Patrick Henry's Virginia home broadens view of historical figure
A bust of Patrick Henry, one of the most influential Virginia leaders advocating American independence at the Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial in Charotte County, Virginia. (Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal, MCT / April 19, 2011)
One place you can learn more about Henry is Red Hill, his restored tobacco plantation and his last home. It is in Charlotte County overlooking the Staunton River in Virginia's Southside region.
The old plantation is the main attraction at what's officially called the Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial. It includes Henry's original law office and grave, plus a rebuilt house, a museum, a gift shop and interpretive trails on the landscaped grounds.
The American patriot and orator purchased Red Hill in 1794 and retired there to practice law. He called his 700-acre Red Hill Plantation "one of the garden spots of the world."
Henry, along with Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, was one of the most influential exponents of American independence and a founding father. He led the opposition to the British Stamp Act of 1765, and represented Virginia at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774.
In his most famous speech, he argued that the British had already started the war and issued a call to arms. "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!"
After the Revolution, Henry was a leader of the anti-federalists in Virginia. He opposed the Constitution, fearing it would endanger the rights of the states as well as the freedom of individuals. He pushed for the Bill of Rights.
Henry (1738-1799) was the first and sixth governor of Virginia, serving from 1776 to 1779 and again from 1784 to 1786. He repeatedly turned down federal posts offered by George Washington and later by John Adams.
Some say that Henry was the most popular and powerful political figure of his time in Virginia, surpassing Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He made the Revolution a more widely popular movement than it might otherwise have been, some historians say.
Red Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It is owned and operated by the nonprofit Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation.
In 1935, Congress authorized a Patrick Henry National Monument pending federal purchase of Red Hill. That never occurred, as the legislation was repealed in 1944. In 1986, Congress again authorized the national memorial. Today Red Hill is an affiliated area with the National Park Service.
Visitors begin their tour with a 15-minute video of Henry's life, shown at the small visitor center.
The Red Hill Museum includes Henry artifacts, such as his flute, violin, cuff links, an ivory letter opener, wine glasses, house keys, salt dishes, a law office desk, a telescope and several letters penned by Henry.
The collection is the largest of Henry memorabilia anywhere. It includes a painting of Henry's 1765 anti-Tax Act speech by Peter Frederick Rothermel.
The main house at Red Hill burned in 1919 and was rebuilt in 1957. It is among the historic structures that are open to visitors on walk-it-yourself tours.
It is a simple house, not a fancy mansion. The first floor contains a bedroom, a parlor and a spare bedroom. Children slept upstairs. It typically housed nine to 11 family members; Henry had 17 children and 60 grandchildren with his two wives.
The house was reconstructed on the site of the original house from the 1770s. The furnishings include genuine 18th-century items.
The white frame building is surrounded by outbuildings, including a blacksmith shop, a carriage house, a kitchen and a slave cabin.
The law office is the only original Henry structure still standing. He used the building largely to instruct his sons, nephews and a grandson on the law. He saw a few clients, but was in semi-retirement and failing health.