Stuart Family

The Stuart Family’s Ownership of Stratford 1879-1929

When Elizabeth Storke died in 1879, she bequeathed her Stratford property to her great-nephews, Charles Edward and Richard Henry Stuart.  The eldest brother, Charles S. Stuart, a lawyer, married Ruth Yeaton of Alexandria on October 11, 1876.  They lived in Alexandria where Charles set up his law practice.  In dividing Stratford equally, Charles chose to receive as his portion the land toward the western boundary of the property.  Eventually, he sold some of the Stratford land to his younger brother Richard who wished to open his medical practice in Westmoreland and live at Stratford.  The largest part of Charles’ inheritance was sold to a lumber dealer from New York in 1888[1] and eventually became Westmoreland State Park.

Dr. Richard Stuart (L) and wife Lydia pose with guests in 1897

After studying medicine in Philadelphia, Richard Stuart returned to Westmoreland County to open a medical practice.   At age 30, Richard married a much younger local girl, Lydia Anne Marmaduke, daughter of James B. and Martha Marmaduke, in 1882 and they had two sons, Albert Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart.  The Marmaduke family lived for generations on a farm adjoining Stratford.

During the late 19th century, country doctors were expected to make house calls and attend sick patients at all hours.  Dr. Stuart made house calls in his buggy, which he parked under the weeping willow tree by the road just south of the Great House.  He and his wife slept in the southeast corner room where Robert E. Lee supposedly had been born.  There was a bell and cord at the top of the east steps to summon the doctor to the door.  The room in the Great House basement now known as the Servants Hall had bars on its windows since Dr. Stuart’s medicines were kept there. 

Franklin Roosevelt at Stratford, 1913

During the Stuarts’ ownership of Stratford, people would visit Stratford even though it wasn’t officially open to the public.  Franklin D. Roosevelt[2] made his first visit in 1913 as Secretary of the Navy and was welcomed by the Stuarts.  Photographs taken during his visit document the house and adjacent grounds.[3] Roosevelt returned several times to Stratford while the Stuart family was in residence. 

Dr. Stuart was a popular Treasurer for Westmoreland County and President of the Bank of Montross. Stuart operated the Stratford gristmill, which had been rebuilt in the late 1860s.  During the heavy summer rains of 1891, the old dam at the Mill Pond broke and, for several years, a steam boiler was used to power the mill.[4]  After the dam broke again in 1905, Dr. Stuart discontinued its use. Stuart built a tomato cannery at Deep Point wharf in 1899. [5] Stuart also ran a saw mill on the shoreline near the upper end of the beach.  Wesley Payne recalled seeing a piece of the machinery out in the river.[6]  Westmoreland residents remember relatives who worked for the Stuarts’ timbering operation.  On a 1932 topographic map[7], the current Overlook is in the vicinity of an old log flume, where logs were slid down to the beach.  The date of the flume is unknown; although “Light Horse Harry” Lee timbered the Stratford property in the 1790s and floated the logs to Washington, DC, Lee’s route for directing the timber to the river is undocumented. 

1898 photograph

The drive from the main road to the house during the Stuart occupancy began at what is now the gate to the Poplar Strip.  The southern border of the lawn around the house was delineated by a white, five-board wooden fence. The straight drive, bordered by cedar trees rather than poplars, led to a gate in the board fence, curved in front of the main house and exited through another gate.   According to Wesley Payne and others, Dr. Stuart cut down the large old cedars lining the straight entrance road, probably planted during Elizabeth Storke’s time (or before) at Stratford, to build a fence.  The drive curved around a grove of sugar maples before it reached the main house.    Mrs. Stuart recalled two huge old boxwoods growing near the Smokehouse, which were “blown down in the blizzard of [18]88.”  She also remembered the old paths lined with boxwoods that were eaten by the sheep and goats, as well as the fig bushes in back of the kitchen and rosebushes near the Kitchen door and near one of the old beech trees.[8]  A low brick wall ran north-south to the east of the main house, lining up with the current wall to the Octagon.  The area east of the brick wall was used by the Stuarts for a vegetable garden.  A small raised rectangular dove cote was located south of the southwest outbuilding.[9]

