Belmead in Peril



Other than Bartholomew Stovall’s vast lineage, he also left a fair-sized tobacco farm outside of Richmond, Virginia.  He lived there no more than twenty years before passing, but ironically, the original 320-acre parcel can be identified today at a point where Deep Creek empties into the ocean bound River of James.

In the past, I’ve detailed the history of this sacred place.  The farm has survived iterations of ownership; each century witnessing the plot being bundled with a larger parcel.   Most of those who have read Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant are not surprised that you can still walk on the grounds where Bartholomew harvested his crops and helped raise his family.   Most of those who follow this blog understand how the terminus of a young English lads dreams could evolve into a sanctuary that focused on providing help for underprivileged African American and Native American men and women.

If you are not familiar with Belmead, I encourage you read this blog entry from 2013, before you continue with this post.  It begins with an introduction of Bartholomew acquiring the first 320-acre plot and then continues with the progression of ownership.

 Belmead – Then and Now

In 1706, when Bartholomew Stovall walked the boundaries of his newly acquired 320-acre farm, he had no idea that the property would eventually be ravaged by giant construction machines. 

One hundred and thirty years after Bartholomew’s passing, plantation owner Philip St George Cocke had no way of knowing that his magnificent, 1,200 acres, self-sustaining, plantation would be divided into parcels less than one acre, lined with carved, asphalt streets and stately homes.   

Fast forward to, 1890 and imagine Katherine Drexel considering plans to convert what remained of John Croke’s slave supported plantation into a home for African American and Native American girls and boys.  How could she possibly imagine that the institution she had built using her own funds would be closed, abandoned, demolished and then sold to the highest bidder.    

In May of 2016, the Catholic Church made their decision that the group of Nuns who looked after this sanctuary should retire or be relocated, and that all property and its assets would be made available to investors, implying that “Sister Katherine’s dreams have been accomplished.” 

In February of 2017 the doors were bolted tight at Belmead and everyone was told to leave the premises.  This holy sanctuary was officially closing it’s doors for good.  

After two years, it appears that efforts have intensified, and other parties have shown interest in the 2,200 acre plot on the James.  At this point, the worst-case scenario seems likely.  Belmead may soon bear the name of the avenue leading into another overpriced suburban community.   

Belmead on the James Inc.

With news that Belmead was for sale, a grass roots, nonprofit organization was formed with the goal of “acquiring the historic Belmead property and preserving intact as much of its 2,265 acres of land as possible.”  Belmead on the James, Inc. (BOJI) stated that their mission is “for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans, as well as to preserve the cultural, historical, spiritual, ecological, and educational legacy associated with the property.” 

So far, BOJI has raised $140,000 from organized donation campaigns.  They have secured one million dollars in promissory grants from The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. 

They sent out a challenge to speculative investors who shared their ideas of preservation and conservation.  With good fortune a philanthropic lender did step forward, but delays in the closure of Belmead forced the prospective lender to reconsider their commitment. 

Today Belmead sits with no offers, but one very serious buyer who is trying to garner enough money for the purchase.  Will the owner of this property wait until BMOJ has enough funding for closure, or will they sell to the first buyer and rid themselves of all the issues?

The property is over 2,200 acres of rich, river basin farmland.  It’s filled with Loblolly pines and other hardwood trees, but parts of it are swampy and useless for development.  Prospective buyers will note that there are cemeteries and many very large, old buildings on the grounds.  Ironically, some of the structures are in good shape due to publicly funded efforts through donations.  One thousand acres is protected by a Conservation easement, but none bear the seal of the ultra-protective, Historic easement.

Some of these items may appear as negatives for those looking to purchase the property.  Ironically, BOTJ wants them to remain as is.  Leave the graveyards to be managed by the caretakers.  Leave the Church and the areas that have been restored for parishioners.  The swamp laden marshes and the swift flow of the James; leave this all to nature.    

