Blantyre in Thoroughfare Gap

 Stabilized but unrestored, this pre-Civil War stone house stands on the hill just west of the Blantyre home site.

As part of the new e-911 system established a few years ago, Fauquier County changed from using road numbers to naming the roads, sometimes returning to the old names used in the past.  

The best names came with historical context, a gift to natives as well as newcomers who were curious about the roads they traveled. 

A good example is Blantyre Road, which links the ancient villages of Bethel (off Winchester Road) and Little Georgetown (off John Marshall Highway). 

In addition to having a pretty Scottish name, Blantyre Road has an interesting story. In 1778, the Rev. James Keith divided his 1,656-acre tract around Thoroughfare Gap between his three sons.   

Thomas Keith was given the 543 acres known as Huntley; Alexander got Roslin and Stony Wood, totaling 552 acres; and Isham Keith received Soldier’s Retreat and South Run, totaling 386 acres. It was Soldier’s Rest, at the foot of Pignut Mountain, west of the intersection of present-day Blantyre Road and John Marshall Highway that became Blantyre. 

The property passed to Isham’s son John, who sold it to Laurence Ashton in January 1804. Ashton added 22 acres to the property, and sold it to Alexander Henderson, a Scotsman who had come to the town of Colchester in Prince William County in 1758 to manage stores there.  

It was likely that during his ownership that the name “Blantyre” was adopted. 

After Henderson’s death in 1815, the property – now some 1,250 acres – was given to his sons Thomas and Richard, and by 1822, Richard was sole owner. It is believed that it was during his ownership that the main house at Blantyre was built. 

In 1847, Blantyre passed to Richard’s widow, Orra Moore Henderson, who later put the property in a trust for the use of Lucy Skinker Boswell. In the 1850s, the property was owned by William Skinker Boswell, and 125 slaves worked on the plantation. 

Civil War comes to Blantyre 

After the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861, Boswell fled south to another family property in Orange County.  

In September, Blantyre was taken over by Company A of the 11th North Carolina Volunteers (later designated the 21st North Carolina), led by Capt. A. H. Belo. The main house was used as a hospital, and the surrounding property as the company campground.  

In 2015, Lee W. Sherrill Jr. published “The 21st North Carolina Infantry,” which draws from the regimental history of the unit. In his book, Little Georgetown is described as a tiny cluster of buildings and homes on the Gainesville-to-Front Royal road, centered on Stover’s store.  

“By far, the dominant structure in the immediate area is the Blantyre Plantation manor house,” it is recalled. “The imposing stone and frame house sat on a hilltop, with a large, sloping lawn falling gently on three sides from the house and gardens.” 

The main house is described as a “… two-story, garret country home boasting eight rooms, a 30-foot deep well in the front yard, three springs in easy walking distance, an ice house, and all other outbuildings normal to an estate.” There was a freestanding kitchen attached to the main house.  

The Confederates had been positioned at Blackburn’s Ford during the First Battle of Manassas and suffered no casualties, but by the time they reached Blantyre in late September, their ranks were in bad shape due to illnesses, and the command structure thin and in disarray.  

Dr. John Francis Shaffner was in charge of medical treatment and found the “almost idyllic” surroundings at Blantyre restorative for the sick, depleted troops.  

Local women embraced the weary Carolinians, bringing beds, pillows and comforters as well as food, and volunteering at the hospital. Deserving special mention in the history were Mrs. Brinkley, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Tyler and Mrs. Foote.  

The Turners of Kinloch, the Skinkers of Huntley, the Hendersons of Roland, the Beverleys of Avenel and other local gentry came to Blantyre on Sundays to visit the troops. It was also noted that the Misses Annie and Mildred Childe Lee, daughters of Gen. Robert E. Lee, also came to Blantyre. 

In late September, 14 nurses from the Women’s Aid Society of Salem, North Carolina, led by 46-year-old Elizabeth Kremer, arrived at Blantyre. The nurses lived in the main house, and their mere presence, competent service and compassion did much to raise the spirits of the sick. They also brought gifts and supplies from their families and neighbors in North Carolina. 

In spite of the efforts of the staff and improved conditions, by Oct. 4, 1861, more than 120 Confederate soldiers had died at Blantyre and the two nearby camps. It is believed that 82 percent succumbed to untreatable typhoid fever, receiving only “… kindness and Dr. Shaffner’s whiskey, an ineffective substitute for yet undiscovered antibiotics,” according to the regimental history. The dead from Blantyre – estimated at least 45 – were buried outside the campground, likely in the area where Interstate 66 passes through the Gap. 

By the fall of 1861, Capt. Belo’s company and the rest of the 21st North Carolina, numbering about 200 able-bodied men, were assigned to Crittenden’s Brigade, 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac, and sent west to participate in Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley operations. They would suffer “first blood” in the valley campaign at the Battle of Winchester in March 1862.  

Until the end of the war, Blantyre would witness major military actions in the area, including the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap on Aug. 28, 1862 – on the eve of the Second Battle of Manassas – and the numerous Confederate troop movements and Union raids. 

As the result of a chancery suit to settle the Boswell estate, Blantyre was later deeded to William Carter and Robert Beverley.  

Into the 20th century 

History would be repeated in 1898, when many U.S. soldiers staging for service in the Spanish-American War at Camp Alger near Falls Church became ill – usually with typhoid fever – and were sent to a large “recuperative camp” set up in the field adjacent to the Broad Run train station. Soldiers who were well enough frequently crossed the road to visit the McCarty family at Blantyre.  

“During the Carter ownership, the farm was leased – the longest lessee being the McCarty family,” according to an article by John K. Gott published in The Fauquier Democrat. “After Robert McCarty moved from Blantyre, his sons rented the farm, and just before World War I, the house burned.” 

The property remained in the Carter family until 1929, when it was sold to John M. Waller and W. W. Sanders.  

In the 1970s, the property was acquired by a group of investors from Maryland, in anticipation of an interchange off I-66 originally planned for the site. However, local opposition killed the interchange, and Blantyre was acquired by the John T. “Til” Hazel Jr. family, recorded officially as Perch and Associates Limited Partnership.  

When author Lee Sherrill Jr. was working on his history of the 21st North Carolina, he interviewed Mr. Hazel and his son Jack about Blantyre and walked the property. 

Under the Hazel ownership, the peaceful setting at Blantyre described as “almost idyllic” by Dr. Shaffner in 1861 still exists as open pastureland. 

Reach John Toler at jtoler@fauquier.com

(2) comments

AngryBob

In the winter of 1882, Mr. SixOhFive deeded portions of his vast plantation to his sons in law, Mr. SixOhTwo and Mr. SixOhThree. He also passed a swath of woodlands to his beloved friends, Mr. and Mrs. SixSeventySix. Truth.

AngryBob

In the winter of 1882, Mr. SixOhFive deeded portions of his vast plantation to his sons in law, Mr. SixOhTwo and Mr. SixOhThree. He also passed a swath of woodlands to his beloved friends, Mr. and Mrs. SixSeventySix. Truth.

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