Wesley Payne

Wesley Payne, whose father William “Bill” Payne had been born into slavery at Stratford, lived in a small tenant house on the Stratford property.  Wesley Payne did farm work while his wife Louisa cooked for the Stuarts.  The Stuarts may have had some other tenants to help farm the property; the “log house” (ST 40) in Loghouse Field, a tenancy occupied circa first half of 19th century to the 20th century, was still standing when the Stuarts sold the property.[10]

Originally, Richard Stuart inherited the house complex and 519 surrounding acres. He added three parcels in 1884 for 603 more acres, making the total acreage 1,022.[11]  In 1910, his wife Lydia inherited a 153-acre tract[12] originally purchased by her father and uncle in 1851 and left to her by her uncle John M. Marmaduke and her brother Joseph Warren Marmaduke.  In 1919, Dr. Stuart deeded his 1,123-acre Stratford estate to his eldest son, Charles E. Stuart, reserving the right to reside there during his lifetime. [13]

Dr. Stuart died 1924 and was buried in garden plot to the east of the main house where Elizabeth Storke’s grave was located.  His wife Lydia (nicknamed “Sissie” and referred to as “Granny” by family members) continued to occupy the upper east wing of the house.  Their son Charles Stuart and wife Clara Delp Stuart assumed ownership of the house and lived in the west wing.  Charles was a lawyer and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and served four terms.  He also farmed part of the Stratford land and ran the tomato cannery, which kept him busy during the summer months. 

Charles E. Stuart (Rt) passes ownership of Stratford to May Lanier, RELMF

Charles E. Stuart (1892-1951), a practicing lawyer, was educated at Randolph Macon College and the University of Virginia.[14]  He owned Stratford for ten years.  At various times and in various generations, the Stuarts were approached by groups[15] interested in purchasing and preserving Stratford, opening it up for public tours.  In 1929, Charles Edward Stuart was approached by local lawyer, Mr. Latane Lewis, on behalf of May Lanier and Ethel Armes.  After much persuasion, he gave them a short term option to buy the house for $240,000 and some adjoining land, reserving 60 acres of the land for himself.  When they met his terms, he began to plan for the construction of a new home, Panorama, near Montross. On July 19, 1929, Stuart sold Stratford to the newly incorporated Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation.  The sale included  the “Kentucky” tract, The Mill Field,” “Turkey Neck,” The Bank Farm,” and “The Mill Property” plus the 519 acres included in the original property division. 

Charles Stuart held membership on Stratford’s Board of Directors from 1929 until his death.  During the early years of the Foundation, Clara Delp Stuart, who originally came to Westmoreland County as a home demonstration agent, organized many of the Board meetings, arranging for meals and accommodations with families in Montross and for special events.  Their daughter Elizabeth “Betty” was born just before the Stuarts left Stratford, so Clara Stuart looked after a newborn while she shouldered the responsibilities of arranging for housekeeping, tour guides, and meetings…plus her responsibilities as a wife of a Virginia delegate.  The household was well furnished, mostly with antiques.  Contrary to some descriptions, the house was “kept up” as well as could naturally be expected[16]; maintaining a 200-year-old structure was as much of a challenge then as it is now.  Miss Edith Healy was hired part-time in 1928 to give visitors tours of the house.

The Stuarts moved from Stratford in July 1932 to live at Alma in Montross until their new home overlooking Chandlers Mill Pond was completed.  Panorama, named for a former Stuart home in King George County, was a large, three-story brick antebellum-style home designed by Baltimore architect Joseph Evans Sperry—a showcase of Colonial Revival architecture.  Clara died in January 1951, with her funeral being one of the largest ever seen in Westmoreland County.  Both her husband Charles and his brother Albert, long-time county clerk, died the following summer.  Mrs. Richard Henry Stuart outlived her sons and daughter-in-law.[17]  All of these family members were interred in the small cemetery in the East Garden.[18]

In July 1932, on the day after the Stuart family moved out, the first resident superintendent of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, moved in.  Gen. B. F. Cheatham recorded in his daily diary that most of Stratford’s fields were uncultivated and overgrown with scrub pine.  The Stuart livestock consisted of 33 head of cattle, 50 sheep, 3 hogs, 2 mules and 2 milk cows.  Mr. Stuart generously offered the General free use of his farm tools, tractor, mowing machine and wagon—all fairly old and infrequently used.  The Stuarts had used an old Delco plant to light their house and a ram pump which forced water from the spring to the house; they had modernized the main house with a bathroom and kitchen with running water. 

