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American History and the Hillcrest:



Virginia is very rich in American History, some of which has transpired in close proximity to the Hillcrest.
There are 4 historical events of particular interest:


Cumberland's Call for Independence

The Battle of Point of Forks

Lee's Final Journey Home

Saint Katharine Drexel and St Joseph's Shrine


Cumberland's Call for Independence:  It is of note that in the months before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the County of Cumberland's Legislature was the first Colonial Legislature to formally vote and direct its representative at the Continental Congress to call for Independence from England.  Today, to commemorate this first call to freedom, the people of Cumberland County celebrate "Patriot's Day".  The patriot who drafted such legislation was Carter Henry Harrison, and his residence was within several miles of where the Hillcrest now resides. 

First Call for Independence

The first positive call for American Independence issued by a governmental body was led by Cumberland County. From the balcony of Effingham Tavern, Carter H. Harrison read the Committee’s instructions to the county delegates to the State Convention:

“We therefore, your constituents, instruct you positively to declare for an Independency, that you solemnly abjure any allegiance to His Brittanic Magesty and bid him a good night forever…”

The Virginia Convention decided to follow Cumberland’s lead and this resulted in the Virginia Resolutions which were presented to the Continental Congress and embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

Cumberland County Day

Whereas, on April 22, 1776, Mr. Carter Henry Harrison, from the porch of Effingham Tavern at Cumberland Court House, did instruct elected delegates of this County to vote for independence from the British government at the Virginia Convention of May 6, 1776, and

Whereas, this was the First Call for American Independence issued by a publicly elected governmental body, and

Whereas, this event of the First Call for Freedom is unique, historic, and ever serves as an example of self-government in the Cause of Liberty.



The Battle of Point of Forks:  The Point of Forks is the juncture of the Fluvana River and the James River at what is now the location of the town of Columbia, just a few minutes drive north of the Hillcrest.  During the Revolutionary War there was a large supply depot there, under the command of a General von Steuben, a German National fighting for the revolutionaries.  While Cornwallis was making his way up the James River during the Virginia Campaign of 1781, he sent a small company of British troops under the command of General Simcoe to scout the supply depot.  Although von Steuben held the upper hand with a larger contingent of men, he was tricked by Simcoe into believing the entire British Army had arrived on the James just north of the Point of Forks.  Simcoe accomplished this by lighting a series of campfires along the James River giving the impression of a large contingent of men camping for the night in anticipation of a daylight raid.  In the middle of the night von Steuben retreated south toward Farmville, leaving behind a large store of supplies which were captured by Simcoe the next day without a fight.  This dubious "battle" became known as the "Battle of the Point of Forks".  This depot was recaptured some short time later by the famous young revolutionary, General Lafayette.  Cornwallis would surrender at Yorktown within the same year.

It is of note that on the evening of June 2nd, 1781 Colonel Jesse Thomas rode from his homesite located just a couple of miles from the Hillcrest to warn Von Steuben of Simcoe’s approach to the Point of Forks.  Jesse Thomas rode his infamous horse “FearNaught”.  There is a commemorative plaque in the Cumberland State Forest which attests to this important event, located at the old homesite of Jesse Thomas.  Jesse's timely warning allowed Baron Stuben to avoid capture and transfer most of the stores from the arsenal at that location. Jesse had the most famous steed in Virginia at the time, a horse named "Fearnaught." Jesse's will details some 53 slaves that were parceled to his children and wife at his death.



Lee's Journey Home:  The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 at the Appomattox Battlefield, with the formal surrender consummated on April 12 at Appomattox Courthouse.  Appomattox is less than an hour's drive from the Hillcrest.  After the formal surrender proceedings, General Lee made his way home to Richmond, the journey home taking 3 days, escorted along the way by a small contingent of Union soliders.  The first night of the 12th he spent camped at the Cumberland-Buckingham border on what is now Route 60.  The second night was spent at Flannigan's at Trice's Mill, at the junction of Rt 690 and Rt 612, a short 5 miles from the Hillcrest. The third and final night of travel was the night of the 14th, where he camped at the roadside  across  from his brother's residence in Powhatan.  It was the night of April 14th that President Lincoln was shot, only to die the next day on April 15th, 1865.

