Friday, April 16, 2010

Our Family's Colonial Era, 1607 - 1775, Part II

In Search of Christopher Holliman Sr.'s 17th Century Virginia Plantation
by Glenn N. Holliman

This is the second post of an on-going series of our ancestors. Last March, my wife, Barb, and granddaughter, Holly and I crossed the Blackwater River, the border between Southampton and Isle of Wright Counties, Virginia in search of Christopher Holliman Sr.'s plantation. Our little adventure continues....

We passed picked cotton fields and peanut storage units. Our noses told us that a pig farm, probably the home of future Smithfield Hams, was nearby. After passing Sycamore Corner, we were on Mill Swamp Road. A mile later we saw a decrepit sign which read: Holleman House.
Was this it, the remnant of Christopher Sr.'s 17th century plantation? Holliman has been spelled many ways - Holyman, Holleman or Holloman. No one was at home, so we took photographs and left a note. We noticed a family cemetery. The oldest visible stone is of Edward Adolphus Holleman, young son of Wilson and Ann Holleman, b 1810 - d 1819.

We did not expect to discover Christopher's grave. In the 17th, and most of the 18th century, there were no gravestones in the Tidewater area, as they were expensive items at the time. My guess is that his bones rest on this, or an adjacent, property.

Nor did we expect to discover a log cabin that housed the first Hollimans. No cabins from the 1600s survive in the Tidewater region. They burned easily and deteriorated rapidly without paint or protective coatings. It was after 1700 that the red brick plantation homes along the James River were constructed.

Constructed in 1830, this is the Holleman House, located on Mill Swamp Road, Isle of Wight Country, Virginia. This historic Federal period house, with over-sized front doors and saw- tooth cornices, is located on the site of Christopher Holliman, Sr.'s 1,020 acre plantation.

To our amazement, when we visited the Isle of Wight County Museum later that day, we discovered an 1983 book by Helen Haverty King entitled Historic Isle of Wight. The 200 page volume pictures numerous antebellum homes in the county, one being the Holleman home!
The book is available at The Isle of Wight County Museum ($35). On the back cover is an illustrated map showing the location of the Holleman house and many others.

In this volume, one will find confirmation that in 1684 Christopher Holliman, Sr. completed his purchase of 1,020 acres in a corner of Isle of Wight County.

Bordering the family's property were the Atkinsons (whose sons married two of Christopher Sr's. daughters) and the Gwaltneys (who also married future Hollimans). The Gwaltneys became retail sellers of peanuts and hams, and were the founders of the famous Smithfield Ham company. They did well financially, and several of their 19th century mansions are open to visitors in downtown Smithfield today.
Next week, we will continue with our adventure to Colonial Virginia and further explore the history of the Holleman House.

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