In and around that area of Virginia, Belmead is a sensitive topic.  It’s worth has been set and its history has been recorded.  With the good Lord willing, our luck will continue and all three parcels can remain together, free in nature.

As of November 19 there are no significant details to report on the sale of Belmead.  It is important to note that in closing it was mentioned, “for now we are not asking for additional donations for Belmead on the James.”

If you are interested in helping save Belmead look for an update on this blog page, or visit Historic Belmead on Facebook.

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Happy Birthday, Bartholomew Stovall

August 24, 1665, Bartholomew Stovall, my grandfather from nine generations past was born in Albury Surry, England.  When Bartholomew  reached the age of eighteen years, he boarded a the sea going ship, Booth and sailed to the new world of America.

Today, hundreds of thousands if not millions carry his DNA.  Thank you George and Joan Stovall, parents of Bartholomew, for giving birth to our ground zero forefather here in the US.  And Thank you Bartholomew for making that historic voyage.

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Ann Boleyn and the American Culture


       She captured the heart of Henry VIII and hastened Reformation

 By the time young America created the Declaration of Independence, the mindset of their population had already formed core beliefs about how a government and the people should interact; government would operate by consent rather than decree.  Then and today, few realize that this uniquely American marriage of freedom and justice shares a near link with the infamous Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII.

In the novel, Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant, Bartholomew knew his destiny.  As a slave, he was forced to accustom his master’s rules.

By the time Bartholomew had earned his freedom in 1688, he understood that governing in the New World was much like that in his mother country, England.  It was a government of representation and was imposed by a fair legal system, elected by the people.  These facts helped Bartholomew to understand that, should he follow the path that was presented to him with nobility, the truth would be rendered, and he would find his destiny.

This provincial government Bartholomew found in America was a byproduct of the successful Protestant Reformation in England between 1500 and 1650.  During a time of deep rooted religious oppression, noted authors were writing essays supporting the Enlightenment, and others were interpreting The Holy Bible from the Greek and Latin scrolls to English books, so “Even the plowman could read Gods word and form a personal relationship through prayer.”

But the turning point in England’s history had little to do with reformation.  Britain and their provincial experiment, America, as well as large portions of the civilized world, should credit Anne Boleyn for their freedom to worship and to live in a true Godley spirit.  It was Anne Boleyn, the former Queen’s maid and then second wife of King Henry VIII who used her charm, wit, and flirtatious manner to repel the forces of intolerance.

                                                                 .  .  .

King Henry’s attraction to Anne Boleyn was not a quick romance.  At first, she denied his advances, as well as the ‘formal request’ for her to become his solitary mistress.  The king was taken aback by her refusal.  Anne was steadfast against his charm, but the two did become close.  Finally, she confessed her love for him, but reasoned that it would all be in vain because he was a married man.

With her refusal, the king became open with his intentions to marry Anne Boleyn, going so far as to summon the Pope and requested that his marriage to the Queen, Catherine of Aragon be annulled.  But the Pope refused the request leaving Henry livid.

But liberation for the protestants took a huge leap forward in November 1528.  On this date, King Henry VIII summoned Parliament and gave a masterful speech at Bridewell, London.  The King confessed that he had been living in mortal sin, caused by his arranged marriage to his late brother’s wife, Catherine.

He quoted passage from the Holy Bible in Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 16:

If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”

The King may have convinced the gathering when he stated that he lived in “detestable and abominable adultery”.

                                                                        .  .  .

History has proved that King Henry VIII wanted to be rid of Catherine because she was barren and had not produced him a male heir.  He was also infatuated with Anne Boleyn and wanted her as his queen and beds maid.

But history also proved that by bringing his request to Parliament, Henry was seeking support for his cause from the nobility of the country he ruled.  He knew that he could not ‘decree’ to the Pope, thus he enrolled the help of the people to absolve the authority of domestic matters from a foreign entity.

