berry hill plantation


Berry Hill Plantation

Location: Woodbourne, Halifax Co., VA
Constructed: 1770

History: In ante-bellum days the Berry Hill plantation comprised over five thousand acres, and included most of present-day South Boston. Its various tracts were acquired partly by James Bruce of Woodbourne, one of the wealthiest men of his day, and partly by James Coles Bruce, his son by his first wife, Sarah 'Sally' Coles, daughter of Walter Coles, Esq., of Mildendo. James built the great family fortune through what was then a very modern medium--a system of chain stores. At the early age of sixteen he left the relative comfort and security of Soldier's Rest and went to Petersburg, where he began his career in the mercantile house of a Mr. Colquhoun. He easily won the confidence of his employer, and was sent to Amelia County to open a branch store, in which he was made a partner. After a few years James found that the more remote areas of Halifax County offered far greater business advantages, so settled there 1798 and began setting up his stores, not only in the county but in the surrounding counties of both Virginia and North Carolina as well, to supply the needs of the rural planters. To furnish his stores with their wares, Mr. Bruce also operated a series of wagon trains.

The late Dr. Kathleen Bruce, family historian and a noted writer, made an exhaustive study of her great-grandfather's papers, and revealed that between the years 1802 and 1837, James was the owner or dominant partner in, among other enterprises, twelve country stores, several flour mills, a fertilizer-plaster manufactory, a commercial blacksmith shop, several lumber yards, a cotton factory and two taverns. When he died in 1837 James Bruce was the third wealthiest man in America, his estate being valued at nearly three million dollars. Death came to James Bruce in Philadelphia, where he had gone for medical treatment, and as it was impractical to transport bodies such great distances in those days, he was buried in the yard of old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. (Nearly one hundred years later his great-grandson, Malcolm Bruce, had his remains brought back to Halifax County and interred at Berry Hill.) The widowed Elvira Cabell Henry Bruce (James Bruce of Woodbourne's second wife) soon left Woodbourne and moved her family to Richmond, where she built a house on fashionable East Clay Street.

On 28 March, 1865, while the fighting around Petersburg was signaling the beginning of the end for the South, death came to James Coles Bruce in his chamber at Berry Hill. He was buried in the family cemetery beside his wife, Elizabeth Douglas Wilkins Bruce. The daughter of William Wyche Wilkins and Elizabeth Judkins Raines Wilkins of Belmont, Northampton County, North Carolina, she had preceded him in death in 1850.

Associated surnames: Bland, Byrd, Carrington, Coles, Bruce, Harrison

Associated Plantations: Berkeley Plantation (Williamsburg Co.)

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