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Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia

The Ruins of Rosewell Plantation

This once-palatial plantation might have been the site of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. 

An exposed brick frame and stacked fireplaces are all that remain of a once-grand plantation called Rosewell. Built by the powerful Page family, the estate dates back to colonial Virginia, long before the Revolutionary War.

Rosewell Plantation was built by a descendent of one of the “First Families” of the Virginia Colony, who settled in Gloucester County in 1627. Almost a hundred years later, in 1725 Mann Page embarked on creating a grand estate in the style of London’s “townhouses” of the time, his dream really being to outshine the Governor’s Palace in nearby Williamsburg (the residence recently completed for the colony governors). Rosewell’s brickwork (known as “Flemish bond”) was extraordinary, the three-story height was striking, and its setting at the York River was sublime — but Mann Page wouldn’t live to see it completed. He died five years later, and the home — by far the most impressive and imposing one in Virginia at the time — was finished by his son in 1737.  

Rosewell’s connection to the American Revolution came through Mann Page’s grandson, John. He was a close friend and classmate of Thomas Jefferson at William & Mary, and Jefferson often visited – he even suggested to John that they live in adjoining properties. (There are rumors that the “original rough draft” of the Declaration of Independence was written here, but no historians support that story, since Jefferson was in Philadelphia for most of 1776)  The plantation stayed in the Page family for 100 years, when in 1837 it began a bumpy journey through four or five different families. Maintaining such an estate is expensive, and the new owners began selling off both acreage and features of the house. The lead roof was sold, and even the marble mantels and mahogany paneling were ripped out and disposed of for cash.

Rosewell stumbled through the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in 1916, after surviving through Revolutionary and Civil War, the home was destroyed by fire. Today the remaining grounds and ruins are run by a caretaker foundation, but at its height the plantation consisted of 750 acres, several outbuildings, an icehouse, and elaborate stables. But the legacy of slavery hangs over its brick shell — it’s known that the Page family owned scores of slaves, at least 111 documented in the 18th century alone.  

Know Before You Go

The plantation ruins are about 25 miles north of Newport News, Virginia, on the north side of the York River. The grounds are open between April 1 and October 31.
They are closed on Fridays, and between November 1 and March 31
Hours are Monday thru Thursday & Saturday from 10am to 4:00pm, and Sunday from 1pm to 4pm.
General admission is $4, students and groups (10 or more) are $3, kids from 6 to 12 ar $2, and under 6 and members are free.