Green Hill, the Old Pannill Place Once an Empire

By Marian A. Fawcett, Altavista Journal, Altavista, Virginia, May 16, 1968.
Green Hill

Azure skies and soft summer breezes may lure the tourist minded to the open road, but nothing is so enticing to a would-be roamer as the nostalgic interest in the landmarks of one's own area. Where it be the stately and classic White Hall or Shady Grove, a former residence of intelligentsia, or some other seat of ancient glory, Campbell County beckons down pleasant lanes into an intriguing era of yesteryear.

Many great houses have long since fallen into such hopeless decay that they may have been all but forgotten and can be visited only in memory, while others harbor crumbled ruins as the only symbol of their past greatness. Such a seat is Samuel Pannill's Green Hill on the northern bank of Staunton River between Long Island and Brookneal. Here the ruins still stand as stark sentinels of the past. But what a past! And what a man to have created such a past!

Almost two centuries have gone by since Samuel Pannill was born (1770) in Virginia's Northern Neck, and more than a century has elapsed since his long (91 years) and useful life in Campbell County came to an end; yet a wealth of information about this ruler of a kingdom can still be found in court records, old manuscripts and memoirs of neighbors long since dead, receipts, bills, lore, legends, and last, but by no means least, unquestionable testimony of the decaying remnants of Green Hill, the regal seat, from which Samuel Pannill ruled his vast estate. No one who has ever cast eyes upon these elevated fields can doubt the accuracy of the term kindgom. Campbell County has never had, and probably will never have again, a counterpart to Samuel Pannill.

After the death of his father (William, wife Ann Morton) in Orange County, Virginia in 1790, Samuel Pannill came to Pittsylvania, where he lived until 1796, at which time he bought the 600 acre estate of William and Moses Fuqua on the Campbell side of Staunton River. There he moved in 1797 with his bride of a year, Judith Boughton Pannill, the only daughter of John Boughton of Falling River near Hat Creek.

Moses Fuqua had lived for nearly a half century on the banks of the Staunton when he sold the property to move to new frontiers — Kentucky. He was the forebear of the Walter Floyd ― Virginia Hamlett ― Gilliam family of Campbell County and Lynchburg.

By patent and purchase Pannill soon accumulated thousands of acres of land on both sides of the river in Halifax, Pittsylvania and Campbell Counties, and immediately proceeded to build his empire, centered around Green Hill, just east of Long Island on the north side of the river.

No man today can imagine, much less execute, plans of such exactness and precision as Samuel Pannill used in creating his totally self sustaining community of Green Hill. Everything on the place demonstrated the skill and ability of the master planner and his slave laborers — fields, buildings, roads, bridges, fences — all are works of art incapable of being reproduced today.

Green Hill dependency

The first mental response to a glimpse of Green Hill is ROCK. Everywhere one sees rock remains of buildings, foundations, chimneys, bridges, walks, roads, and literally miles of rock fences, even the gateposts are of rock. These stone walls were dry laid and to a casual observer would seem to be just a pile of rock placed one upon another to create a barrier, but knock down a short span and try to replace it as it was, and it soon becomes evident that a mason's skill unknown today is required to rebuild it. The same is true of the mortared rock walls used in many of the farm structures which were built with the same skill impossible to reproduce now. Suitable brown stone for all this rock work could be, and was, obtained only on the Halifax side of the river and had to be ferried across to the building sites. Indian head rocks found on the Campbell side of the Staunton were used for roads and walks.

For a closer look at the physical aspects of Green Hill we shall draw heavily on personal interviews with older citizens of that community and on a manuscript description written many years ago by an unknown neighbor.

The plantation life centered around the owner's residential area on one side, and his business sphere on the other. The living unit was located at the crest of the hill which gave the place its name, and ot its rear the hundreds of flat acres stretched away to the river's edge where Samuel Pannill's working and business interests held full sway.

The mansion house dominated the home site with all buildings necessary for abundant and genteel plantation life grouped around it. These buildings were constructed of brick laid in a unique pattern of alternating sides and ends facing outward. The house, beautiful in its simplicity, built on a wall of some three feet in height, has two wings — a two and a half story main structure with six rooms, and a one and a half story ell on the west wide of the main unit.

Round brick porch columns

Like most homes of that time, it faced north and was approaced from that direction through an avenue of cedar trees. A box bordered, Indian head rock walk led to the dormer-windowed ell wing. Al long porch extending along the full side of this win had a flagstone floor and cylindrical pillars or columns made of brick which had been polished "as smooth as a table." The front entrance by way of this porch led through a hall to the parlor on the right and to the dining room on the left.

Space does not permit a minute description of the residence, but a few general remarks might serve to emphasize its perfection, beauty and craftsmanship in every detail. The panelling and other wooden portions of the interior were made of matched walnut or fruit woods, hand rubbed to a soft satin finish; hand carved matels stretched from floors to ceilings; built-in cabinets and storage closets existed in abundance; china cabinets with light blue stained glass panes covered the entire wall space on either side of the dining room mantel; each window had a projecting curtain rod or holder. Old-timers relate the elegance of the furnishings — mahagony, walnut, cherry — all as sturdy and as skillfully crafted as everything else on the place.

Three stairways led from the first floor to the rooms above, there being no connection between the girls' and boys' apartments, as was the custom of the times.

The two foot thick brick walls absorbed all chimneys, leaving the outside walls without projections and affording nice niches inside for cabinets beside the fireplaces.

The yard of the manor house was separated from the utilitarian portions of the plantation by rock walls and interesting gateways, with walks leading in every direction.

