"Give me liberty or give me death!"
— Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775 —
Rural Plains, home of the Shelton family for nearly three centuries, stands on the northern bank of Totopotomoy Creek. Eighteen-year-old Patrick Henry married Sarah Shelton in 1754. Family tradition places the wedding ceremony in the first floor parlor located in the northwest corner of the house. The young couple soon moved a short distance away to Pine Slash, a small farm on a 300-acre tract of land.
The Shelton House received national attention in the spring of 1864 when Civil War armies clashed at Totopotomoy Creek as part of the Overland Campaign. For four days (May 29-June 1), parts of Union General Winfield Hancock's Second Corps occupied the plantation. Entrenchments criss-crossed the fields and incoming artillery shells riddled the historic house while the Shelton family huddled in the basement.
Few Civil War soldiers knew that the battle started on Henry's 128th birthday, and many mistook his nearby birthplace for his grave. Nevertheless, soldiers drew inspiration from the knowledge that they were fighting on ground where Patrick Henry had walked. "Halted for the night," a Pennsylvania soldier wrote in his diary, "near the tomb of the illustrious Patrick Henry." Another wrote more accurately that "we had a battle near the homestead of our old patriot and orator, Patrick Henry." The National Park Service acquired the Shelton House and 124 surrounding acres in 2006.
(May 29, 1736 - June 6, 1799) was the leading Virginia statesman in defending the rights of Colonial America.
Following Henrys death, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson singing his praises: "In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had the candour and courage enough to acknowledge it."
Henry was the first elected governor of Virginia, a devoted father of 17 children, and the most famous orator of his day. Born in Hanover County, Henry made a name for himself as a young lawyer in the Parsons' Cause at Hanover Courthouse in 1763. His 1765 resolutions against the Stamp Act articulated the basic principles of the American Revolution. Henry is perhaps best known for his immortal words "Give me liberty or give me death," which he delivered during the Second Virginia Convention in a speech to fellow delegates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at St. John's Church in 1775. His impassioned words helped move colonists toward American independence and they continue to inspire the cause of freedom around the world.
Known as the "Voice of the Revolution," Henry's political career included 26 years of service in the Virginia legislature and five terms as governor. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and its Declaration of Rights. A leading critic of the U.S. Constitution, Henry also strongly influenced the creation of the Bill of Rights. Following his death, Henry was buried at Red Hill Plantation, now the site of the Patrick Henry National Memorial.