Cedar Grove Plantation History
Cedar Grove Plantation was the birthplace of Letitia Christian Tyler. She was the wife of 10th President John Tyler, and came from one of New Kent County, Virginia's leading families. Her parents, Robert and Mary Browne Christian were prosperous and their children were afforded an upper-class education and upbringing.
Colonel Christian, Letitia's father, was a successful planter and active in Virginia politics. When he bought the 342 acre inland farm known as Cedar Grove in 1789, his taxable chattels included seven slaves, two horses and a chair. Within about twenty years, he had expanded his holdings to 3,000 acres.
Christian's daughter, Letitia, fell in love with John Tyler, a William and Mary law student. However her father was concerned about John Tyler's prospects even though Tyler's father was a lawyer and became the governor of Virginia. While Tyler had significant land holdings his income was suspect and Letitia's father thought Tyler was not a suitable match for his daughter. Finally, after a five-year engagement, Christian consented to the match. The wedding took place in the parlor of the Cedar Grove Plantation on March 29, 1813, John Tyler's 23rd birthday. Letitia's parents died soon after the marriage and the couple moved to Cedar Grove Plantation, which Letitia inherited from her parents.
The two-story brick addition to the 18th-century frame farmhouse where Letitia was born was finished only a couple of years before her wedding. The floor plan was a provincial adaptation of a typical Richmond town house of the period with a side hall and one room per floor. The brick was laid in Flemish bond pattern. The medallion cornice was another sign of the family's affluence. In 1815, the house was valued at $2,500.
Letitia, who was sweet, shy, pious and thoroughly domestic, was charged with the duties of managing the plantation and the raising of their eight children while her husband climbed the political ladder of success. He served in the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as both houses of Congress. He was elected vice President in 1840 when William Henry Harrison was elected as the 9th President. Harrison's term was short lived as he passed due to pneumonia within a month of his inauguration and his duties were passed to Tyler.
Letitia became an invalid from a series of strokes even before John assumed the presidency. During Letitia's time in the White House, she made only one public appearance, for her youngest daughter's wedding. Her daughter-in-law assumed her hostess duties at the executive mansion. Letitia was 51 at her death in 1842. Her body was brought from Washington to be buried at Cedar Grove in a brick-walled family graveyard about 100 yards from the house.
Although Cedar Grove is on both the national and state historic registers, it was far from a showplace when Edmund Ruffin purchased it at auction several years ago. A hog farmer who previously owned the property lived elsewhere and had no interest in spending money on the house. Explains Shirley Francisco, Edmund's mother-in-law who lives nearby, "It was in sad shape when Edmund bought it. He brought it back to life."
Ruffin liked the idea of a country retreat near his in-laws where his family could ride horses. He installed more than a miles of white fencing, built barns and leased them to Lynn Barbini who operates Cedar Grove Stables.
Stacey Briguera, a Virginia Beach interior designer, oversaw the meticulous two-year restoration of the residence done by Mike and Alicia Young of Paradise Construction in nearby Roxbury. Since most of the architectural detailing in the brick portion of the house was intact, Briguera treated the interior with period authenticity and sought out antiques appropriate to the house.
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