Echoes of the Revolution at Berry Hill

By Henry H. Mitchell, 1990.

Berry Hill

Stages of growth for the main house at Berry Hill are evident. From the left: the tall structure dates to 1806; next to it, the gambrel-roofed addition was constructed in 1912; the third roofline with graceful chimney delineates the original 1745 home; on the right is the rock-chimneyed plantation office of uncertain date.

In 1976, as a part of the U. S. Bicentennial effort, the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission authorized the placement along US 58 west of Danville of a marker recognizing Berry Hill. Berry Hill, unobtrusively nestled among ancient trees and giant boxwood several miles to the southwest along the road to Eden (VA 863), seems to have quietly absorbed its past into a complicated ongoing fabric of life, rather than boldly proclaiming the important role it once had.

It was here, in the spring of 1781, that General Nathanael Greene sent the wounded from the pivotal battle at Guilford Courthouse, in which his troops had yielded the field to the army of Lord Cornwallis, but only after dealing such a crippling blow that the stunned English reeled out of the Carolinas and into entrapment at Yorktown. (See also “Pittsylvanians Play Key Roles In Three Great Battles.”)

During April, May, and June of 1781, Berry Hill served as a hospital, possibly housing the wounded soldiers in tents near the Dan River. (A flood in the late 1800's unearthed a quantity of military camp hardware and weapons.) In addition to Berry Hill, three neighboring plantations hosted a portion of the hospital. Later, a court of claims reimbursed Berry Hill's owner Col. Peter Perkins, who had commnded local militia at the Guilford battle, for great quantities of food and supplies, for damage to his house, for use of his wagons and horses, and for operation of a ferry across the Dan in conjunction with the hospital.

Peter Perkins himself is one of early Pittsylvania County's most fascinating figures. Having inherited land from his father Nicholas, he managed to add parcels including a grant from the Crown for 1200 acres until he had become a major landholder by the time of the Revolution. He was elected to the Committee of Safety, a group responsible for the conduct of the Revolution in the county, and also served (as mentioned before) as a colonel of the local militia. Perkins was son-in-law of Capt. Peter Wilson, famous early settler of the Dan Valley and founder of Wilson's Ferry (which continued in operation until 1902) along the river just west of present-day Danville, along (Wilson's) Ferry Road.

1912 and 1806 portions

On the left as seen in this photograph, the large verandah constructed in 1912 tucks in against the 1806 portion of Berry Hill on the right.

The house at Berry Hill is at first puzzling to the casual glance, a blending of fine construction of several different periods. The oldest portion is a story-and-a-half building of typical lines for a mid-17th-century home of this area. In the first photograph above, its remarkably graceful chimney can be seen as the second chimney from the right. This portion of Berry Hill is the home of Peter Perkins, thought to have been built about 1745, and the structure which served as the center of the Revolutionary hospital. Attached to the rear of the original home is the rock-chimneyed “plantation office,” precise construction date of which is not known. Attached to the front is a large gambrel-roofed addition with wrap-around porch, built in 1912, which in turn is connected to a strikingly tall structure with beautiful cornices built in 1806. The property has remained in the ownership of descendants of Peter Perkins, who himself moved to North Carolina around 1795. Mr. and Mrs. Robert V. Sims are the current residents of this, his ancestral home.

Two other features adjacent to the house seem just as important as the building itself in denoting the times through which it has passed. Immediately to the rear of the building is an inward-facing court of slave quarters, intact to an extent almost never seen today. Just to the south (the vantage point from which the photograph showing all four portions of the house was taken) is found a vast and well-kept family cemetery, the final resting place of so many of the members of the Perkins, Wilson, and Hairston families who have figured prominently int he affairs of the Dan River valley since they first began to settle it almost 270 years ago.


This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.