Belvoir today–the Yerby place and Stonewall Jackson


From Hennessy:  (Note: this post deals with a historic site that is privately owned. While the property owner has been gracious in permitting us occasional entry and establishing a deed restriction that will protect the house site and about ten acres, access to the site by the general public is not permitted [which is one reason we’re offering up this glimpse].  We will attempt to organize a tour to the site for those of you who wish to come in the fall or spring.  But in the meantime, please respect the property owner’s rights and do not attempt access.)

One of the real challenges that faces the NPS is how to respond when significant sites outside our boundaries are threatened. Opinions on the proper role of the NPS in such cases–which are quite common hereabouts–range from, “Keep your nose out of our business” to “buy it all” (that, by the way, ain’t happening).   When a site is on or near our boundary, I think most people understand the interests that compel the NPS to offer an opinion on the likely impacts of development on that site.  But when a site is well beyond our boundary, our interests narrow, sometimes to little more than a hope something good happens.  Most commonly, in such cases we play the role of advisor rather than advocate, and then only when invited to do so by someone involved in the issue–be they a local government, a sister federal agency, or the landowner or developer.

 One case years ago had a fairly happy ending.  We were asked by Hal Wiggins of the Corps of Engineers to advise on the possible long-term preservation of Belvoir–the Yerby home beyond the southeast edge of the Fredericksburg Battlefield.  Long story short, the end result was that the site of the house and ten surrounding acres was put under deed restriction (largely thanks to the efforts of Hal and Noel Harrison).  While the restriction does not permit public access, it ensures the site will be forever preserved.  It’s a good thing.  The site of Belvoir is a magnificent place.

This view is of the house site, taken from about the location of the small tree to the left of the steps in the historic photograph. Jackson, Lee, Ewell, and a mortally wounded Maxcy Gregg passed over this ground

While it may be difficult to ponder the words romance and Stonewall Jackson in the same sentence–much less in the same physical space–there is indeed one such place where the two famously come together:  Belvoir, the home of Thomas Yerby.  It was at Belvoir that Thomas J. Jackson spent the last happy week of his life, with his wife Anna and five-month-old daughter Julia. The story is well known. Few passages in Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants surpass his description of Jackson’s time at Belvoir, and Anna Jackson’s own memoir offers memorable images.  From there, of course, Jackson would ride to victory and tragedy at Chancellorsville.  He next saw his wife on his deathbed at Fairfield Plantation–today’s Jackson Shrine.

Lee came here too, the last week of March 1863, when he suffered a severe respiratory infection that we now know to be his first bout of heart trouble.  He remembered the doctors at Belvoir “tapping me all over like an old steam boiler before condemning it.”

Click to enlarge

Today the site of Belvoir is privately owned, largely inaccessible, and overlooked by most. But it is, in fact, one of the more compelling historic places I have ever been. The house burned about 1910, and the property would not again be occupied. Though deep in the woods, tucked amidst briars and poison ivy, as a ruin and archeological site the place retains much of its integrity. Each spring Yerby family daffodils by the hundreds bloom all over what was the yard.  The cellar of the big house is still clearly visible, with at least a couple of its walls intact. East of the house is the Yerby family cemetery, covered with periwinkle (as so many family plots were). West of the house is evidence of several outbuildings–some of them no doubt home to some of Yerby’s 41 slaves in 1860 (only four of the plantation’s 45 residents in 1860 were white)–including an ice house. Terraces step down to the house from a hill behind it–terraces no doubt created by slave labor, and once the site of elegant gardens long ago gone (except for the daffodils).  And winding through the woods are the several simple roads that led to Belvoir–driveways that in 1862 carried hundreds of wounded Confederates (including Maxcy Gregg, who died in the house) and in 1863 the elite of the neighborhood and brass of the army for a lavish reception welcoming Dick Ewell back from the wound he received at Second Manassas. These roads came from the Hamilton Place at Forest Hill (along Mine Road) and Hunter’s Lodge, the home of John Pratt Yerby, the site of which now resides under a cul-de-sac on the Lee’s Hill subdivision.

Several years ago I did an article on Belvoir for the Journal of Fredericksburg History.  You can read it by clicking here (a new window will open).

To see images of Belvoir as it exists today, continue reading beyond the jump.

The pit to the ice house, about 50 yards west of the main house foundation

A portion of the basement wall of the main house

 

 

The foundation of the main house

Periwinkle is the surest sign you're at the burial ground

The Yerby family burial ground at Belvoir, about 100 SE of the main house

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19 thoughts on “Belvoir today–the Yerby place and Stonewall Jackson

  1. I am so glad that you posted on this subject John. After watching your 3D animated piece on Ellwood, I instantly thought how that technology might be used to depict sites that are simply not there anymore. Belvoir was the first place that came to my mind. This place has so much significant history and the majority of people have no idea it even exists. Think of how many people are familiar with the last photograph taken of Jackson, yet few know Belvoir was where it took place. I would love to discuss the potential of this further. Thanks again for another excellent post. You guys are doing a great service here.

    • Michael: You are exactly right that the technology is perfect for treating buildings that no longer stand–something I’d like to do more of. But digital modeling is expensive, and so will necessarily be rare.

      • My name is George Yerby, I am a descent of John Yerby, b 6-25-1788, birthplace unknown buy believed to be Lancaster, VA. Married Mary Murray Edwards 10/27/1810 in Loudoun Cnty, VA. We just stumbled across this site and would like to make contact with you to gain further information regarding Belvoir as well as make contact with the Yerby’s that have responded to your blog. My cell phone number is 415-716-4543.

    • I grew up across the road from this property we would visit the yerby house site several times a year. One of the yerby descendants would park in are driveway to go and place flowers on the graves. Several large house spots are located on this property also I know of a slave cemetery with no markers. I hunted this land as a child when it was owned by the railroad.

  2. Fantastic. Every bit of knowledge brings one closer to being the person one should be. To know one’s past, is to honor one’s future.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Raymond, My name is George Yerby and I am a descent of John Yerby b 6/25/1788, believed to be in Lancaster Co, VA. Saw you name from a post from NPSFSP regarding Belvoir. Would like to talk to you regarding your ancestry of the Yerby family. I can be reached at 415-716-4543, or my email address is George@yerbyco.com.

  3. Great post. Thomas Pratt Yerby was my great great grandfather. I’ve lived only a few miles from Belvoir my entire life and have still yet to have been there. Next time its open to the public I’d love to be able to go. I have a Belvoir bedroom in my house that is filled with furniture from Belvoir itself. The bed is one of two matching beds that are still in the family and according to my now deceased grandmother’s account of family history were from the room with three beds that Anna Jackson describes, but who knows. I also have other furniture throughout the house that came from Belvoir as well. Also my boyhood home was on my Great Uncle John Pierson’s farm known by many today as the Slaughter Pen Farm, which came into the families possession after the war from Arthur Bernard whom fled his house and land during the fighting and came to stay at Belvoir for many years. I wish i would have listened and wrote down more of the stories my grandmother told me as a child. She was big into our family history and had a wealth of knowledge.

    • Michael: Thanks much for sharing. I will try to arrange for a visit to Belvoir in the fall (if we can dodge the hunters) or spring, and will certainly let people on here know. If you come, do so knowing I’ll try to pry out of you for the benefit of the group some of what you know. The Yerby descendants are quite active in keeping the memory of the place. We have a huge file of material supplied by the family over the years.

      Again, Many thanks. John H.

      • Hi Michael, My name is George Yerby and I am a descent of John Yerby b 6/25/1788, believed to be in Lancaster Co, VA. Saw you name from a post from NPSFSP regarding Belvoir. Would like to talk to you regarding your ancestry of the Yerby family. I can be reached at 415-716-4543, or my email address is George@yerbyco.com.

    • Hi Michael (also my son’s name),

      We were here a few months ago but the poison ivy kept us from getting to the grave markers. My branch of the Yerbys has only one male left and I have been tracking them for years. I did DNA on my father and while having no Yerby hits, it does show Pierson way back.

      Have you ever been tested? Familytreedna.com is great and I sure would like to find more. Some of the results were extremely interesting.