St Katharine Drexel and St Joseph's Chapel:  In the late 1800's a wealthy English immigrant named William Wakefield settled in the town of Columbia, a few miles north of the Hillcrest. He was a devout Catholic and had nine children, 3 of which entered religious life.  One son, Richard, became a priest and was eventually commissioned by his father to erect a chapel in Columbia so that Richard could say Mass there when he visited the homestead during his vacations.  This became known as the Wakeham Chapel, the first Mass being held in 1884.  Mass was held at this chapel until the death of Mrs. Wakeham in 1891, and then remained vacant for a period of time.  In early 1900 a Sister Katharine Drexel  started a mission (St Frances de Sales) in Powhatan to serve the poor Indian and Black indigent of the local community.  One day she traveled to Lynchburg by train, stopping in Columbia at a small train station along the way.  As she looked up from the station to the top of a hill nearby, she noticed a Gilt Cross gleaming through the tree tops.  She asked her traveling companion whether  there was a Catholic church located here, but to her companion's knowledge no Mass had been held at any church between Richmond and Lynchburg.    When Sister Drexel returned to Powhatan she learned from one of her students that there indeed had been a Catholic chapel in Columbia, but it had not been used for some number of years.  Sister Drexel returned to Columbia to investigate the presumed abandoned chapel.  As she entered the chapel at the top of the hill, she was surprised to find that the chapel had been meticulously cared for, swept and cleaned, with fresh linen and flowers, not at all what would be expected from an abandoned chapel. She heard steps behind her, turning to see an old black man looking at her with keen interest.  He told her he was Uncle Zach, and had been with the Wakeham's for many years.  His daughter, Rebecca, was the student in Powhatan that had informed Sister Drexel of the Wakeham Chapel.  Uncle Zach had become a devout convert during the time that the Chapel was active, and once the Chapel closed he took it upon himself to keep the Chapel well maintained, hoping and praying that one day Mass would once again be held in the Chapel.  He showed Sister Drexel the Wakeham family cemetery which was also very carefully tended to.  Sister Drexel then convinced the local Bishop to arrange for Mass to once again be held  monthly at the chapel, and she also started a local mission there.  Eventually Mass was held weekly, and eventually renamed St Joseph's Chapel.  Sister Katharine Drexel was canonized a Saint in the year 2000 by Pope John-Paul II, and I would refer you to a number of references detailing her missionary work throughout the  United States.  She founded Xavier University in New York in 1925.  Eventually the small chapel in Columbia, became known as St Joseph's Shrine of St Katharine Drexel.  The local Bishop had dedicated a shrine in her honor at the Chapel on December 17th, 2006.


Tombstone of Carter Henry Harrison

Drafted Resolution of Call for Independence

Point of Forks

von Steuben's Retreat from Point of Forks

Town of Columbia, Fluvana and James Rivers

Point of Forks, St Josephs Chapel-Shrine St Katharine Drexel

Call for Independence

Point of Forks

Lee's Journey Home, Night 3

Lee's Last Camp

Saint Katharine Drexel

Monument to Jesse Thomas

From his homesite near the Hillcrest, Jesse Thomas rode his famous horse "FearNaught" to warn Von Steuben of Simcoe's approach.



Commonwealth of Virginia Historical Markers:

St Katharine Drexel:

Battle of Point of Forks:

Patrick Henry:  "The Trumpet of the Revolution"

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

The title of the film comes from a quote from American Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."


Shortly after 7 pm began the Battle of Flamborough Head. The Serapis engaged the Bonhomme Richard, and soon afterwards, the Alliance fired, from a considerable distance, at the Countess. Quickly recognising that he could not win a battle of big guns, and with the wind dying, Jones made every effort to lock Richard and Serapis together (his famous quotation, "I have not yet begun to fight!" was uttered in reply to a cheerful British taunt during an odd stalemate in this phase of the battle), finally succeeding after about an hour, following which his deck guns and marksmen in the rigging began clearing the British decks. Alliance sailed past and fired a broadside, doing at least as much damage to the Richard as to the Serapis. Meanwhile, the Countess of Scarborough had enticed the Pallas downwind of the main battle, beginning a separate engagement. When Alliance approached this contest, about an hour after it had begun, the badly damaged Countess surrendered.

From: "Albert C. Metts, Jr." < ametts@juno.com>
Subject: Fearnaught
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 11:56:41 -0500

The Legend of Fearnaught

Jesse Thomas was a Revolutionary soldier who lived in
Cumberland County, Virginia, on Willis Creek. His service
in the Revolution is well proved by documentation in the
United States Archives. He served well before and through
the encampment at Valley Forge with General George
Washington. In Cumberland County, he owned extensive
land, a nice home, many slaves and farm animals of many
kinds. He was a wealthy man. There is a family legend that
Jesse Thomas owned a fine thoroughbred steed named

A legend? Yes, because the great story has not been
proved. Probably, it is true! Why? Because research has
not proved that it did not happen. Enclosed are papers that
answer some of the many questions. Read and learn! Now,
the great legend:

On the 2nd of June, 1781, Jesse Thomas was at home
recuperating from a battle wound. He had served at the
Battle of Cowpens. It was a stormy night. An escaped
prisoner came to Jesses home and told him that the British
were moving to attack Baron Von Steuben and his 800 men
encamped at the valuable arsenal at Point of Fork, just
above where the Rivanna River flows into the James. Jesse
sent his slave named Cuff to get his great thoroughbred
horse, hidden in a cave. Jesse mounted Fearnaught and
rode into the night. The James River was flooded and there
was no bridge or ferry, so man and horse swam the rapid
river. Baron Von Steuben was warned in time to evacuate
most of the valuable munitions and supplies so urgently
needed by Washingtons Army. The actual articles tell a
more complete story!

