James River plantations

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James River plantations were established in the Virginia Colony along the James River between the mouth at Hampton Roads and the head of navigation at the fall line where Richmond is today.


The colony struggled for five years after its establishment at Jamestown in 1607. Finally, a profitable export crop was identified through the efforts of colonist John Rolfe. After 1612, a sweet form of tobacco became the largest export crop, customarily shipped in large hogsheads.

Because the river was a highway of commerce in the 17th and 18th centuries, the early plantations were established on the north and south banks along it, with most having their own wharfs. A site of 100 acres (0.40 km2) was a common unit of size, which may explain why many early plantations included the word "hundred" in their names. However, most were much larger than 100 acres (0.40 km2). A more likely explanation is the name derived from the English tradition of subdividing shires/counties) into hundreds.

While most are now long gone, some of the larger and older of the James River plantations are still in use and/or open to the public. Almost all are non-government-owned, and houses and/or grounds are generally open daily to visitors with various admission fees applicable.

Partial listing of plantations in early 17th century[edit]

Based upon the makeup of the House of Burgesses, a partial list of early plantations and their representatives were:

Plantations north side of James River[edit]

Listed from east to west (downriver to upriver):

The House, circa 1730, is Virginia Tidewater in architectural design, and is the longest frame dwelling in America. It was expanded to its present length, 300 feet (90 m), by President Tyler in 1845, when he added the 68-foot (21 m) ballroom designed for dancing the Virginia reel. Sherwood Forest is a National Historic Landmark, Virginia Historic Landmark, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sherwood Forest is open to the public seven days a week, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

In Henrico County, some of the former plantations are still working farms, notably including Malvern Hill; Curles Neck, home of Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of 1676's Bacon's Rebellion; and Varina Farms, home of John Rolfe and Pocahontas between 1614 and 1616; and Tree Hill, just below the falls of the James near the city limits of Richmond. (None open to public).

Plantations south side of James River[edit]

Most of the extant plantations south of the James River are accessed by State Route 10, which runs between Suffolk and Richmond via Smithfield, Surry, and Hopewell.

The south side plantations, from east to west, include:

External links[edit]