There were no crops growing in the fields and Gen. Cheatham planned to turn a 30-acre parcel [19] between the highway and plantation road into meadow.   Returning from a visit to what he called the “bluff field,” the General recorded seeing large locust trees, and, on the east side of the old road to the river through the woods, he noted that the timber was mostly pine.[20]

Charles Edward Stuart, Jr., who married Barbara Crowther, passed along McCarty and Stuart family names to his children: Charles Edward, Anne, Elizabeth (Betsy) and Richard Henry Stuart (currently a member of the Virginia Senate).   Family names have also been passed down to the current younger generation.  The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association’s by-laws allow for a Stuart family member on its board of directors.  Stuart family members that have served on Stratford’s Board include: Charles Edward Stuart (Stratford’s former owner), his daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Stuart, and granddaughters Elizabeth “Betsy” Stuart Valentine and Anne Stuart (current Stuart family director).

 



[1]A manuscript copy of the deed, dated January 1, 1886, from Charles E. and Ruth Y. Stuart to Henry Oldfield and Charles T. Corley of New York indicates that 1266.5 acres were sold for $8,000.  Manuscript Collection M2009.435, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall.

[2] Elliott Roosevelt, ed.  F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1905-1928  (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, ?  ) 209.  Roosevelt’s letter to his wife, dated July 29, 1913, described the house and included a rough sketch.    Also, Ethel Armes’ Stratford Hall: The Great House of the Lees, Richmond: Garrett & Massie (1936) contains a foreward  by Roosevelt which mentioned, “. . . Many time after that I returned to visit Doctor Stuart and to wander with him through the rooms. . .”

[3] The duPont Library archives contain copies of original photographs in the Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY.

[4] Mr. Stanley Walker described the 1890’s mill as a combination saw and gristmill, built completely of fieldstone with an extension on one end and quarters for the miller upstairs.   He also recalled that Dr. Stuart ground marl for fertilizer.  In 1895, new millstones were installed.  duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.

[5] A can label in the duPont Library Collection at Stratford Hall depicts the main house at Stratford; this label was probably from the cannery after Charles E. Stuart assumed its management.

[6] Letter from Edwin W. Beitzell of Maryland to Connie Wyrick, Stratford researcher, in 1967 recalled an “iron wheel 40 to 50 feet out in the Potomac River about quarter of a mile up river from the mill in about 3 feet of water.”  The wheel had a brick foundation, or mounting.  duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.  This would have been the same one seen by Wesley Payne.

[7] Topographic map, duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.

[8] From Ethel Armes interview with Lydia Stuart in August 1929.  duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.

[9] Visible in early 20th-century photograph in duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.

[10] Fraser Neiman, “An Archaeological Survey of Stratford Plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia.” (1976) 32.

[11] Westmoreland County Deed Book # 46, 41-3, June 30, 1884.

[12] Westmoreland County Deed Book # 35, 297.

[13] Westmoreland County Deed Book # 83, 500, dated Nov. 5, 1919; deed recorded 1924.

[14] A short biography can be found at http://dela.state.va.us/dela/MemBios.nsf 

[15] One such group was the Lee Birthplace Memorial Committee of the Virginia State Camp, Patriotic Order Sons of America, organized in 1907 by F. W. Alexander of Oak Grove, VA.  This group sold postcard sets and gave certificates for donations, but was not able to meet the $100,000 option to purchase Stratford.  Alexander wrote Stratford Hall and the Lees Connected with Its History (1912).

[16] In some historic photographs, what appear to be broken glass panes are actually replacements.  The appearance of the lawn is comparable to that of other sites.  The deteriorating condition of exterior shutters in some photographs should not be the basis for considering the physical condition of the house overall.

[17] Minutes of the RELMF, October 12-18, 1951, appendix 8, 4.

[18] The following Stuart family members are buried in the East Garden cemetery: Dr. Richard Henry Stuart, Lydia Annie Stuart, Katherine Homerselle Stuart, Hon. Charles Edward Stuart, Clara Delph Stuart, and Charles Edward Stuart, Jr.

[19] General’s Diary, Vol. 1, July 4, 1932 entry.  duPont Library Archives, Stratford Hall.