CHARLES CITY, Va. (WRIC) — Malcolm Jamieson grew up overlooking the James River in Charles City County. “This was America’s first highway,” he said, referring to the river.
Berkeley Plantation is his life’s work — and his family’s legacy. “It is a labor of love,” said Jamieson. The property has been in Jamieson’s family for more than a century.
Berkeley’s history has many chapters. It was once the home of past presidents and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Also, the site where 140,000 Union Troops assembled in the 1860s.
But Berkeley’s current chapter is the fight to stay afloat and in business. “I have the full responsibility of two generations of people working all their lives as hard as they could to keep this going,” said Jamieson.
This plantation owner calls himself the ‘problem solver’ on the property. “It’s been a really hard year, ya know with attendance down and the weather has just been awful,” he said.
Jamieson explains in recent years, Berkeley typically just breaks even. “We very seldom — very seldom make a profit,” he said. As it works to innovate, the historic property is finding new ways to bring in revenue. They now welcome brides and grooms for weddings.
But Berkeley has also found a niche on the silver screen. “Recently we’ve just done a month and a half of Harriet, which is the story of Harriet Tubman — which was fascinating to watch,” said Jamieson.
By giving a home to films like ‘Harriet,’ Berkeley is bringing to life a challenging chapter from its history. “Truth is the thing that threads it all together,” said Jamieson.
“We gotta be true to the story.” That truth, according to Jamieson, is Berkeley would not exist today if not for the enslaved men and woman living there centuries ago. “They contributed a significant amount under terrible conditions, but they did contribute ya know to this history,” said Jamieson. “They should be recognized for that they were. Wonderful craftsmen — black craftsmen helped build this house, helped kiln the bricks, home the timbers.”
The crews of ‘Harriet’ even built slave quarters on Berkeley’s property to use in the upcoming film. Jamieson tells 8News he fought to keep them — wanting to re-purpose them for visitors to understand that part of Berkeley’s story.
It’s certainly not something you would want to sweep under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen,” said Jamieson. “It did.”
Jamieson says Berkeley is open year-round, ready to share its hidden history. “Cause it is important,” he said.’You need to understand your history — good, bad, or important.”
Berkeley is still a working plantation, farming about 500 acres of soybeans, corn, and wheat.
The Jamieson family bought the 1400 acres back in 1907 — spending just $28,000 dollars.