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Upper Brandon

( Originally Published 1932 )



Upper Brandon, so called to distinguish it from the older plantation of Brandon of which it was once a part, lies on the south side of the James River. The situation is a fine one. It is on a gradual slope lying close to the river and heavily timbered in willow oaks, ash, and magnolia. The oaks have made a prodigious growth in this congenial soil, and cannot fail to interest the lover of old trees.

The house was built in the early part of the last century by William Byrd Harrison, son of Benjamin Harrison of Bran-don, and the former Evelyn Taylor Byrd of Westover. This lady was the niece of Evelyn Byrd around whose name considerable romantic legend has gathered, and who was celebrated for her wit and beauty.

Mr. Harrison was educated at Harvard College and the College of William and Mary, and was elected to the board of visitors of the latter institution in 1849. Prominent in many ways, he was especially known as one of the most progressive planters of his time, being a pioneer in the use of lime for our costal lands. Lime, and its less prosaic ally, the old-fashioned red clover, now almost never seen in Tidewater Virginia, brought back to a high state of fertility the Brandon lands exhausted by years of intensive farming in grain and tobacco. This, we are told by Edmund Ruffin in the Farmer's Gazette, of 1849, in an article describing the excellent system of agriculture instituted on the Brandon plantation by William Byrd Harrison. The general plan of the house is much like the older Brandon, though the lines are more massive and the wings are smaller.

There are two portraits of interest at Upper Brandon. They once hung at Westover in the days of the "Black Swan." One, by Bridges, is of Maria Byrd, half sister of Evelyn, who be-came the second wife of Landon Carter and who was mistress of Sabine Hall. The other, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is of Martha Blount, the friend and sweetheart of Alexander Pope. She is seated at a harpsichord and holds a scroll of music on her lap. A close inspection shows it to be an old air, inscribed "as sung by Mrs. Tofts." Reference to the Encyclopedia of Music reveals that Mrs. Tofts was the greatest opera singer of her time in England, and that she was immensely popular in London between 1740 and 1745. The notes are faithfully reproduced and may still be played.

The old garden suffered greatly from 1862 to 1865, and has never been completely restored. However, there is a wealth of dwarf boxwood hardly to be equalled in Southside Virginia, and the old box walks can be traced in a curious design amid which jonquils grow in profusion, as well as japonica, lilac and syringa.

After the death of William Byrd Harrison, Upper Brandon passed into the hands of his nephew, George Harrison Byrd, whose son, Francis Otway Byrd, now lives there.

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