      I have a lot of info on Thomas Yerby, as to where he is in the family tree. I started over on the tree, working only from originial documents, because I found mistake after mistake on what’s been done before. I gr. gr. grand was born Richmond, about 1822 but I have been unable to find which of the 3 Yerby sons he descended from, although I have theories.

      Jackson’s last picture was taken in the hall of Belvoir. His wife said it was not a true likeness since a breeze blew through and he frowned a bit.

      I would do anything so see some of that bedroom. PLEASE if you ever wish to sell any of it let me know.

      I really need to go back and read more on this…I was so excited to see it I just whipped out this email.

      Glad to meet you cousin! Katherine

      • I am Janice Yerby McKelvey, and obviously I’m late in discovering this post and replying to it. I, too, have much on the Yerby family tree and I’m anxious to know how Thomas of Belvoir fits into it. My sister and I would love to visit Belvoir if there is another expedition planned. We live in the Washington, D.C. area so it would be easy for us to do. (Katherine: I, too, have discarded lots of information on the Yerby family tree, the internet is so full of garbage on it that I only record facts from primary sources anymore.)

    • My name is George Yerby and I am a descent of John Yerby b 6/25/1788, believed to be in Lancaster Co, VA. Saw you name from a post from NPSFSP regarding Belvoir. Would like to talk to you regarding your ancestry of the Yerby family. I can be reached at 415-716-4543, or my email address is George@yerbyco.com.

    • Hi Roger, My name is George Yerby and I am a descent of John Yerby b 6/25/1788, believed to be in Lancaster Co, VA. Saw you name from a post from NPSFSP regarding Belvoir. Would like to talk to you regarding your ancestry of the Yerby family. I can be reached at 415-716-4543, or my email address is George@yerbyco.com.

  4. Hey John,

    I’m really enjoying this site and all the great history. Are there any plans to conduct archeological digs at Belvoir?

    Regards,
    Martin

    • Martin: Though protected by deed restriction, Belvoir is a privately owned site. Unless a university field school took it on as a project, I cannot foresee circumstances under which significant archeology might be done. We have mapped the site (roughly), but that’s as far as its gone. Of course relic hunters found the place long ago… John

  5. Miss Janice,

    I would be most greatful and appreciative of any information you may choose to share. Although much of our history cannot be verified directly, there is no such thing as ‘too’ much information. Stories, historical accounts or ‘folklore’ can provide clues and information, which taken together, may form a picture. The old saying, ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’, has a lot of truth behind it. The same goes for geneological research. Given enough information from enough sources, one may re-build a point in history which, if not mirrors the image, is close enough to replicate it. Never discount anything. The best lie has a grain of truth in it. Enough lies…, a truth can be extracted.

    Raymond Alan Yerby (Oklahoma)

  6. I believe I have the evidence of Thomas Yerby’s ancestry–According to Marriages of Richmond County (VA):Marriages of Richmond County Text:
    “Thomas and Peggy Fauntleroy (spinster) bond 4 Sept 1786. Griffin Fauntleroy (b), Thaddeus Williams (w) [Captain Thomas Yerby (17??-1800) of Laurel Grove Richmond County was the son of John Yerby 17??-1775 and grandson of George and Elizabeth Woodbridge Yerby (q.v.) p. 238. Peggy Fauntleroy Yerby (circa 1771-1802) was the daughter of Griffin Murdock Fauntleroy (1747-1794) and his wife nee Ann Belfield (q.v. p. 68). A son of Thomas and Peggy Yerby was Thomas Yerby esq. 1796-1868 of Belvoir, Spotsylvania County; he married 8/6/1818 Harriet Pratt 1797-1887 daughter of John and Alice (Fitzhugh) Pratt of Camden, Caroline County and were the ancestors of the Yerby family of Spotsylvania County.” For those of you who have studied the Yerby family history in the Northern Neck of Virginia, you will doubtless know about the very long and famous lawsuit, Taft vrs. Yerby, in which Elizabeth Woodbridge Yerby sued for inheritance of the estate of her paternal first cousin, John Woodbridge. She eventually won the suit, inheriting many lands, some as far away as Fairfax County–and she divided them up among her children. Elizabeth Woodbridge Yerby was our Thomas Yerby’s great-grandmother.

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