i Jul 24th No Comments by


Abram Hewitt and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Long Branch Plantation in 1957 to breed racehorses. Hewitt had always had a passion for breeding racehorses, and had done so quite successfully, breeding a dozen stakes winners. This passion was interrupted with the outbreak of the second World War. Abram Hewitt became a member of the newly-created Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. In service to his country, Hewitt traveled to Sweden in order to gain intelligence on the inner workings of the Nazi Party in an attempt to turn Heinrich Himmler against Hitler.

In the late 1930s, with the increasing threat of rising fascist and communist powers looming on the horizon, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the arms of the intelligence departments to form a more cohesive unit.  In 1941, he formed the Coordinator of Information (COI), which duplicated many of the preexisting intelligence branches. The COI was the first nondepartmental intelligence organization to operate during peacetime.  The OSS developed out of the COI in 1942 to handle operations abroad, but was a short-lived agency. It died along with Roosevelt in 1945. The new president, Harry Truman, had no intention to keep the department and it was officially dissolved on October 1, 1945. The OSS did not entirely vanish: the decision was made to preserve the Secret Intelligence (SI) and X-2 branches. The SI, a foreign intelligence service, and X-2, the counterintelligence branch, were combined and renamed the Selective Services Unit (SSU). This unit was then transferred to the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), which became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947, under the National Security Act. Though the CIA differs from the OSS, mainly in that the OSS was a wartime operation whereas the CIA functioned during times of peace, the OSS is considered the forefather of the modern CIA.

-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

Local Plantations After the Civil War

i Jun 30th No Comments by

IMG_5044The 1868 Auction of Long Branch was just one example of the fate that fell on many Southern Plantations after the Civil War. Some estate owners were lucky enough to be able to keep their plantations, but many faced foreclosure on debts or had seen their homes burnt to the ground as a tactic of total war. Adelaide Nelson resourcefully purchased back much of Long Branch at its auction, keeping the plantation in the Nelson family name. A neighboring estate, Carter Hall, was also fortunate, having escaped destruction during the Civil War, though its livestock had been stolen and its fields lay fallow. The Burwells of Carter Hall, like so many other families living in the post-Civil War South, faced previously unknown poverty. Just a few years after the death of her husband in 1873, Agnes Burwell was forced to sell Carter Hall. Another nearby plantation, Oatlands, could not maintain itself as a wheat plantation after emancipating its slaves. Faced with heavy debt, the Carter family there tried running the estate first as a school for girls, and then as a summer boarding house. They sold the plantation in 1897.

The Civil War had harsh economic ramifications on Southern farms and plantations. Much of the land had been ravaged by war, the livestock slaughtered or stolen, and the crops taken or destroyed. The small percentage of those who were plantation owners found themselves without a source of labor, and many plantations had to be auctioned off (often at greatly reduced value) to settle debts and support the family.

-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

Southern Unionists and Why They Fought

i Jun 23rd No Comments by

“I come from the banks of the sparkling Shenandoah, “daughter of the stars,” as its name imports. I live within a day’s march of the Thermopylae of Virginia. That valley, now beautiful and peaceful “as the Vale of Tempe, may be a very Bochim– a place of weeping.” Those green fields, where now “lowing herds wind slowly o’er the lea,” may become fields of blood. Can you blame me,then, if I wish to try all peaceful mean, consistent with Virginia’s honor, of obtaining our rights, before I try the last resort? I promise you, when the contest does come, if come it must, the people whom I have the honor to represent on this floor, will meet it like men.” -Hugh Mortimer Nelson’s speech at the Virginia Secession Convention

Hugh Nelson, owner of Long Branch from 1842 to his death in 1862, was voted Clarke’s Constitutional Union Party delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention in 1861. Virginia voted to secede on April 17th, 1861, and Nelson organized the Clarke Cavalry later that June. Despite his readiness to lead Virginian troops into battle against the Union, Nelson’s speech reveals that he was in strong opposition of secession: “I pray to God,” Nelson said to the other convention delegates, “that the time may not be far distant when all our difficulties will be adjusted, and we shall again be a united, prosperous and happy people.” Though he did not wish to separate from the United States of America, Nelson also believed that Virginia, along with other Southern states, required “constitutional guarantees” from the Union. Those, he urged, could be solved through compromise and not bloodshed. Nelson succumbed to the dangers of campaign life and died of typhoid on August 6, 1862.

Hugh Nelson is not the only Virginian who fought for his state despite opposing secession. In a letter to his son, soon-to-be famous General Robert E. Lee states: “As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and her institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.”

Why did these and other men fight for the Confederacy if they were against its very existence? Both Nelson and Lee mention honor. Indeed, many recruitment posters played on the idea of honor as well. Men were called to defend their brothers, their wives, their sisters, and the land they called home. Recruitment posters such as the one below bore heavily upon the conscious of many young Virginian men.

A Virginian Recruitment Poster

A Virginian Recruitment Poster

To refuse to defend one’s state was considered equivalent to sitting back and allowing the invaders to kill one’s brothers and rape one’s sisters and wives. This and other posters made it clear that dying an honorable death fighting for one’s homeland was preferable to living as a traitor and a coward. Local social pressure to join the war effort was also high and had a large initial impact on joining the army. Young men often enlisted simultaneously with the other men from their town– joining in arms the same friends they had known since their childhood days for their greatest adventure yet.Those who stayed home were shunned. Men who refused to fight often found themselves labeled as undesirable bachelors not worth marrying. They were known to receive women’s drawers; not as a romantic invitation, but as a disdainful assessment of their manliness. Of course, men joined for more practical reasons as well: men who joined were promised bounty and, at times, military furnishings.

