Wednesday, August 16, 2017  

Rosegill—Middlesex County, Virginia
A History

Near Urbanna lies Rosegill, which contains one of the most breathtaking views you will ever have the opportunity to behold. Coming around the bend toward Rosegill from Cooks Corner still gives me a thrill every time I round the bend, just as it has since my youth. Still maintaining its amazing charm, Urbanna has changed much since the days of the Wormeleys and other founding families who made this place their home during the early years when Virginia was a fledgling British Colony. “Time and tide stayeth still for no man” or woman. As in every age…time marches on and so Rosegill will continue to evolve and change with each successive generation.

Colonial Virginia was an adventurer’s and cavalier’s paradise. The acquisition of large tracts of land was a quick and definite way to wealth and power in the newly founded “colonial establishment” in Virginia. Rosegill was the home of five generations of Wormeleys, who were one of the earliest families to achieve such a profound level of prominence in Colonial Virginia. She became the center of influence and power with regard to trade and shipping on the Rappahannock River during the early days of Virginia, which was more closely aligned with England than any other colony in the New World.

Ralph Wormeley I and his brother Christopher were the first of their notable family to be smitten by the need for adventure and an obvious desire to “make their mark” in the New World. They first settled in York County, Virginia around 1636. Being descended of royal stock, they hailed from the house of “Hatfield,” Yorkshire England. Both brothers, Ralph I and Christopher Wormeley, served in the “Virginia House of Lords” also known as the Governor’s Council of State.

In 1649, only a few decades after the first English settlement at Jamestown when Virginia was still a vast wilderness, Ralph Wormeley patented 3,200 acres “on the south side of the Rappahannock River” in what is now Middlesex, about 14 miles from the river’s confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. By the time Ralph Wormeley had received the patent he had applied to King Charles for, Charles had already been beheaded. The original patent included the Indian towns of Old and New Nimcock. Rosegill Creek was later named Nimcock, in honor of these Indian towns, however the name was eventually changed to Urbanna Creek.

“Here history, legend and romance combine with great natural beauty and harmonious architecture to create a place of indescribable charm.” This quote about sums it all up. Today, Rosegill consists of one 843 acre tract and a 17 acre “shoe shop” parcel located on the west side of the highway. There are approximately 310 acres of open land and 4,400 feet of frontage on Urbanna Creek. This disposition obviously was important when deciding where Rosegill’s main house was eventually built. Additionally, Rosegill is blessed with 16,800 feet of water frontage on the two lakes, one encompassing twenty-five and the other forty-five acres.

In 1680 fifty acres of the original Rosegill grant was set aside to create what we know today as the town of Urbanna. Urbanna grew and prospered during the colonial era as a port under the watchful eye of the Wormeleys of Rosegill and other prominent leading families of the day. This is not difficult at all to imagine, as the deep water and situation of both Rosegill and Urbanna positioned them perfectly to assume such a prominent role in the fledgling colonial economy. A myriad of natural and man-made attributes, ensured the success and prosperity of Rosegill as well as the colonial Port of Urbanna.

Thus Rosegill had its beginning a half a century before Williamsburg was even established as the capital of Virginia and some 80 years before the birth of General George Washington.

From the outset, Rosegill was destined to be counted among the great and influential river estates in Virginia, due in part to its location but also as a seat of political, social and economic leadership.  In 1650 Ralph Wormeley and his family were living in Yorktown. Treaties with the Indians in the area prohibited building anything at Rosegill until 1650. While Wormeley held title to the land there is no evidence that he actually built anything there. Ralph Wormeley I did not live to see his plans for Rosegill fulfilled and passed away in 1651, leaving behind his wife and two infant children. He had truly been a pioneer and cavalier— blazing a trail for future generations of Wormeleys at Rosegill.

A short time later, Agatha Wormeley married Sir Henry Chicheley, deputy Governor of the Colony and a contem-porary of Ralph I, who made Rosegill his home for over 30 years. Although Wormeley’s son, Ralph II (1650-1700), actually inherited Rosegill, he was too young to manage the plantation at the time and grew up under the care and guidance of his mother and stepfather.

