The People

Menokin is rich with stories – some clearly legible across the site, others perhaps more hidden – but all inter-woven and complex in their own right.

The focal point of these stories is Francis Lightfoot Lee, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and original owner of Menokin.

The stories ripple out from this center, stretching back in time to the American Indians who first inhabited Menokin, on to English settlement and the contemporaries of Lee and his family, and forward through the proceeding centuries into the current era.

The People

Menokin is rich with stories – some clearly legible across the site, others perhaps more hidden – but all inter-woven and complex in their own right.

The focal point of these stories is Francis Lightfoot Lee, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and original owner of Menokin.

The stories ripple out from this center, stretching back in time to the American Indians who first inhabited Menokin, on to English settlement and the contemporaries of Lee and his family, and forward through the proceeding centuries into the current era.

The People

Menokin is rich with stories – some clearly legible across the site, others perhaps more hidden – but all inter-woven and complex in their own right.

The focal point of these stories is Francis Lightfoot Lee, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and original owner of Menokin.

The stories ripple out from this center, stretching back in time to the American Indians who first inhabited Menokin, on to English settlement and the contemporaries of Lee and his family, and forward through the proceeding centuries into the current era.

FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE (1734–1797)

“Francis Lightfoot Lee was an early, zealous, and active friend to the revolution, which established the Independence of the United States of America. He was a firm, calm, and enlightened patriot and a most unequaled social companion.” 

The full story of Francis Lightfoot Lee, and the mark that he made on both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the developing United States of America has not been told. Bits and pieces come from many sources – his letters, letters about him, comments by friends and relatives, and the fact that he was a signer of both the Westmoreland Resolves (Feb. 27, 1766) and the Declaration of Independence (1776).

He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, first from Loudon, and then from Richmond County. He was in Philadelphia in 1776 as a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congress, returning to Virginia in 1779. He served briefly in the Virginia Senate after that, but for the most part he was content to be at home at Menokin with his books and his farm and his beloved wife, Becky Tayloe.

Research concerning the life and work of Francis Lightfoot Lee is an ongoing project of the Menokin Foundation. 

Francis Lee

REBECCA TAYLOE LEE
(1753 – 1797)

While no portrait of Rebecca Lee exists, the legacy of Menokin is equally hers. Her marriage to Francis Lee bonded two powerful colonial families. A fact not overlooked by her father, John Tayloe II, who made a wedding gift to the couple of 1,000 acres of land, the construction of Menokin, and 50 slaves.

CHARACTER STUDIES ON FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE

Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot Lee, from The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, I, no. 3 (1877). Reprinted in Charles Neider, ed., “Mark Twain: Life as I Find It” (New York, 1961).

Quotes about Francis Lightfoot Lee (various)

Rebecca Tayloe Lee

Rebecca Tayloe Lee locket; photo courtesy of Stratford Hall Plantation.

The Rappahannock

The Rappahannock’s connection with Menokin dates back centuries: archaeological surveys have shown fifteen sites, which contain a mixture of small American Indian habitations related to middle and Late Woodland and Protohistoric period occupations.

The Rappahannock Tribe is an important aspect of the Menokin’s history and significance, and the tribal center is located only 23 miles from the house today, making Menokin a valuable resource for integrating the community and maintaining heritage links to its own history.

The Rappahannock

The Rappahannock’s connection with Menokin dates back centuries: archaeological surveys have shown fifteen sites, which contain a mixture of small American Indian habitations related to middle and Late Woodland and Protohistoric period occupations.

The Rappahannock Tribe is an important aspect of the Menokin’s history and significance, and the tribal center is located only 23 miles from the house today, making Menokin a valuable resource for integrating the community and maintaining heritage links to its own history.

The Rappahannock

The Rappahannock’s connection with Menokin dates back centuries: archeological surveys have shown fifteen sites, which contain a mixture of small American Indian habitations related to middle and Late Woodland and Protohistoric period occupations.

The Rappahannock Tribe is an important aspect of the Menokin’s history and significance, and the tribal center is located only 23 miles from the house today, making Menokin a valuable resource for integrating the community and maintaining heritage links to its own history.

Rappahannock Tribe »

THE ARRIVAL OF THE ENGLISH

At English Contact, the Menokin region was the territory of the very large Rappahannock tribe. Over the following 50 years the Rappahannock tribe lost their land, freedom to move seasonally, and access to the Chesapeake and waterways.

Tussles between Indians and whites began in 1648, when the Virginia General Assembly authorised the patenting of land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. The effect of this encroachment was gradual but devastating, as most of the new freeholders had set about clearing and cultivating their lands, and they cared little about harmonious coexistence with the natives.

THE RAPPAHANNOCK AT MENOKIN: CULTURAL LANDSCAPE REPORT »

The origin of Menokin’s name

This area along Cat Point Creek (also called Rappahannock Creek) was home to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. In 1608, Capt. John Smith recorded fourteen Rappahannock towns on the north side of the River and its tributaries.

The general plantation site was referred to as “Menokin” by the Rappahannock and Francis Lightfoot Lee kept the name for his home. The language spoken by the Indians was entirely oral and this is why the name Menokin appears in documents with a dozen distinct spellings.

The Rappahannock Today

By the 18th century the Rappahannock tribe had been moved to a reservation on its original lands and has remained there since, with strong existing links to Menokin and its heritage.

Plantation and Slavery

Mended wine bottleMenokin’s house and landscape clearly convey the story of a colonial working plantation, with open fields, rolling roads, waterfront, and evidence of slave quarters.

The history of slavery and plantation life at Menokin is an important narrative that visitors can engage with, through archaeological evidence and stories of descendants of the slaves who lived here.

Folk painting of a celebration in an outlying slave quarter on a southern plantation, probably early 19th-century; note great house with “home house quarter” along one side in the background (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

William Buckland Charles Willson Peale

Portrait of William Buckland by Charles Willson Peale, 1774 and 1789

Menokin’s Builders

Just as all fine craftsmen leave clues about their involvement with a creation, so the builders of Menokin left theirs. Recently completed research by cultural landscape team partners, Allan Brown and Reed Hilderbrand, has brought us closer to knowing who these people were that built Menokin.

Brown’s research strengthens our case that William Buckland was involved in the design and construction of Menokin. He was joined by two other Williams — William Wright, the chief brick mason, and William Waite, stone mason.

MENOKIN’S RESCUERS

On July 4, 1995, a small gathering of local advocates who had just started the Menokin Foundation were at the site to officially accept ownership of the remains of this house and the surrounding 500 acres from Edgar Omohundro. 

The gathering included Tayloe Murphy, attorney and state legislator, and his wife Helen, an active leader in the preservation and conservation movement in Virginia; Richmond County attorney Tuck Taliaferro, and retired Exxon executive Martin King and his wife Tish.

Edgar Omohundro was the last surviving sibling of a large family that had owned Menokin since 1935.  He wanted to do something about his place before he died and approached Mr. Murphy, Mr. Taliaferro, and Mr. King about it. 

Department of Historic Resources Architectural Historian, Calder Loth, was an instrumental advisor to these grass roots volunteers and their efforts to save Menokin.   

As Mr. Murphy accepted the position of Secretary of Natural Resources under  Gov. Mark Warner, and Mr. Taliaferro was appointed to the position of Circuit Court Judge,  Martin King, retired Exxon Executive who lived just a few miles from Menokin, took this place on with gusto during the first 10 years of the Foundation’s existence. 

Upon Mr. King’s untimely death in 2004, Helen Murphy stepped into the leadership role as President.  Her husband Tayloe Murphy, now retired from his position as Secretary of Natural Resources, would become Foundation President in 2010.  Calder Loth remains active as an Honorary Trustee.

Martin King

Martin King

Talyoe Murphy

Tayloe Murphy

Tish King

Tish King

Helen Murphy

Helen Murphy

Calder Loth

Calder Loth

Tuck Taliaferro

Tuck Taliaferro