Few of the great homes in Virginia have a more commanding prospect or more glorious setting than Chatham, situated on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River, just opposite Falmouth. Chatham has a wide sweep of the river, up and down the valley, whose waters give access to the Northern Neck, that source-house of genius from whose soil sprang George Mason, George Washington, “Light Horse” Harry Lee and Robert Edward Lee.
“This noble mansion,” writes R. A. Lancaster, Jr., “with its ample central building and commodious wings, its stout brick walls and lofty columns, was built sometime before the Revolution by William Fitzhugh, who was born at Eagle’s Nest, in King George County, in 1742, and died sometime after 1787.”
The plan of the house was the outgrowth undoubtedly of a desire to meet climatic conditions. Facing south, the windows were all exposed to the prevailing breezes of the summer and to the sun in winter. On both sides, from the central unit, there run long wings of one-room depth each. This type of house had been developed and was very widely copied in Virginia for a number of years.
William Fitzhugh was the son of Henry Fitzhugh (1706-1742) of Eagle’s Nest, and his wife Lucy, daughter of the Honorable Robert (King) Carter of Corotoman. The great-grandfather of William Fitzhugh, Colonel William Fitzhugh (1651-1701 , was the first of the family in Virginia.
Born to an ample fortune and high intellectual gifts, William Fitzhugh of Chatham, exercised his personality for the welfare of his age, serving as a member of the House of Burgesses, of all the Revolutionary conventions, and the Continental Congress.
The wife of William Fitzhugh, Anne, was the daughter of Peter Randolph of Chatsworth, and their daughter, Mary, married George Washington Park Custis, and was the mother of the wife of General Robert E. Lee.
It has been said that General Lee addressed his wife under the beautiful trees at Chatham, which trees were cut down during the war when Chatham was the headquarters of the Federal troops under General Burnside.
At Chatham, President Lincoln spent two days during the investment of Fredericksburg by the Federal troops, and General Washington, eighty years before, had been a frequent visitor in the same house, where he wrote, “I have enjoyed your good dinners, good wine and good company more than any other.”
Through the hands of Major Churchill Jones, Chatham passed to William Jones, and through him to Judge John Coal-ter of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Judge Coalter left Chatham to his son, St. George Tucker Coalter, and his daughter, Elizabeth Coalter Bryan, who was married therein January, 1830, and was the mother of the late Joseph Bryan of Richmond.
Before the war Chatham was bought by Major J. Horace Lacy, and it was during his ownership that the Federal troops were quartered at Chatham.
Through successive purchases by Oliver Watson and by William Mays the property finally passed into the hands of Mark Sullivan of Washington. Through him it was purchased by Colonel and Mrs. Devore. Under their artistic and generous development the gardens and lawns have been restored, and the house has been given its original appearance. The whole place speaks now, in this day of noise and bustle, of the calmness and detached beauty that were the common heritage of great homes of Virginia two hundred years ago.