Functionally close to the residence were: (1) the kitchen, with its 20 foot wide chimney, accommodating one large and two smaller fireplaces and warming ovens; (2) the carriage house; (3) the ice house with a round, rock walled pit for ice storage; (4) the factory, where carding, weaving, spinning, etc., for the entire plantation population was done; (5) the well house, with the windlass and oaken bucket and troughs and outlets hewn from solid rock; (6) the wash room or laundry (under the same roof as the well, but separated by a partition) with three large deep fireplaces fitted with cranes for boiling clothes, and a trough connection with the well spout in the next room; (7) slave houses for the house help; (8) the childen house with rock hewn feed and watering troughs; and (9) provisions for processing and cooling milk.

From the rear of the house a rock road led to the river and business section of the plantation. To the left of this road were located the slave quarters, laid out as a town with houses built along intersecting lanes. Shrubs are said to have been planted by the doorways and a profusion of peach trees shaded the lanes. Huge stone chimneys were built at one end of each frame house. Something of the size of this quarter may be estimated from the fact that Samuel Pannill, at his death, owned 216 slaves.

He was reputed to have been a hard task master, but all reliable records disprove this. His will provided that in the stipulated division of his slaves no families should be separated. All evidence obrtainable now shows them to have been well fed, housed and cared for. Uncle Gabe Hunt, a Pannill slave and janitor at Rustburg courthouse for many years, always attested to the kind treatment of all the Green Hill slaves. Descendents of these slaves are some of our best, most capable and most respected Negro citizens today. With so large a plantation population it stands to reason and good business practice that every able-bodied person must make a working contribution to the life on the place. This Samuel Pannill so ordained.

Near the slave quarters was a large spring skillfully shaped and walled.

Along the same rock paved road to the river were located the various farm buildings, all constructed of rock except for eaves and roof — storage, tobacco and stantioned cow barns, tool sheds, blacksmith and wheelwright shops etc.

A large flour and grist mill, a store and access road to a ferry were all located on the brink of the Staunton. A ferry had been operated at this point before Pannill bought the place. After some years he replaced the ferry with a covered bridge farther down stream which remained in use until 1877 when it was washed away. A chapel also occupied a place in "Lower Town" as the business section was termed.

Pannill was an astute business man who intentionally planned his working area near the river. He was far sighted and ahead of his time in most respects. He envisioned a great future in river transportation and owned and operated a fleet of batteaux on the Staunton between Green Hill and the North Carolina coast. His down river cargo consisted largely of flour manufactured at his own mill and hogsheads of tobacco from his own and other plantations. On the return, or up stream haul, he brought merchandise for the business firms along the way, particularly at Brookneal where he and his son-in-law operated a general store. An old 1803 wharfage book lists a down stream cargo of flour and 50 hogsheads of tobacco. In 1804 an up stream load consisted of 4 pips of wine, 151 bars of iron, 3 crates of earthen ware, 1 case of Sweet Oil, 24 demijohns, 5 kiegs of Shot, 141 sacks of salt.

Pannill's General Store supplied virtually every need of the average citizen of the time. The following is an accurate bill of purchase from this business firm in 1837:

An item in Campbell County Order Book 23, 1838, records the granting of a permit to Pannill and Wimbish “to sell spirits, to be drunk off premises since they appear to not be addicted to gaming or drunkness.” This is an index to the caliber of man he was. Sometimes referred to as being eccentric, nevertheless, he was highly respected as shown by the offices of responsibility he held. He was Campbell County justice of the peace from 1799 to 1838, this was a very important county office and was filled only by the most capable and well thought of citizens. He was an ensign in the military field. He was a trustee of the town of Brookneal, a member of The Board of Public Works, and president of The Roanoke Navigation Co. By his own thrift, management, hard work, and honest effort he made a fortune in his time. His 1846 tax list shows his holdings to be valued at $55,000, on which he paid a tax of $37.40. His son, John, and son-in-law W. L. Graham, his executors at death, were required to given bond in the amount of $400,000.00.

Samuel and Judith Pannill had the following children:

Samuel Pannill whose life was so closely aligned with the era and its evils which ultimately resulted in the Civil War did not live to see it end nor to experience any of the tragic adjustments of flesh and fortune which followed its close. However, his bridge across the Staunton and his descendants played a role in the last Act of the War.

The day before Lee's surrender at Appomattox a Confederate officer rode up to the Graham home to announce that Gen. LOee would pass that way the next day and would like to stop there for dinner. Immediately, great preparations were made for the beloved and honored general. On the following day they waited — in vain — for their guest. Toward evening a courier brought the sad tidings of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

During the closing days of the War great quantities of provisions were ferried across the Staunton at Brookneal, presumably, for the use of Lee's army, which was reportedly planning to slip from the jaws of the overpowering Yankee forces near Appomattox and march South by way of Pannill's bridge across the Staunton. All was made ready for the hasty passing, but surrender came before Lee could get out. Instead of his army, there passed tired, foot sore, solemn, confused, disheartened and defeated soldiers — all night and into the day of April 10th — soldiers, soldiers, soldiers, wearily tramping across the covered bridge — going home.

Green Hill remained in the Pannill family for some years after Samuel's death, but was finally sold at public auction to James Franklin Sr., of Bedford and Lynchburg. At his death he willed it to his nephew, Samuel Hale. After many years, the Hales sold it to the Holland Brothers who now own and operate it.

Samuel Pannill is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere under the sod of Green Hill.

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