The prominence and prosperity of Rosegill is evident from records which state that in 1654 Sir Henry Chicheley of Rosegill was paying more taxes to the crown “for titheables” than any other plantation on the Rappahannock River. Chicheley served as a member of the Governor’s Council until his death and during his tenure as president had presided as acting Governor of the Virginia Colony during two separate periods. He must have been an outstanding role model for his stepson, the young Ralph Wormeley II, who like his father before him and his step-father would become one of the most prominent of men in the Virginia colony. Ralph Wormeley II served as a Justice, a Burgess and also as a member of the Governor’s Council. He was a member of the Christ Church Vestry, the “Collector of His Majesty’s Customs” (in other words a tax collector), a “Naval Officer of the Rappahannock” and one of the very first trustees of the College of William and Mary. He was described by one of his peers as “the most powerful man in Virginia, second to the Governor.” Ralph II did much to establish the Wormeleys as a familial dynasty in colonial Virginia. Having been well educated at Oriel College, Oxford, England, he later returned to Virginia and to Rosegill. He turned Rosegill into a seat of power in the New World.

In 1686, Rosegill Plantation was described by a French Huguenot immigrant to the area, (M. Duval), as having “at least twenty houses along the plateau of the river.” Rosegill was a prosperous plantation, rich in scenic beauty, having deep water and an abundance of wildlife, waterfowl, fertile land and anything else that was desirable. Ralph Wormeley II created the library at Rosegill which included over 375 volumes, according to the inventory of his estate. During the lifetime of Ralph II, Rosegill served as the home of another Governor of the Virginia colony, Lord Howard of Effingham. He could have had many homes as his residence, but chose “the best of Ralph Wormeley’s houses at Rosegill” as his summer home for two years. This speaks volumes about the prominence of the Ralph Wormeley II and Rosegill during this period in Virginia’s colonial history, as well as the obvious beauty and picturesque panoramas that surely existed then, and as they do to this very day.

In 1700 Rosegill was inherited by Ralph Wormeley III, son of Ralph II. Although Ralph III died at a young age, (1680-1715) he had served as sheriff, Collector of Customs and as a vestryman at Christ Church parish. Upon his death his brother John Wormeley (1689-1726) inherited Rosegill and lived there until his death. John’s son, Ralph IV, (1715-1790) nephew of Ralph III, inherited Rosegill from his father. Ralph IV was married to Sarah Berkeley of Barr ‘Elms, and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses for 22 years. He undoubtedly witnessed a great deal of change in his lifetime, having lived a life of privilege and loyalty to the British Crown, as had his fathers before him. Later in life, he witnessed the birth of a new nation and the cessation of Virginia as a British Colony. Although born in Virginia, this for him, a loyalist to the British Crown, was a bitter pill indeed.

Ralph Wormeley IV and Ralph Wormeley V, who both resided at Rosegill in 1775, were not sympathetic to the cause of the American Revolution. Although they attempted to remain passive, Ralph Wormeley V was accused of loyalty to the British Crown. Even perceived loyalty to England, during this period, when the struggle for independence was becoming widespread throughout Virginia and the colonies, was not well tolerated. Apparently unable to conceal his loyalties, Ralph Wormeley V was, by resolution of the Virginia Convention, held under guard for several years on a 10,000 acre parcel owned by his father, Ralph IV, in Berkeley County. Berkeley County is located in what we know today as West Virginia. This parcel was often described as his father’s “shooting box” and was actually a place in the country for hunting rather than a plantation. Ironically, during his confinement Rosegill was plundered and pillaged by a British Privateer in 1781, just before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. After the war, Ralph Wormeley V was released from his confinement. Having accepted the break with England, he returned to public service as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Convention of 1788. Thus he continued his family’s legacy of public service and leadership in Virginia affairs, even though he was a “Tory” at heart.

Ralph Wormeley V was the most similar to his great-grandfather Ralph Wormeley II, in his scholarly pursuits. He was well educated in England and the fifth Wormeley to enter Eton at age twelve. He graduated at age 18 from Trinity Hall in Cambridge, England and was instrumental in adding to the library of his great-grandfather Ralph Wormeley II. With the American Revolution looming over the horizon, the fortunes and the public leadership of the Rosegill Wormeleys went into an irrevocable decline. Ralph V, passed away in 1806 without any male heir to carry on the plantation or the family works in the financial and political realms. How different things would have been for the Wormeleys of Rosegill, had the women of the family been allowed to assume leadership positions in the absence of a male heir. Thus Rosegill passed out of Wormeley hands, forever.

(His will states “his tobacco to Mr. Reeves of London, the Reeves Bible to his daughter Beverly, Encyclopedia to Mann Page and to his wife Eleanor, Rosegill in its entirety—for life. Mrs. Martha Roy inherited 3,322 acres of Rosegill from her sister, Mrs. Eleanor Wormeley. Thomas Boswell Roy inherited it from his mother in 1834 and in 1849 sold it to Captain John Bailey of Lancaster County, Virginia.”)

It is thought, from research conducted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, that the present day Rosegill was built by John Wormeley around 1720. According to records and archaeological evidence, the present day Rosegill was originally a small one and a half story brick house, measuring approximately 37 feet long x 21 feet wide. The house was covered by a gable roof with four interior brick chimneys. Insurance records and a policy from 1801 in the archives of the Library of Virginia, describe the Rosegill of Ralph Wormeley V, as being 87 feet long by 40 feet wide with a Dutch roof and two one-story brick wings measuring 33 x 22 feet, a brick kitchen measuring 20 x 40 feet and a wash house. Each dependency was connected to the main house by a covered walk-way, constructed of brick and wood.  This covered walk measured 86 feet long by 9 feet wide. These insurance records also show that nine other buildings were also part of this complex at Rosegill! What an amazing sight that must have been on approach by land or by sea.
It is estimated that the façade of the present day Rosegill, including all eleven bays, was enlarged in the mid 1700s. A twelve foot wide hall across the entire river front of the house, with stairways at both ends, is also of the same period. A sienna marble mantel in the house is also similar to one ordered for Carter’s Grove in 1771.

In the 1850s, under the direction of Captain Bailey, the extended wings at Rosegill were removed. The “Dutch roof” was removed and the main body of the house raised to two full stories with a gable roof. The interior and exterior Greek Revival alterations that took place during this time are also evident today. Captain Bailey had been an orphan, however, Col. John Chowning, a cousin of Capt. Bailey’s mother, was his guardian. Bailey was described as a “master of the seafaring life” and “had accumulated a large fortune before retiring to Rosegill.” Bailey’s will left Rosegill to his wife for life, then to grandnieces who later sold Rosegill to J. Henry Cochran, a Senator from Pennsylvania.

Rosegill has undergone many alterations and renovations through the years. Successive owners include Jessie K. and Norwood Smith, the Henry L. Bogerts of New York, Ben Temple and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney L. Shannon. Alfred and R. Strother Scott purchased Rosegill and surrounding acreage from Mrs. Shannon in 1975. Rosegill is slated to undergo yet more changes as a portion of it will be developed as a planned community of cluster homes, in the future. 62% of the development will include open space, which will hopefully preserve as much of the scenic and pristine beauty as possible.

Whatever the fate may be for Rosegill’s landscape, that is at the very least utterly breathtaking, the grand house will endure into the future and stands as a monument to the many generations who have loved her, shared her and cared for her so well.

Thank you to Mr. Alfred P. Scott for the historical information used in writing this article. Over the years the Scott’s have graciously and generously shared Rosegill with the community, benefiting local charities and organizations. Having undergone a major remodeling and renovation this year, Rosegill was recently featured on Urbanna’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas House tour.

Thank you to Alfred Scott for the historical information and the entire Scott family.  His input was invaluable while I was writing this article.  Over the years the Scott’s have graciously and generously shared Rosegill with the community, benefiting local charities and organizations.  Having undergone a major remodeling and renovation this year, Rosegill was recently featured on Urbanna’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas House tour.

This article was written and compiled by Karin Andrews from various historical resources and a great many documents that had previously been provided by Mr. Alfred Scott—a present owner of Rosegill’s manor house. Karin can be contacted at kjaartist@msn.com or at 804-445-5500.