The Ghosts of Bellgrade
When you entered the front door of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, you entered a home built in 1732 as a one and one half story farmhouse. Several families lived in the home from its construction until 1824, when Edward Friend purchased it from Edward Cox. During the period that the Friend family lived in the home, the family grew in both size and wealth. The farm grew to approximately one thousand acres. To accommodate the larger family they remodeled the home by adding the wings, moving the front door and the fireplace, and adding the front porch and columns. The farm was now called Bellgrade plantation.
In 1840, the Friend family sold the home to a forty-three year old French bachelor named Robiou. Robiou, in search of a bride, met a young girl that lived on Old Gun Road. She was the fourteen year old daughter of a prominent attorney and wealthy landowner named Wormley. Robiou asked for and was given her hand in marriage. They were married shortly thereafter and moved into Bellgrade. During the first few weeks of their marriage, Robiou arrived at this home unexpectedly one afternoon to find his new bride in a compromising situation with her previous nineteen-year-old boyfriend Reid. Incensed by what he had found, Robiou threw his new wife out of the house and demanded a divorce. Angered and humiliated, the girl’s father, Wormley, talked young Reid into helping him retaliate against Robiou. Late one evening, the two waited for Robiou to arrive at his home. As he reached his porch, he was fatally shot. Wormley and Reid were arrested and taken to Chesterfield Courthouse and jailed. Reid was released, because he had been duped into the plot by the older and more cunning Wormley and he had not pulled the trigger. Wormley was tried for murder. Having many acquaintances in the judicial system, he talked the clerk of the court into giving whiskey to several members of the jury in hopes of getting a mistrial. He got his mistrial, but the case had gained so much notoriety that the judge decided to retry him. This time he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.
During the months that followed, Wormley appealed his conviction. His daughter, the widow of Robiou, who had been neither divorced nor disinherited, married her boyfriend, Reid, and moved back into the plantation. Her father, having failed at his appeal, was hanged before a crowd of six thousand people, the largest group at that time to witness a hanging in Virginia. Within two weeks of the hanging, Robiou’s widow, the new bride of Reid, fell down the front stairs in the plantation home and was killed. There are two accounts of how she died. One account is that she fell on a sewing basket and scissors punctured her heart. The other account is that she broke her neck. Since this tragedy, there have been hundreds of stories of sightings of the ghosts of Robiou and his young bride roaming the boxwood gardens behind the home.
During the Civil War, Bellgrade was used by General A.P.Hill as his headquarters while engaged in a campaign located between Richmond and Petersburg. It was also utilized as a hospital for southern soldiers. General Hill was killed during this campaign. There was an attempt to take his body to Hollywood Cemetery, but there was no way to get it across the James River because of bridge damage and Union troops. Hill’s body was then taken to Bellgrade and buried in the Friend family cemetery. In his last will and testament, he had requested to be buried standing up at Bellgrade. After the war had ended, his body was moved to Hollywood Cemetery and buried standing up. When the statue in his honor was created, his body was moved for the last time and again was buried under the statue standing up.
Later residents of Bellgrade changed the name of the plantation to Belvidere and later Alandale. The last residents of the old home were the Hoppers. In the living room you will find Friend family memorabilia, donated by John Friend, the great grandson of Dr. Edward Friend. John Friend retired from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He passed away in 1995. A biographical history of the Friend family composed by John Friend is available for viewing on the desk in the living room.