And so these men known as Southern Unionists marched off to fight a battle they did not believe in. Some fought for honor, their families, and their homes. Others fought for adventure and the promise of money. Some fought to avoid the scorn that came with refusing to fight. No matter what reason lay behind their enlistment, though, none of the Virginian men could have anticipated how dearly they would pay. Matched by only one other Confederate state in number of casualties, Virginia would bury over 30,000 of its men.

-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

Wheat in the Valley

i May 26th No Comments by

Wheat-field-at-the-sunsetThe Shenandoah Valley’s fertile soils and its extensive system of easily-navigable rivers made it the perfect site for agriculture in Virginia.The Shenandoah Valley so prolifically produced wheat that it during the Civil War it was known as the Breadbasket of the Confederacy. Long before the Civil War, though, wheat was considered a major cash crop of the Shenandoah Valley.  Wheat was introduced into Virginia by English colonists in the 1600s, allowing them to reach self-sufficiency by 1630. By 1739, Virginia exported much of its wheat crop to the West Indies. By the mid 19th century, the Valley  was producing 22% of Virginia’s wheat crop, and Alexandria, Norfolk, and Richmond had turned into major wheat-exporting cities.

Due to the total war strategy employed during the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley became a strategic theater of operations. In 1864, General Grant directed General Philip Sheridan to raid the Valley, “so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Sheridan burnt large tracts of land in the Valley, along with destroying barns and killing livestock. The inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley were left destitute, but wheat production continued to eek up in numbers. Despite the 40% decrease in production other wheat-producing areas in Virginia incurred, the Shenandoah Valley’s wheat production increased 10% during the 1860s. Part of this was a result of farmer’s determination to revive their biggest cash crop so that they could recover from the ravages of war.

Though the Shenandoah Valley still produces wheat today, most of the state’s wheat planting takes place in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Today, the Shenandoah Valley boasts a rich tourism trade, as well as a number of vineyards.

-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

Slavery in the Shenandoah Valley and at Long Branch

i Apr 27th No Comments by

Large, slave-owning plantations weren’t as common in the Shenandoah Valley as in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Tidewater region plantations focused on cash-crops such as tobacco and cotton. Farms in the Shenandoah Valley  grew wheat and other crops such as corn, which were less labor-intensive. Even so, slavery was an important factor in the economic growth of the area, and farmers often utilized slave labor in order to make wheat production economically feasible. Clarke County itself was distinguished from its neighboring counties by its large-farm plantation style of agriculture. The surrounding counties, which operated their farms on a much smaller scale, were typically about fourteen percent slave in population. Clarke County, on the other hand, was made of up a population that was roughly fifty percent slave. In fact, Clarke County was established as a result of dispute between smaller farmers and larger plantation owners in 1836.  Nearly thirty years later in 1861, and shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, Hugh Nelson was elected as Clarke County’s Constitutional Union Party delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention. Though Nelson was in favor of staying in the Union, his proposed legislation included compromise to allow slavery in parts of the Territories, as well as a ban on congressional interference with slavery. If no compromise could be found, Nelson provided a provision for a peaceful separation from the Union. Slavery was a non-negotiable reality for the wheat planters of the Shenandoah Valley, Long Branch included.

Long Branch operated as a wheat plantation under all three of its overseers. Though Robert Carter Burwell died shortly after the house’s construction, the inventory taken after his death in 1813 lists twenty-six slaves  as well as various farming implementations typical of a wheat plantation. His will also included a section which gave “immediate freedom” upon his death to two slaves: Bob Cook and Lucky, his maid servant. After inheriting Long Branch, Philip Nelson would become one of the foremost wheat growers in the Shenandoah Valley. Though Philip Nelson’s family faced some economic hardship in the late 1820s, and would move to Rosney, the neighboring plantation, in 1842, he maintained wheat farming. The inventory of his estate reveals the markings of a well-equipped plantation. Among the many livestock listed, the inventory includes thirty-three slaves. These slaves remained with the Nelson family until the death of Philip’s wife, Sarah, and his daughter, Lucy, in 1856. After these women’s deaths, the Nelson slaves were divided between Philip’s son, another descendant, or were sold off. Under the ownership of Hugh and Adelaide Nelson, the plantation flourished. Nelson made a reputation for himself as an innovative farmer, and quickly increased his status. In 1839, Hugh Nelson was assessed for just two horses. By 1840, he was the owner of twenty-four slaves. Though this number would decrease to only eleven slaves in 1850, he was also in possession of more household luxury goods:  signs of the plantation’s prosperity.

Slaves were not strictly limited to working in the wheat fields at Long Branch. Though census records reveal that Long Branch had three slave quarters located “a considerable distance south” of the main house, evidence reveals the presence of domestic slaves as well. In a letter to Robert Carter Burwell, Benjamin Latrobe criticized Burwell’s plans for the house for failing to include a secondary staircase for domestic servants. Letters from Adelaide Nelson and evidence of at least one slave quarter near to the main house exposes the existence of domestic slaves at Long Branch. Adelaide complained in one letter that she was frequently interrupted by the demands of her domestic slaves Maria and Lucy, who worked in the house, and “uncles” Charles and Edward, who tended the gardens.

Not all of the black workers in Long Branch’s history were slaves. Even in 1850, more than a decade before slavery was abolished,  Hugh Nelson had employed a sixteen year old free black laborer, Richard. After the Civil War, some of the former slaves at Long Branch stayed on and helped work the farm for wages as part of a tenant arrangement.  The Bannister family, for example, worked for the Nelson family until 1951. A black man named Henry Johnson was hired in 1937 as a driver for Sallie Page Nelson, granddaughter of Hugh Nelson. He worked at Long Branch until Sallie Page’s death in 1951.


-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern