Scotchtown is best known as the site from which Patrick Henry rode to Richmond in March of 1775 to deliver his infamous “Liberty or Death” speech. . Some have even suggested that the house, where he had been forced to confine his wife Sarah due to her increasingly poor mental health, inspired his greatest speech. But the Henry family lived here only briefly, from about 1771 until 1776 when Henry was appointed Governor of Virginia and relocated to Williamsburg.
Scotchtown had been built sometime around 1725 by Charles Chiswell. Chiswell was a planter and iron industrialist. He was visited by William Byrd in 1732, who described Scotchtown as “very clean and [everything] very good.”
Originally, the house was less than half the size of the present-day Scotchtown, consisting of a four room frame structure over a brick foundation. The house was expanded to its current size in the 1740s or 1750s.
Scotchtown remained in the Chiswell family until the 1760s, when financial hardships forced the sale of the plantation. Afterwards it passed through a series of hands (including Henry’s) before being purchased by John Mosby Sheppard around 1801. The Sheppard family and their descendants lived at Scotchtown until 1958 when the house was purchased and restored by Preservation Virginia.
Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736 – June 6, 1799) was the leading Virginia statesman in defending the rights of Colonial America.
Following Henry’s death, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson singing his praises: “In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had the candour and courage enough to acknowledge it.”
Henry was the first elected governor of Virginia, a devoted father of 17 children, and the most famous orator of his day. Born in Hanover County, Henry made a name for himself as a young lawyer in the Parsons’ Cause at Hanover Courthouse in 1763. His 1765 resolutions against the Stamp Act articulated the basic principles of the American Revolution. Henry is perhaps best known for his immortal words “Give me liberty or give me death,” which he delivered during the Second Virginia Convention in a speech to fellow delegates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at St. John’s Church in 1775. His impassioned words helped move colonists toward American independence and they continue to inspire the cause of freedom around the world.
Known as the “Voice of the Revolution,” Henry’s political career included 26 years of service in the Virginia legislature and five terms as governor. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and its Declaration of Rights. A leading critic of the U.S. Constitution, Henry also strongly influenced the creation of the Bill of Rights. Following his death, Henry was buried at Red Hill Plantation, now the site of the Patrick Henry National Memorial.
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