Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bacon's Castle

Recently I attended a seminar on 17th-century architecture in Surry, Virginia. Bacon's Castle was built by Arthur Allen, a wealthy merchant, in 1665. It's the oldest documented brick building in Virginia, and one of only three surviving structures of Jacobean architecture (named after King James I of England) in the western hemisphere. Allen died in 1669, and his son Major Arthur Allen II inherited the property.

During the era, there was a bit of a stigma against native-born Virginians, and Major Allen was educated in England. He returned to his home and built English-style gardens and became a member of the House of Burgesses (elected representatives of the English colonists).

About September 1676, the house was seized by Nathaniel Bacon's men during Bacon's Rebellion and fortified. The men retained control of the house for over three months until their cause waned, but the occupation is how the house gained its name. Bacon never lived there, nor was he known to have visited.

For the seminar, I attended a slide presentation by Nick Luccketti on historic structures. Mr. Luccketti is an archaeologist for the James River Institute for Archaeology and had participated in excavations of Bacon's Castle in the past. He later sifted through a box of treasures, showing us some of the finds they had uncovered during their excavations, which included of all things a couple of 17th-century eggs among the pieces of jugs and wine bottles.

Ed Chappell, an archaeologist with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, led us on a tour around the house, pointing out the details of the unique architecture. A couple of the notable features include the triple-stacked chimneys, and the compass roses (a design that displays the cardinal directions) carved into many of the cross beams. As we went through the rooms, our guide pointed out where walls had been added during the 18th century.

My favorite room was a particular one with a distinctive 17th-century look. It had a larger fireplace than the modernized 18th-century rooms, a canopied bed, and opaque windows. The entire environment gave me many ideas for my upcoming novel, The Dreaming: Wind Talker. I also seemed to have been the only person in attendance scribbling away in a notebook throughout the seminar.

Kim Murphy


Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for this post, Kim. I wasn't aware there were any 17th century buildings still extant in Virginia. I used Bacon's rebellion in a story (still unpublished). It was an interesting period of history.

Kim Murphy said...

You're welcome. Did you catch my post last December on Bacon's Rebellion. I look forward to reading your story set then.