Staunton Scenic River Tour
(Taken from Herman Ginther's book "Captain Staunton's River" - 1968 - with permission.)
Just across the Staunton River from Brookneal is Seven Islands, once one of several estates owned by Patrick Henry in this vicinity. His second daughter, Sarah Butler, made her home there, and it was at Seven Islands that Henry's widow died and was buried. Although heavily-traveled Highway 501 passes within a few hundred yards, the quaint old house surrounded by legends and romance, is seldom seen and little known to the public.
The exact date of the building of the old house is not known, but it is known that Patrick Henry lived at Long Island in 1793 and moved to Red Hill in 1794, and it is said that in the years between 1794 and 1799 on his frequent journeys between his Red Hill and Long Island plantations, Henry would often cross the river and stay overnight at Seven Islands.
The name is derived from a series of seven islands in the Staunton River which were a part of the estate. All of these islands had names, and were cultivated at one time. Two of them are now a part of the mainland as a result of changes in the stream bed through the years. Only one is cultivated now - the largest, with its downstream tip at the highway bridge which crosses the Staunton River at Brookneal.
In his will, Henry instructed that the Seven Island and other lands be sold to pay legacies to his daughters. However, after his death his widow Dorothea married his cousin, Judge Edmund Winston, and court commissioners arranged a division of the various tracts of land.
His daughter, Sarah Butler Henry, inherited Seven Islands. She married Robert Campbell, a brother of the Scotch poet Thomas Campbell. They had no children, and Campbell died, leaving Sarah a young widow with an estate of some 1800 acres.
Sarah was attending a theatre performance in Richmond in 1811 when the disastrous fire broke out that claimed many lives and gave rise to many tales of heroic rescues. According to family legend, Sarah was rescued from the burning theatre by Alexander Scott of Fauquier County. Scott's leg was broken during the fire, and when Sarah visited him at the hospital to thank him for saving her, romance budded.
Sarah and Alexander Scott were married, and went to Seven Islands to live. They had three children: Patrick Henry Scott, Catherine and Henrietta Dandridge. Henrietta married Gen. William Bailey and went with him to Louisiana to live. Catherine married Dr. Bob Scott of Campbell County.
A letter from Mrs. Charles Y. Scott, which is now in the Patrick Henry Memorial Library in Brookneal, states that Dorothea Winston, widow of Patrick Henry, spent her last days at Seven Islands with her daughter, and died there. Although she had requested to he buried beside Patrick Henry at Red Hill, when she died the river was frozen over and she was buried at Seven Islands. Later her body was moved to Red Hill and placed in the Henry cemetery there.
When Dorothea went to Seven Islands she took some of Henry's furniture, books and other possessions with her. One of these, a desk made in a shop on the plantation, put together with wooden pegs, is in the library at Brookneal, a gift of the Scott family. Some have become scattered and some are still in possession of descendants of the family.
When the Seven Islands estate was divided, the old house was left to Hallie Scott, daughter of Patrick Henry Scott. She married Robert R. Todd of Anderson, S. C., and they and their son, Patrick, lived at Seven Islands some years ago.
The house now belongs to the Glass family, formerly of Brookneal, now living in South Hill.
In years gone by the old house and its grounds were a show place. One of the few old places in this section without boxwood, Seven Islands was noted for its beautiful flowers and trees. A crescent-shaped drive approached the house, and a brick-paved court lay between the drive and the house. The house had three front doors, the center one opening upon an enclosed stairway to the second floor, and one on each side opening into first floor rooms. The large "Scotch" chimneys were built by immigrant stone masons from Scotland.
The lane that led from the top of the hill above the river to the house was lined by a double row of immense cedar trees, most of which have since been cut down.
The old ferry that was established here was operated as a part of the Seven Islands estate for many years. The ferry was replaced by a toll bridge about 1907, and the present highway bridge crosses just above the same location. While the ferry was in operation, the Seven Islands estate included an acre of land on the Brookneal side of the river where the ferryman's house was located. The old road to Halifax went right by the Seven Islands house.