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TideWriters Tales
Rosewell: Gloucester County's Colonial Ruins, Part III
By Zachary J. Loesch

     Historical scholarship provides additional insight into the design and history of this property. Something of the family history of Governor Page and his ancestors may be learned, linking the reader with the people who built and resided at Rosewell. An insurance policy dated 1815 indicates that the Rosewell mansion was built with a flat top. The building is described as follows:

     Dwelling house flat top covered with lead & built of brick three stories high 60 feet square with four chimneys in bad repair.3

     This report was followed by three early eyewitness descriptions of the Rosewell estate. The first of these was written by Charles Campbell of Petersburg for The Southern Literary Messenger, a magazine published at Richmond. Mr. Campbell's notes on Rosewell, dated October 1843, appeared in the January 1844 issue. Campbell notes the black walnut waxed wooden paneling and antique tapestry in the great hall of the mansion's first floor. He also states that the roof is flat and sheeted with lead. He likens Rosewell to an old castle.

     The second early eyewitness report of Rosewell is that of Bishop William Meade whose book entitled Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia was published in 1857. Bishop Meade's book includes an illustration of Rosewell, the earliest known, that depicts a building with a flat roof and two rooftop cupolas. These cupolas are characterized by the extensive use of glass in their design. A square frame consisting of little more than the material needed to hold the glass windows and a roof above is shown in Meade's illustration of Rosewell. While Bishop Meade's observations may be first hand accounts, the man who engraved the plates for the book's illustrations may have worked from scanty or generalized instructions based on the uncertain recollections of the Bishop years after viewing the estate. Yet there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the major characteristics of the buildings described and depicted in this remarkable book. Of his work the Bishop writes, The author has also wandered, and not a little, nor in vain, amidst old churches or their ruins and the graveyards around them, and the old family seats.

     The third of three early eyewitness accounts of Rosewell is the fictional rendering of Lucy Burwell Page Saunders' childhood memories in a Roman a clef entitled Leonora and the Ghost. The character Leonora is Lucy herself and the setting, Rosewell, is symbolic because of its antiquity and decay. This mise en scene creates a mood of gloom that the story's happy ending cannot dispel. Yet Mrs. Saunders love for Rosewell is also evident. She writes, “Leonora was born at Rosewell, in the old chamber said to be her grandsire's favorite apartment, where all his children were born. This little girl was carried away in her second year to reside on the other side of the river with her mother, who had become a widow about a year after little Leonora's birth. Once or twice a year the child accompanied her mamma to Rosewell, and became much attached to the old homestead.”

     These early sources provide a wealth of information concerning Rosewell. These three sources corroborate each other's description of the Rosewell mansion's flat lead-covered roof. Lucy Saunders' lengthy description of Rosewell's roof and cupolas will be examined later in these articles.

© 2001 Zachary Loesch All Rights Reserved

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