Marker Text: The original house was built in 1765 by Doctor Thomas Walker, explorer and pioneer. Tarleton, raiding to Charlottesville to capture Jefferson and the legislature, stopped here for breakfast, June 4, 1781. This delay aided the patriots to escape. Castle Hill was long the home of Senator William Cabell Rives, who built the present house.
Location: On Route 231 (Gordonsville Road), two miles northwest of Cismont. Erected by the Conservation & Development Commission in 1928.
Today, we pick up the story of Jack Jouett and his ride from Cuckoo to Charlottesville here at Castle Hill.
After leaving Cuckoo, VA and after Jack Jouett began his horseback ride toward Charlottesville. About an hour later at 11 p.m. on June 3, 1781, Tarleton paused for a three hour rest near the Louisa County Courthouse. He began his march again at about 2 a.m. He soon encountered a train of 11 or 12 supply wagons at Boswell's Tavern bound for South Carolina where Nathanael Greene led the main branch of the Continental Army in the South. Tarleton decided to burn the wagons rather than take them, in order, to prevent any further delay and continued forward.
Photo taken looking south on Route 231. Click any photo to enlarge.
Just before dawn on June 4, Tarleton reached the plantations of Castle Hill, (about 12 miles from Charlottesville) Doctor Thomas Walker's home, and a splinter group of British arrived at Belvoir, the home of his son, Continental Congress member John Walker. Tarleton captured or paroled various important figures at the two plantations. Various legends have sprung up about the stop at Castle Hill.
The principal story says that Dr. Walker cunningly offered Tarleton an elaborate breakfast, the consumption of which so delayed the British Dragoons, that Jack Jouett had the needed time to beat Tarleton to Monticello and Charlottesville. Another legend has British dragoons stealing, one after the other, two breakfasts which had been prepared for their commander and Dr. Walker telling Tarleton that he would have to post a guard on the kitchen if he desired nourishment. This was done, the story continues and the cook finally served the third breakfast to the Colonel intact.
Entrance to Castle Hill is on the right, marker on left.
In another account, Dr. Walker prepared an elaborate breakfast, including alcohol, for Tarleton in order to give more time for Jefferson and the legislature to get warning of the cavalry. Tarleton would hardly have been foolish enough to fall victim to such an obvious trap to delay him. By Tarleton's own account of his journey, he halted only half an hour at Castle Hill to rest his horses which is likely more historical authentic, although in his account he may have shortened the actual time somewhat in order not to appear lacking in zeal.
While Tarleton and his men were resting at Castle Hill, reportedly Jouett had arrived at Jefferson's Monticello at about 4:30 a.m. Jouett's route took him to the Rivanna River crossing at the hamlet of Milton. A few miles farther, he arrived at Monticello, several hours ahead of the British. Tarleton's brief halt at Castle Hill could not have been responsible for their failure to capture Jefferson and the other patriots.
Dr. Thomas Walker, himself is an interesting historical figure. He was born in King and Queen County, VA and educated at William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. He moved to the Piedmont and built Castle Hill on the 15,000 acres in Albemarle County that came with his marriage to Mildred Thornton Meriwether, the widow of Colonel Nicholas Meriwether II.
Castle Hill entrance, home at end of road and is a private residence. Click here, for black and white photo of the house.
Walker was one of the early Virginia explorers who pushed westward across the Appalachian Mountains, expanding the European settlements into the Cumberland River watershed. Dr. Walker was the first explorer to cross the Cumberland Gap (what he called Cave Gap) on April 17, 1750 and "discovering" Kentucky. He was not the first person to cross the gap, of course, because Native Americans had lived in the area for perhaps 10,000 years.
Castle Hill today is a private residence and I could not take a photo of the home, but you can see a black and white photo of Castle Hill, here. Tarleton was only one of many visitors to Castle Hill, others, more welcome visitors to Castle Hill over the years include George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and John Tyler. Thomas Jefferson, one of Dr. Walker's closest friends was, of course, a frequent visitor to Castle Hill.