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Mount Athos – Its Pioneer Families
Much of the history of our native American Indians and early Virginia pioneers is combined in the ancestry of those connected with “Mount Athos.” In the early 1700s settlers were just beginning to trickle into this section of Virginia southeast of the Blue Ridge mountains. Virgin lands, formerly inhabited only by the Indians, were being claimed, surveyed and patented in large tracts by enterprising and prominent individuals. Only 100 years earlier the London Company, chartered by King James I of England, had landed the first permanent settlers at Jamestown 140 miles to the east in 1607. Emperor Powhatan, head chieftain of the Algonquin Indian tribes was not entirely happy with these intruders to his forest domains.

His young daughter Princess Pocahontas, as she was called by the settlers, or Matoaka to use her Indian name, intervened to save the life of John Smith. One of the prominent young settlers was John Rolfe, whose greatest accomplishment was developing a mild strain of tobacco that was to become the gold many were seeking.

About April 5, 1614, his first wife having died, John Rolfe married the Princess Pocahontas who was given the Christian name Rebecca. In 1616 Rolfe, his wife and young son Thomas returned to England. Here Pocahontas was royally entertained and admired. As they prepared for their return to Virginia in 1617 she was stricken, probably with small pox, and dying was buried at Gravesend, England. The infant son Thomas was left with his uncle, Henry Rolfe, while John Rolfe returned to Virginia where he continued as a planter and developer of tobacco until his death in 1622, probably in the great Indian massacre.

The son Thomas Rolfe, coming of age, came to Virginia about 1640, taking over his father’s properties. He married Jane Poythress and of this marriage came a daughter Jane. In 1660 Robert Bolling of London, a descendant of a distinguished English family came to Virginia at the age of 14. He soon established himself and became a man of prominence and wealth. In 1675 Col. Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe married and of this union came John Bolling I, born 1676, the great grandson of Pocahontas. Jane Rolfe died soon after this and Robert Bolling married secondly Anne Stith. He lived at “Kippax” near Petersburg, dying there in 1709.

Col. John Bolling I, married Mary Kennon and had many children. He lived at “Cobbs” near Petersburg, dying there in 1729. Of his descendants were names such as Randolph, Jefferson, Cabell, Bland and Robertson. A number of these included congressmen, governors and other of prominence in state and national affairs. His son John Bolling, Jr., born in 1700, married in 1728 Elizabeth Blair, niece of James Bolling of Chesterfield Co. had acquired about 40,000 acres which went to his children. One of these tracts was Buffalo Lick Plantation located in present Amherst and Campbell counties.

Major Bolling in 1745 patented 600 acres on the south side of James River where in 1786 John Lynch founded the city of Lynchburg. That part of Buffalo Lick Plantation on the south side of James River passed at this death to his son Archibald Bolling who was born in 1750. He lived there in a log cabin he called “Red Oak” with the first two of four wives. In 1796 he sold the property to Col. William J. Lewis for 2,200 pounds and moved to Buckingham County where he died about 1829 at his home called “The Retreat.”

Col. William J. Lewis was born in 1766 in Augusta Co. He married Elizabeth Cabell, born in 1772 at “Winton” in Amherst Co., second daughter of that name of Col. Joseph Cabell, her married sister by the same name having died in 1771. She moved with her family to Buckingham Co. in 1780 where she undoubtedly met and married William Lewis. They had no children.

Col. Lewis was one of a distinguished pioneer family. His grandfather was John Lewis who was the first settler of Augusta Co. A native of Ireland, he was born in 1678 and married in 1715 Margaret Lynn. A leaseholder on an Irish estate, he killed the Lord of the estate, who jealous of his success, had attacked him in a drunken rage. Fleeing Ireland in 1728, his wife and four sons and three daughters following in 1731, he settled near the present site of Staunton in 1732, later having a fifth son.

Here he built a stone house called “Bellefont” which later became a part of Fort Lewis, built for protection against the Indians. Active in all the affairs of the area he acquired much land. He helped develop Staunton and the county and its roads, held public offices and was the first Colonel of the county. He died in 1762 in Staunton.

All five of his sons were active in the French and Indian Wars, all but Thomas, who was nearsighted, being officers. One was killed and two wounded at Braddock’s Defeat at Fort Duquesne. One was killed at the battle of Point Pleasant. The most distinguished military figure was General Andrew Lewis, the third son, who was the hero of the Battle at Point Pleasant in 1774 where the Indians were defeated. During the Revolutionary War he drove Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor, out of Virginia.

Col. William Lewis, M.D. born in 1724 in Ireland, was the fourth son of John Lewis. He studied medicine in Philadelphia where he met and married in 1754 Anne Montgomery, daughter of General Alexander Montgomery of Philadelphia, and sister of General Richard Montgomery who was killed at Braddock’s Defeat at Fort Duquesne and was known as “The Civilizer of The Border.” Living at the old Lewis home in Augusta Co. he served his community and state both as a doctor and leader in public affairs.

When the Revolution began he volunteered in 1775, at age 51, to serve his country again in the military. He was captured at Charleston in 1780, was released in 1781 and returned ill to his Augusta Co. home. When Col. Tarleton drove Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature out of Charlottesville to Staunton, the three teenage sons of Col. Lewis, including William J. Lewis, were sent by their mother to help keep back the invader. In 1787 Col. Lewis sold the family home and moved to Sweet Springs in present Monroe Co., West Va., where he died in 1811. He had eight children.

Col. William J. Lewis was the fifth child of Col. William Lewis. Two of his older brothers were officers in the Revolutionary War, one serving with General Washington at Valley Forge and the other as an aide to General Anthony Wayne. A younger brother was a doctor and practiced in Lynchburg at one time. His younger sister Elizabeth Montgomery Lewis married Col. John A. Trent of Cumberland Co.

