Deep in the heart of rural Charles City County—so close geographically to both Richmond and Williamsburg, so far away in its complete lack of urban life—under a canopy of enormous trees near the bend in the Chickahominy River is Peace Hill. According to legend, native Americans smoked the pipe of peace with early English settlers here. In 1607, in this area, Powhatan’s men captured Captain John Smith.
This is my cousin’s home, where his wife and daughter—and now the grandchildren—have lived most of their lives. His wife’s family has farmed land in this county since before the Revolution. After Lev’s death, they wrote and invited me to come visit. I could come whenever I wanted and stay as long as I wanted. I could come alone and stay in the main house, or I could bring a friend and stay in Pops’ (my uncle’s) home on the farm. What a special gift of peace and serenity that was!
I came by myself in September 2009 and stayed almost a week before moving to town for the annual Colonial Williamsburg meeting. Our eggs each morning were fresh from the hen house, and the green beans were picked immediately before being thrown in the pot to cook. I got to know the four grandchildren well, and each evening my cousin and I poured over all the family photos that he had inherited from his mother and aunt.
His wife grew up in the small farmhouse, and they moved back here after time in the U.S. Navy. My cousin, a doctor, established his medical practice in the nearby crossroads village, and they homeschooled their children before anyone ever heard of homeschooling. The house was expanded as the family grew…and expanded again when their daughter and her husband moved back here. They, too, homeschooled their children. This was where Jessie and Susan conceived and practiced the educational principles of The Well-Trained Mind…and where they wrote their iconic book on classical education for homeschoolers.
When Lev and I visited Peace Hill for the first time in 1997, my cousin, his dad and his son-in-law were building a church on the property. Literally. They had felled tall pines in the woods and set up a small saw mill to make the lumber. The framework was going up. Now when I am at the farm on Sunday, I attend services at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship and stay for the old-fashioned potluck lunch afterwards.
Pops’ house has been converted to offices for Peace Hill Press, publishing company for many of their teaching materials. The Press’ newest project is The Well-Trained Mind Academy, with online classes for middle-school and high-school students.
One of the old chicken coops has been turned into a study, where Susan has written her four-volume History of the World and so much more. Each time I come back, I find changes at the farm. Last year the goats were living where an English riding arena stands today, between the house and the church.
A second 100-year-old chicken coop near the pond is being turned into a cottage, part of the nearby Bed & Breakfast at Peace Hill, another recently added enterprise.
For more than 30 years my cousin and I hardly saw each other, and contact was mainly limited to Christmas cards. Lev’s curiosity about building a church drew us there initially…and kept drawing us back. In the process, I grew to know and love this entire family. The baby I held in my lap at her great-grandfather’s funeral is now a middle-schooler. The boys are grown. And I am far richer because they are in my life.