Thursday, August 16, 2018

Judge Richard Parker's "Retreat"

Today I attended the August edition of the National Park Service historian's tour. The first place we visited was the Cool Springs Battlefield in Clarke County, near Berryville, Virginia. Fought on July 18, 1864, this battle occurred partly on the land owned by Judge Richard Parker (shown below). Those of you who are John Brown students likely recognize Parker's name from Brown's trial in Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia) in the fall of 1859. Parker presided over the trial, and after Brown's jury found the militant abolitionist guilty, Parker ultimately pronounced Brown to be executed by hanging on December 2. 

Parker's 1,120 plantation, known as "Retreat," served as a second home for the judge. His primary residence was in Winchester, where he practiced law. Parker is listed in 1860 as the owner of nine slaves in Frederick County (Winchester). In that census Parker is shown as a 49 year old circuit court judge and has personal property worth $10,500 and real estate in valued at $7,500. 

Bounding Parker's "Retreat" property is the beautiful Shenandoah River. Although Shenandoah University now owns 195 acres of the land that was once Judge Parker's, the circa 1799 home pictured at the top is privately owned and is used as a bed and breakfast resort. For decades the surrounding land was part of a golf course. 

Originally a road ran beside the house down to the Shenandoah River. At that point there was a ford across the stream to a rather small island barely visible on the top right of the photograph above and then to the north bank of the river. The land on the north side of the river, where the majority of the July 18, 1864 fighting occurred is presently owned by the Holy Cross Abbey, an order of Trappist monks. 

Shenandoah University and their McCormick Civil War Institute director, Jonathan Noyalas, has developed an informative nine stop walking tour of the south bank property they own. If you are in the area, be sure to stop in and take in the beautiful scenery and learn about this overlooked battle.

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