Col. Lewis was living in Buckingham Co. with his wife when he bought Mount Athos in 1796 from Archibald Bolling. He evidently started construction of the house soon after and probably moved in during 1800. In that year he resigned as Commissioner of Election for Buckingham Co. due to removal from the county. Lewis served in the state Legislature and narrowly missed being elected governor. He served in the House of Representatives in the Fifteenth Congress from 1817-1819. In 1824 he welcomed General Lafayette on his visit to Yorktown with an address on behalf of the “Sons of the Mountains” who fought during the Revolution. He died in 1828 and is buried at Mount Athos.

Elizabeth Cabell, the wife of Colonel Lewis, was likewise from a family prominent in the early settlement and affairs of this section and the state. Her grandfather Dr. William Cabell, born in 1699 at Warminster, England, was graduate of the Royal College of Medicine and Surgery in London. After a trip to Virginia as a naval surgeon he married, resigned his commission and returned as an adventurer about 1725. He was one of the early settlers in present Nelson Co., eventually acquiring some 50,000 acres. He became an explorer, Indian trader and surveyor.

In 1747 he surveyed for Capt. Charles Lynch the 600 acres patented by Col. John Bolling, Jr., which later became the site of Lynchburg. He was associated with Thomas Jefferson, his son Joseph Cabell and others in establishing the Albemarle Furnace Co. prior to 1771. He undoubtedly did some surveying for Thomas Jefferson in Nelson Co. His first two sons, both Colonels, were equally prominent in Virginia affairs.

Col. Joseph Cabell, the second son and father of Elizabeth Cabell was born in 1732 in present Goochland Co. He grew up in present Nelson Co. and studied medicine but never practiced. He married in 1752 Mary Hopkins, the daughter of Dr. Arthur Hopkins of Goochland Co. He served many years in the Legislature. He commanded a Regiment of Militia at Yorktown and was present at the surrender of Cronallis. He died at this home “Sion Hill” in Buckingham Co. in 1798.

The brother of Elizabeth Cabell was Joseph Cabell, Jr. who married first Pocahontas Rebecca Bolling, daughter of Robert Bolling of “Chellowe,” another son of John Bolling, Jr. At her death he married secondly in 1804 her first cousin Mrs. Anne E. Bolling Duval, daughter of Archibald Bolling, the previous owner of Mount Athos.

Both the Lewis and Cabell families were well known to Thomas Jefferson. This lends additional credence to the statement by Anne Montgomery Barksdale Bolling, granddaughter of Ann Trent Robertson, who lived with her grandparents at Mount Athos for many years from her birth in 1850. She wrote that William J. Lewis was a friend of Jefferson who gave him the plan of the Mount Athos house.

After the death of Lewis his widow lived there several years with the Robertson’s before moving to Kentucky to live with her sister Mrs. Breckenridge. She and her sister returned by carriage in 1838 for a visit. Mrs. Lewis died in Louisville in 1855.

Her first cousin was Dr. George Cabell, Sr., a prominent physician and surgeon of Lynchburg, one of whose patients was Patrick Henry. He built in the early 1800s in Lynchburg the fine home known as Point of Honor. This is on the National Register of Historic Places and is in the process of being restored.

Judge John Robertson was also from a pioneer family of prominence and likewise a Pocahontas descendant. His grandfather Archibald Robertson, whose wife was Elizabeth Fitzgerald, came to Virginia from Scotland in 1745. He settled at “Belfield” below Petersburg on the Appomattox River. In 1750 their eldest son William Robertson was born. In 1766 he attended school in Scotland and for two years lived with his uncle Arthur Robertson, then Chamberlain of the city of Glascow. He was presented at the Court of King George III about 1700.

William Robertson, failing as a merchant in Petersburg, studied law and took a job with a Richmond bank in 1794. He soon became Clerk of the Council of State and served that body with distinction for many years. He died in Richmond in 1829 leaving 12 children.

His wife was Elizabeth Bolling, born in 1760, whom he married in 1775. She was the daughter of Thomas Bolling, born in 1735, the first son of Major John Bolling, Jr., mentioned previously, which made her a Pocahontas descendant also. Thomas Bolling was also the brother of Archibald Bolling of Buffalo Lick Plantation. The wife of Thomas Bolling was Elizabeth Gay, a Bolling cousin.

Two of William Robertson’s sons were governors. The second son Thomas Bolling Robertson, born in1773, was educated at William & Mary College and was appointed by Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to be Secretary to the new Territory of Louisiana. He was their first Representative in Congress. He later became Attorney General, then Governor of Louisiana.

The youngest son Wyndham Robertson, born in 1803, became Lieutant Governor of Virginia in 1834, succeeding to the governorship when Governor Tazewell resigned in 1836 after a split in the political parties.

The fourth son John Robertson, born in 1787, was educated at the College of William & Mary. He became Attorney General of Virginia in 1819, served in both houses of the State Legislature and was a Representative to Congress 1834-39. In 1841 he was appointed a Judge of the 21st Circuit Court of Virginia. He lived in his father’s home in Richmond, maintaining it until his death. He spent his summers and later years at Mount Athos. He died there in 1873.

In 1829 he married Ann Trent of Cumberland Co., daughter of Col. John A. Trent and his wife Elizabeth Lewis, the sister of Col. William J. Lewis of Mount Athos. She was a favorite niece of Col. Lewis and she and Judge Robertson frequently visited at Mount Athos during Col. Lewis’ lifetime. They were the parent of six children.

Judge and Mrs. Robertson and several of the children and grandchildren are buried in the Robertson cemetery atop Mount Athos near the ruins of the old mansion house.

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