The builder of what came to be called “Bacon’s Castle” is Arthur Allen. He was born either in 1607 or 1608 in Droitwich, a small town in northern Worcestershire, England, on the River Salwarpe. He came to Virginia in the 1640s (most likely 1649) or possibly even earlier as an agent (“factor”) for tobacco merchants from Bristol. He maintained a connection to Bristol his entire life, appearing in that port city’s records in 1655 as “Arthur Allen of Bristol, planter.” He was a royalist loyal to the House of Stuart during the English Civil War.
The first known record of Allen is a 1650 land patent of 200 acres near Lower Chippokes Creek, on the south side of the James River in what is today Surry County. He received the land in exchange for the transportation of his future wife, Alice Tucker, and three servants to the colony under the headright system.
At the time of its construction, the mansion was called “Allen’s Brick House.” It would not come to be called “Bacon’s Castle” until over a hundred years later during the American Revolution. The renaming occurred during the patriot fervor of “1776” when patriots looked upon Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 as a precursor to the American Revolution.
Allen’s Brick House was one of the grandest houses in all Virginia. Built of brick at a time when dwellings were made of wood, and designed in an elaborate Jacobean style, the great house displayed Allen’s growing wealth and status. He was clearly a man on the make. In 1652 he was appointed to the court and was made a member of the quorum in 1661. He became a member of Lawnes Creek Vestry in 1660. By the 1660s he had acquired 2,450 acres of land, which placed him in the top nine percent of Virginia’s population in landholdings.
Arthur Allen died in Surry County sometime between May 15 and June 1669. From a summary of his will we know that his lands were bequeathed to his son Arthur with a reversion to his daughter Elizabeth in the case of his death. Arthur Allen II became the sole proprietor of Bacon’s Castle and his father’s tobacco plantation.
Arthur Allen II was born sometime between 1649 and 1652 (most likely 1651). He came to be known as Major Allen, a title he received from his military involvement against Bacon’s Rebellion in1676.
Governor William Berkeley
Allen was a staunch ally of Governor William Berkeley’s. As the rebellion grew he became one of Berkeley’s most trusted officers. His close association with the Governor likely led to his house being attacked, looted and occupied by the rebels for three months in 1676. It was this event that gave rise to Allen's house eventually being called Bacon's Castle.
After Bacon’s Rebellion was crushed, Allen became a member of the “Greenspring Faction” led by Robert Beverley and Colonel Phillip Ludwell. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1682 and became Speaker for two terms, one in 1686 and another in 1688.
Allen’s loyalty to the crown was seriously challenged by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was a supporter of King James II, the last of the Stuart kings. As a result he was forced to retire from public life after the ascension of William and Mary to the throne. It was not until after James’s death in 1701 that Allen took the oath to William and Mary. After that he was reappointed as a Justice of Surry County and was placed on the College of William and Mary’s Board of Visitors.
Arthur Allen II died on June 15, 1710. He was a very wealthy man. His personal estate was worth £838 plus 28 slaves valued at £682. He owned nearly 10,000 acres both in Surry and Isle of Wight counties. The Brick House went to his son Arthur who, born in 1689, became known as Arthur Allen III.
One of Arthur Allen II’s daughters, Mary, married a neighbor named Arthur Long. He was not only a Baconite—thus a man on the opposite side of his father-in-law, Arthur Allen II, during Bacon’s Rebellion. He actually took part in the rebels’ raid on his wife’s and father-in-law’s house.
"The Burning of Jamestown" during Bacon's Rebellion by Howard Pyle
It’s a fascinating story. Along with William Rookings, Robert Burgess and Joseph Rogers, Arthur led a party of 70 or so rebels to attack and occupy Allen’s Brick House on Monday, September 18, 1676. He was no mere bystander but an actual leader of the group, holding the rank of “captain.” The rebels plundered the great house and stole saddles, bridles, sheets, “56 pillow cases,” table cloths, pewter and other household items. With the British marines approaching to quell the rebellion on December 27, the rebels fled. Hastily jumping the premises, they stuffed pillow cases and their breeches with books, household linens and anything else they could carry.
Arthur Long’s treachery did not go unpunished. After the rebellion collapsed, he was forced by the assembly to acknowledge, on “bended knees,” his “treason” and to “begg pardon for his life.” He was completely humiliated, and he shortly fled Virginia for North Carolina. Mary and the children stayed behind, which at the time was highly unusual. That she refused to accompany her husband into exile suggests a break with the man who had betrayed her and her family.
Arthur Allen II’s son, also named Arthur, continued the family’s official positions in Virginia politics. Like his father and grandfather before him, Arthur Allen III was a Justice of Surry County.
Arthur married an extraordinary woman, Elizabeth Bray, on November 27, 1711. The daughter of a prominent James City County man, James Bray, Elizabeth was known throughout the area as an astute, intelligent and strong-willed woman. She is a key figure in the history of Bacon’s Castle not only because of her formidable reputation, but because she played such a huge role in running the estate for 63 years.
Arthur died intestate in 1727 leaving Elizabeth as a widow to run the household on her own. She was named the administrator of her husband’s estate, and she retained use of Bacon’s Castle for the remainder of her lifetime.
After Arthur died Elizabeth scrambled to secure her circumstances. She married humbly, an Arthur Smith of Isle of Wight County who actually had less wealth than she. He promised Elizabeth £300 pounds upon his death and equal amount to her children.
