Shirley presents a remarkable picture of an important Virginia tobacco plantation and the prominent Carter family. The property was patented in 1660 by Edward Hill, a member of the House of Burgesses in colonial Virginia, and remains in the possession of his descendents today. The main house, forecourt dependencies, formal brick farm buildings and two demolished three-story bedroom houses were built c. 1738 following the marriage of Elizabeth Hill, heiress of Shirley, to John Carter. John Carter was the son of Robert "King" Carter, the wealthiest and most politically influential man in mid-18th-century Virginia, perhaps in all the colonies. "King" Carter's other children also married into prominent Virginia families from James River plantations such as Berkeley, Westover and Brandon.
The Georgian style main house at Shirley is unique in Virginia for its combination of features including its mansard roof, floor plan without a center hall, rich interior paneling and dramatic "flying" staircase, a major achievement of colonial craftsmanship. A three-and-half foot roof finial is one of many pineapples, the Colonial symbol of hospitality, featured in the woodwork of the house. Original outbuildings on the property include a stable, smokehouse, root cellar and dovecoat, as well as a log corn crib, which resembles the original portion of Piney Grove.
By the 1770s, Shirley had been inherited by John Carter's son, Charles, who remodeled the interior and added the fine interior woodwork, porticos (modified in 1831), new outbuildings and replaced the roof tile with slate. At that point, Shirley was considered to be the seat of the Carter family, and by the end of the 18th century it had become the largest agricultural operation in the state. Charles Carter's daughter, Ann Hill Carter, was born at Shirley in 1773 and became the wife of Light-Horse Harry Lee and mother of General Robert E. Lee. Shirley's generations of Hills and Carters entertained many famous Virginians including the Byrds, Harrisons, and presidents Washington, Jefferson
Shirley, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 501 Shirley Plantation Rd. (County Rte. 608) on the south side of Virginia Rte. 5, west of Charles City. It is open daily for tours, 9:00am to 5:00pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. There is an admission fee. Please call 804-829-5121 or visit the plantation's website for further information. Shirley has also been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
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