Henry’s plea to Parliament was the turning point in England’s history.  In incremental events, Henry VIII achieved his objective. On November 3, 1534 the Parliament of England passed the first Act of Supremacy, appointing Henry VIII as The Supreme Head of the Church of England. Finally, Henry was able to discern the legal sovereignty of the civil laws over the laws of the Church in England.  This is to say that Henry could grant himself a divorce and then marry Anne Boleyn.

This sweeping turn of events altered England’s business model drastically.  With Henry’s plea to Parliament England was now governed by consent rather than decree.  It was a mindset that followed those who formed the laws and labored the fields of the New World.

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How America Was Made

If you trace history back three hundred and thirty-two years from today, then imagine Bartholomew Stovall, an indentured servant in the early American colony of Virginia.  He had reduced his obligations from four years, to only months, and would soon be set free to make his own way in America.

Bartholomew was ever mindful of the survival odds; Only one in ten indentures would endure freedom.  For the most part, they would take the skills learned on plantations and use that knowledge to grow tobacco, just like their master.  The dream was always real, but the reality for most free servants proved too difficult a task.

The cause for failure was usually of circumstances beyond their control: sickness, lack of help, unfavorable weather.  Some statistics show that, upon completion of indenture, only one in ten received the land they were promised.  There was the dreaded “Summer Sickness” that claimed the lives of near forty percentage of all young immigrants in the mid colonies.

Bartholomew knew that his fortunes had been good, but he never anticipated the difficulty of blending with the populous of America.

                                                               .   .   .

During this early colonial period, most of the duties and laws were based on customs of the mother country.  England’s system may well have been an ideal model but implementing it into colonial America required ‘adaptations’.   From necessity came new ideas, and those ideas influenced the identity and character that branded the new world.

But once he was free of indenture, Bartholomew was to merge with shop owners, farmers, tradesman, and men of GodHe was like scores of other immigrants, ready to claim their partial and make a life.  It was young America on the cusp of the eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment

The Great Awakening – John Wesley

All these free servants understood that the mindset of their young colony was growing but none understood that it was during a rare place in time where The Enlightenment and the religious revival known as The Great Awakening existed simultaneously.   In seventeenth century Colonial America the question arose; Enlightenment or Awakening, reason or faith, science or God?   To everyone’s amazement, the new world of America embraced both lines of thinking.

Indentures from as early as 1620s paved the way for settlers like Stovall.  It was a determined society and the opportunities were endless, if you were willing to work.   Bartholomew’s timing was perfect as the colonies abounded with capitalism.
By the time Bartholomew received his land, the colonies of America became provisional, meaning “This is the way of things and those rules are subject to change at any time.”  It would take Bartholomew but ten years to understand the way in this new America.  In the end, he would settle on a large land plot resting on a navigable waterway.

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Bartholomew Reaches America – November 11, 1684

The Booth Moored off Jamestown, Virginia Colonies

On his day in history, exactly three hundred and thirty two years ago, The Booth sat moored off the coast of Jamestown, Virginia Colonies.  It had been a four month voyage, but Captain Peter Pagan finally tracked down the terminus of his passage across the Atlantic ocean.

The ship held a cargo of fifty-two servants, less Captain and crew, all of  which had signed a contract obligating them to years of servitude in exchange for freedom in America.

This is the exact truth in so much as history has recorded, but our novel, Bartholomew Stovall – The English immigrant,  details events that led up to, and then proceeds this moment in time.

On board, is a tall English lad, nineteen years of age.  Bartholomew Stovall was surely overwhelmed by the new life in Colonial American, but when all was said and done he owned 320 on the James River.  He married Ann Burton and raised a family of five boys and one girl.

The generations that followed the lineage of Bartholomew must have inherited his audacious spirit.  Today, twelve or more generations and literally millions of cousins can trace their lineage back to Bartholomew, the only documented surname “Stovall” to immigrate.

American Colonies – November 1684

When the Booth finally reached America it was the beginning of winter and the weather was probably much like that in England this time of year.

The Booth anchored close to the shore so the ship wouldn’t rock about as it had for four months at sea.  All of the passengers had an opportunity to peek out of port windows and survey the edge of the continent.  Most assuredly, the first thing they noticed were trees.  Giant pines were packed close together in a display of greenery they were not accustomed.  Each man, woman and child feared what may be waiting hidden behind the wooden giants.

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Midpoint of the Passage

On this day in history, exactly three hundred and thirty-three years ago, September 12, 1684, Bartholomew Stovall cast his view to the open seas, North West.  Bartholomew knew full well that he was crossing midpoint of the passage across the Atlantic.  The slave hauling ship, Booth, Captained by Peter Pagan, had made the initial stop at Santa Cruz De Tenerife, Canary Islands to replenish food stocks, water, and rum.

The Booth reached incredible speed as she rode the southerly trade winds past Africa.  Soon enough, the sun stared directly into the face of Captain and crew, making it apparent that they were traveling in a more westerly direction.   They had left Africa and were crossing the Atlantic, searching for Dominica in the West Indies.  When the islands were spotted it would have been six weeks without the site of land.

It was a defining moment when the young, English lad finally realized how totally alone he was as he drifted in the middle of the ocean.  With an obligation to give four years of indenture, Bartholomew Stovall was left to question his compulsion.

But there was no time to dwell on such matters.  As told in our novel, Bartholomew Stovall, the English Immigrant, the next big adventure would happen sooner rather than later.

Thank you, Bartholomew for embarking on the passage to America.

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Tales Of The Bible

Hello to family, friends and followers of Bartholomew Stovall.  It’s been three months since my last posting and for this, I do apologize.  I find myself in a place where life’s realities and my six-year-old grandson dictate my time.  Most anything I do that involves our ground zero grandfather is surely a blessing during this period of my life.  I would like to say thanks to all of you who have encouraged me with kind words,  contacted me for information, responded to posts, or purchased our book.

But for the present, I’m sharing this post to provide insight on a certain story-line that stretched out over several chapters of our novel, Bartholomew Stovall –  The English Immigrant.  I will ask that you please bear with me while I try and unwind this true tale of how fiction is created.

The Tyndale Bible played a large part in the book of Bartholomew.    When his Great Grandfather, George Stovold, received his copy in 1585, he understood that it was a holy book.  For the remainder of his life, George wrote of personal experiences to reveal the truth in the scriptures.  Sometimes he would underline a verse or jot down his thoughts and understandings in the worn margins of the book. By the time the Tyndale was placed into the hands of ten-year-old Bartholomew, it was filled with wisdom from three generations passed.

It is also written that, when Bartholomew reached the age of eighteen years, he made the decision to immigrate to Colonial America as an indentured servant.  He was prohibited from carrying the Bible with him, so he asked his friend from birth, Sara Gentry, to watch over the book until he could give her an address to forward it.

Sarah Gentry kept the book safe for twenty years, but on Christmas Eve, 1704 she received a letter from her old friend requesting that she send the book addressed to: Bartholomew Stovall, Kennon Plantation, Virginia Colonies.  As fate would have it, Captain Peter Pagan of The Booth, was flagged down on the street in London, England by a courier who offered him a sum to deliver the package from Sarah, to Jamestown, Virginia.  When Pagan saw that it was addressed to Bartholomew Stovall, he consented to the transport.

Now, fast forward to the year, 1705.  Elizabeth Kennon, John Worsham, and Peter Pagan are riding in a carriage from the Kennon Plantation bound for the home of Bartholomew and Ann Stovall.  With them they carry a proposition that would award Bartholomew 320 acres on the James River in return for his farm in the wilderness.  Although Bartholomew would not be able to refuse the generous offer, it was not the only prize that he would be given during their brief stay.  Mrs. Kennon had intercepted the package from Peter Pagan and planned to return the coveted treasure from Bartholomew’s youth, the Tyndale Bible.