Jesse was a modest man and did not spread the story of his
heroism. The story was told by his grandson, a lawyer and
a politician, Missouri Senator Frank L. Wilkinson. In 1902,
he wrote the story for a newspaper in Farmville, VA. Much
later, 1948, another story appeared in the Kansas City
Times. This story was longer and very interesting.
Descendants from many states came to the location of
Jesses old home and dedicated a monument to
commemorate their heroic ancestor. In later years, vandals
destroyed the monument but it was replaced. It stands
today. In 1983, the Cumberland County Historical Society
published a book, <Cumberland County and its People>.
An article was included, written by a descendant of Jesse -
Bessie Thompson Jackson. She had a serious interest in
genealogy and researched the Thomas family.
Unfortunately, this kind old lady was murdered by a
neighbor whom she had befriended.

Other researchers have found the legend interesting. Of
course, the question of proof arises. Frank L. Wilkinson
was Jesses grandson. He must have heard the story from
his parents, or from Jesse. I will address some of the
questions. First, record of Jesses service at Cowpens is not
in the U.S. Archives. This does not mean that he did not
serve. Many men served in the Revolution and there are no
records of their service. Cowpens happened after Valley
Forge, so he could have served there.

The slave named Cuff - the one sent for the horse - was one
of his slaves. In Jesses will, he leaves slave Cuff to one of
his children. The will of Jesse and the settlement papers
show a successful farmer with work horses, cattle and other
animals, but there is no indication that he was a breeder of
thoroughbred horses. Fearnaught is not mentioned in his
will. However, his son, Jesse H. Thomas left Virginia and
moved to Tennessee before Jesse wrote his will and died. A
lady in Nashville, daughter of Jesse H. and granddaughter of
Jesse was Miss Jane Thomas. She wrote a book about her
life and about Nashville called <Old Days in Nashville>.
On page one, she writes, <My father rode his hunting pony,
named Dreadnaught>. We can guess that an old lady in her
90s may have mixed up Fearnaught and Dreadnaught !
We can guess that the horse was not in the will because it
was given to Jesse H., the son of Jesse before he went west.

Naturally, as the study went on the horse became the
subject. That was when a big and interesting surprise was
discovered. One of the three greatest thoroughbreds
imported to America was Fearnought (spelled with an <o>
instead of an <a>). In 1781, that horse would have been 26
years old. True, a 26 year old horse could have done the
heroic deed, maybe! However, the Fearnaught was
described in the legend as a chestnut horse and the great
Fearnought imported in 1764 by John Baylor of Caroline
County was a bay. The <o> vs. the <a> can be explained
away. The words <nought> and <naught> mean the same
thing - <nothing> or <zero>. That lawyer in Kansas City
may have corrected the spelling!

So, the search turned into an education on thoroughbred
horses. In old England, the Jockey Club published stud
books on great horses. Therefore, a Jockey Club was
formed in America and American stud books came about.
Horse genealogy is far more precise than human genealogy.
The American Jockey Club of Lexingon, KY, and the great
horse library, Keeneland Association, Inc., were very
cooperative about the Jesse Thomas Legend! We find that
the great Fearnought died in 1776, HOWEVER, just
before his death, he sired a chestnut colt named
Fearnought ! This horse was a four year old in 1781 - the
perfect age to perform. There is no record that Jesse
Thomas owned the horse, but he might have owned it.
There were other horses given the great name, but dates
become important. The Jockey Club and Keeneland sent
very interesting documents to tell of the great horse and of
other horses with the name.

This collection of documents was assembled to show where
the search stands today. Bessie Thompson Jackson told
about the life of Job Thomas, father of Jesse. If Bessies
papers have information, they should be found. She had a
niece and a nephew. The niece is Pauline Jones of Arvonia,
VA. She is a lovely lady. When Bessie was old, Pauline
had her make tapes about her genealogy. They do not apply
to the legend. The nephew is Jim Jackson, of Richmond.
He may have information and should be contacted. There is
still work to be done to check the accuracy of the history of
the Revolution. It may or may not be accurate. Even if the
legend is not true, Jesse Thomas was a great American
Patriot. He is recognized by the Society of the Descendants
of Washingtons Army at Valley Forge.
Albert Caswell Metts, Jr. ametts@juno.com
July 21, 1999

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