Smith died in 1754. Elizabeth took her £300 for herself and her children from his estate. A few years later she married again, to a man named Stith. She was already in her sixties, and her new husband didn’t live long; by 1763 she was back living at Bacon’s Castle, presumably after he had died.
Elizabeth lived well into her 80s. When she died on February 20, 1774, she left £120 to Smithfield School and £50 to the Lower Southward Parish Church. Her grandson, Allan Cocke, inherited Bacon’s Castle in 1774. For over 60 years she had ruled the great house and its estate. Now the property passed into the hands of an entirely new and different generation.
When Allan Cocke inherited Bacon’s Castle he was already married. His wife was Nancy Kennon of Charles City County, and they had five children. He raised stud horses at Bacon’s Castle and bred mares. He partnered with George Mason and Lord Dunmore in Phillip Mazzei’s company to make wine, oil and silk.
He also continued the Castle’s tradition of public service. Like his ancestors, he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Surry County (making this post practically an inherited position). He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1772 and served out his term in 1776. He helped write Virginia’s first Constitution and served again in the House of Delegates in 1779 and 1780.
Like many of Virginia’s elite, Cocke was an active patriot in the American Revolution. As Chairman of the Surry County Committee of Safety he helped run the county during the war. He was also a colonel in the Surry militia, where he got the name “Colonel Cocke.”
Richard Cocke was one of Bacon Castle’s most successful occupants. He was named first Postmaster of the Bacon’s Castle Post Office in 1811. He also worked very hard to expand the plantation. In 1815 he added a mill and icehouse and owned about 40 slaves, 20 horses and mules, 50 head of cattle and two carriages. In the 1820s he started a coach line that ran from Portsmouth to Petersburg three times a week.
By the time he died in 1833, Richard Cocke had become a very wealthy man. He owned 84 slaves, 88 sheep and 17 mules and horses; and a cotton gin produced 10,000 pounds of cotton. The Norfolk “Herald” celebrated Richard upon his death as a “gentleman of great social and moral worth.”
After Richard Cocke died it wasn’t long before Bacon’s Castle fell on hard times. The Panic of 1837 had set off a severe recession that would last well into the 1840s. The property was mortgaged in 1839 and foreclosed four years later.
By this time Bacon’s Castle was already known as an ancient landmark, and it appears that, despite the plantation’s economic distress, there was no difficulty finding a buyer. Thomas O’Sullivan bought Bacon’s Castle at an auction in 1843. It was not only the first time the property had left the family networks first established by Bacon Castle’s builder, Arthur Allen, 174 years before. It was the first time it had been sold to anyone at all.
O’Sullivan didn’t hold onto the property long. He sold it the following year to John Henry Hankins of James City County. Once Hankins got hold of Bacon’s Castle, he committed himself to reviving the fortunes of the plantation. It was Hankins who added the neo-classical brick wing of the house that we still see today.
By the time of the Civil War, he had added 100 acres of improved land and 700 acres of woodlands to the plantation. He had tripled the value of the farm machinery and quadrupled the wheat production.
The story of the Hankins, however, is remembered mostly for the tale of his daughter’s relationship with one of the South’s most famous poets, Sidney Lanier. John’s oldest daughter, Virginia Wilson Hankins, or “Ginna” as she was known, was a beautiful woman with dark brown eyes and hair. She was also highly educated. She attended private schools in Richmond where she learned to read and write Latin, French and German. She even once wrote an unpublished novel.
During the Civil War Lanier was stationed as a Confederate signals corpsman at Boykins Bluff on the James River in the vicinity of Bacon’s Castle. “Sid” and his brother Clifford were frequent visitors to Bacon’s Castle, and it didn’t take long for the young poet to fall in love with the Ginna. He wrote how they cavorted through the “purple fields of Surry” and along the sparkling shores of the James River. After the war, when he had returned to Georgia he wrote a novel, “Tiger Lilies,” based on his experiences at Bacon’s Castle. Still in love with Ginna, he proposed marriage, but she rejected him.
After the Civil War Bacon’s Castle fell on hard times. Hankins tried to farm with wage labor, but by 1870 he was forced to mortgage Bacon’s Castle for $6,000. Shortly thereafter he died. When the mortgage came due Ginna and her younger brothers were unable to pay and forced to put Bacon’s Castle up for auction.
After the sale of Bacon’s Castle in 1872, Ginna and her family moved out. At that point Bacon’s Castle was sold to William Allen Warren of Surry County.
William Allan Warren came from a family with deep connections in Surry County. He ran a store near Bacon’s Castle and had been the Postmaster at Bacon’s Castle Post Office since 1856. He moved to Bacon’s Castle after he bought it and lived there for most of his life.
Bacon's Castle owned by the Warrens prior to restoration
During these years Bacon’s Castle came to be recognized as an historic landmark. In the 1930s Colonial Williamsburg and the National Park Service wrote reports on the mansion. Although the Warrens did what they could to maintain the property, wars, depression and other afflictions of time had taken their toll on the old property. After the Warrens passed away in 1972, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities bought Bacon’s Castle in 1973.
Shortly thereafter the APVA began a series of serious archeological and restoration projects that led to the magnificent display of house and grounds we see today at Bacon’s Castle.