During the day long excursion to the “farm in the wilderness”, Elizabeth devoured the notes written in the Bible’s margin.  She moved through each page but was particularly drawn to one underlined verse.  Inserted in the pages, written in clear penmanship was the entire text of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Chapter one, verse three was underlined and read:

 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. 

When I was writing our novel, I thought this passage was the essence of Bartholomew’s story, but I was soon to realize that I had written an error.

During the initial writings of Bartholomew, I was sitting at my desk thumbing through KJV version, searching for a relevant verse for Elizabeth Kennon to find that would make her take notice.  The task was taking too long and I became frustrated.  I closed the cover of the Bible and thought.  I remembered someone saying, if you have a question, just say a prayer, open to any page in the Bible, and put your finger on a verse.  There will be the answer to your prayer.   I stared down at the Bible and then reached for the lower pages.  I flipped through until I stopped and then opened the book.  Very slowly and deliberately I put my finger down to a verse and saw Ecclesiastes 1-3.  When I read the text, I was… stunned.  What were the odds of me finding this most relevant phrase?  I knew that there was no need to look further and vividly remember transferring each word to my manuscript thinking how lucky, or blessed, to have found this scripture.

Several days later I was editing some of my work until I came to the words about Ecclesiastes.   But the thought occurred to me that the Tyndale Bible don’t contain all the books in the KJV.  It was a worrisome thought until it was confirmed.  William Tyndale ran out of time before he could publish the book of Ecclesiastes.  You see, while he was busy converting the scrolls to English, the Holy Roman Catholic Church had him arrested for heresy, and executed.

The thought never occurred to me to remove the verse, so I set about the task of writing around my mistake. I envisioned that Bartholomew should have copied the chapter from an original KJV of the scriptures and insert the pages into his Tyndale.  Just like that, you have a Tyndale with a bonus of Ecclesiastes.

But it was only one of the several stories that needed to be written before Bartholomew was finished.  Primarily, I wanted to bring Mary Wilkie into the story line.  Mary was the beautiful lass, one year younger than Bartholomew’s 18 years, that traveled the passage aboard the Booth, from the Port of London.  She was shy and kept to herself, but soon enough she and Bartholomew came to be good friends.

What I’ve not told you is that, I intentionally left small traces of her all throughout the book.  I did this purposely because I planned for my next novel to be the story of Mary Wilkie.

The Booth

But I had yet to drill into the details of her life.  So, I crafted a tale of Bartholomew and Mary during the passage.  Sometimes they would sneak away from the other servants at sea and climb up to the base of the mainsail.  There, they would find a place in a bundle of rope and share stories.

Bartholomew would often question Mary about her past, but she never offered anything other than, “I had to leave.”  But on one occasion, Mary would tell him of happier times in London, when she worked for a printer or the times she helped her Mother with the weaving of the yarn.  But then her mood turned grievous when she spoke with disdain that, “It was all taken from me,” and that she was “forced” to leave.

During this same encounter, Bartholomew would tell her of his love for the Tyndale Bible that he had to leave behind.  When he tried to explain to her how he separated the page spine and inserted his hand-written copy of Ecclesiastes, he was surprised when Mary asked him details of how he had done it.  Evidently the young lady had a knowledge of binding and printing books, which led him to believe that there was more to Mary Wilkie than he first thought.

It took more than three pages to clarify one of my errors, but it also allowed me to ‘formerly’ introduce Mary Wilkie as a character.  Those three pages also allowed me to tell a story of Bartholomew’s youth.  Factually, nothing is written about Bartholomew Stovall from age ten to eighteen.  I found it easy to fill in a short but relevant tale of fiction, and I readily admit that it was one of the most enjoyable writing sessions I experienced.

While creating our novel, I remember spending days, or weeks researching applicable subjects.  I would assemble the facts and then translate them into an engaging story line.  It was a tedious but rewarding progression measured sentence by sentence.  But editing and crafting story lines, like this example, is much more rewarding for this author.

William Robert Stovall Sr.




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