly for the similar Bill of Rights in the US Constitution. During his 25 years serving in the Virginia legislature and 5 terms as Governor, Patrick Henry lived in over 12 separate homes in Virginia, all of modest size. His last home was Red Hill near the present day town of Appamatox in central Virginia. It was here that he retired in 1790 devoting his efforts to a busy law practice and apprentices. During this time he turned down appointments to Secretary of State, the Supreme Court, and minister to Spain and France. In response to the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 he did run again for the Virginia Legislature, which he easily won in 1799, however his death on June 6 of that year was before the legislature convened. Like his other homes over the years, his last home at Red Hill was very small consisting of a 1.5 story single room structure with a separate law office on the property. Patrick Henry had a large family with many grandchildren and at one time there were 20 family members living here. Following his death the were additions made to the home, all of which have now been removed to return the home to its condition at the time of Patrick Henry (they have now determined that the two small wings on either side of the home today were not part of the original structure). The farm consisted of over 1000 acres of tobacco, wheat, and other minor crops, of which the foundation now owns approximately 600 acres.
1) The Visitor Center contains a small museum with the largest collection of Patrick Henry artifacts, including some simple furniture, housewares, and even the letter opener he used to dramatize his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. They also have a short film about his life and service and the friendliest staff you could hope to meet. As we were the only visitors on a Friday in late April, she acted as a tour guide telling as many stories about his history and family.
2) After seeing the homes of other founding fathers, in particular George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the home of Patrick Henry was a surprise. Especially if you were to remove the two small wings on either side, the home was a single room of no more than 400 square feet in a single room. Somehow an extended family of children and grand children all lived within this tiny structure!
3) The law office near the house was split into two areas, one of which was set up as an office. The other area was set up as an additional living area for the older children, law apprentices, or guests.
4) Other buildings surviving on the property included a separate kitchen, a slave quarter, blacksmith, and the carriage house. There is also the family cemetery with ornate markers that have been put up over Patrick Henry’s grave.
5) The grounds surrounding the home provide some beautiful views of the valley leading down the river where there is a train whistle stop and docks on the river for transporting the tobacco on small barges. There are plans to finish some hiking trails to these locations, which are not accessible by car.
6) Out in front of the home is the state’s Champion Osage Orange tree that dates from the time of Patrick Henry and is over 300 years old. While Osage Orange trees are not native to Virginia, they were used at the time as ornamental trees imported from Missouri in the early 1800s. The tree is a wonder and still looks to be healthy.
7) The is a 0.5 mile trail that leads past a reconstructed tobacco drying shed and down to the slave cemetery, which has a surprising number of headstones.