Sabine Hall

Warsaw, Richmond County, Virginia

Built in 1738, for Colonel Landon Carter (1710-1778) and his first wife, Elizabeth Wormeley (1713-1740). Today, Landon Carter is best remembered for the diary he kept recording life in 18th century Virginia. The house he built is set on a ridge surrounded by formal gardens that overlook a series of terraces that drop down to the banks of the Rappahannock River a mile below. Its setting remains almost completely unchanged since the 18th century, but neither the house nor gardens are open to the public as it remains a family home, still occupied by the descendants of Landon Carter....

This house is best associated with...

Landon Carter

Colonel Landon Carter I, of Sabine Hall, Virginia


Elizabeth (Wormeley) Carter

Mrs Elizabeth (Wormeley) Carter


Robert Wormeley Carter

Robert W. Carter, J.P., of Sabine Hall, Richmond County, Virginia


Winifred Traverse Beale

Mrs Winifred Traverse (Beale) Carter, of Sabine Hall, Virginia


Landon Carter

Landon Carter II, of Sabine Hall, Virginia


Robert Wormeley Carter

Robert Wormeley Carter II, of Sabine Hall, Virginia


Robert Carter Wellford

Robert Carter Wellford, of Sabine Hall, Virginia


Elizabeth Cunningham Harrison

Mrs Elizabeth Cunningham (Harrison) Wellford


Robert ‘King’ Carter (1662-1732) was "the richest man in Colonial America". He was the father of ten children and gave his four eldest surviving sons plantations on which each of them built a manor house, although Sabine Hall is the only one to survive. Landon Carter named his house for the hillside home of the Roman lyric poet, Horace. It stood on a plantation of 4,000-acres divided into five separate quarters in addition to the ‘home fields’ adjacent to the mansion. Like his peers, Landon Carter focused on cultivating tobacco, but he also devoted other fields to livestock, wheat, barley, corn, and cotton. In total, Landon owned 50,000-acres and something in the region of 200 to 500 slaves.

House & Gardens

The house is approached by a drive a mile-and-a-half long that passes through woods of ancient oaks and hickory. The brick and stone Palladian-style house is surrounded by lawns interspersed with trees such as mulberry, ailanthus, aspen, English elm, linden etc. The east wing was originally a separate outbuilding housing the old kitchen but during renovations in 1929 it was connected to the main house and the same was replicated on the opposite side to replace the earlier (but not original) west wing. At the same time, the hip roof was lowered and the north portico and sash windows were added.

The gardens at the rear of the house extend over five terraces from the top of the hill and down to the fields and river below. They were designed at the same time as the house by an English landscape gardener. From 1932, the upper two levels were devoted exclusively to flowers and on the eastern side of the second level is a substantial box hedge that divides the flower garden from a portion of the vegetable garden.

"One of the Most Superb Architectural Documents in the Country"

Entrance to the house itself is made through a pair of heavy doors that open up into the broad 18-by-48-foot hall. Panelled in heart pine and wainscoted, it is recognized as one of the country’s finest Colonial rooms. The hall runs directly from the front to the back of the house where it opens through similar doors onto a covered porch which extends along the entire length of the house overlooking the gardens. The halls, as well as the parlor, dining room, library, and most of the bedrooms, are all wainscoted from floor to ceiling. Outdoors, a 60-pound bell still hangs that was once used to call the family to dinner.

On the left in the entrance hall, among several family portraits is one of Landon's father, Robert ‘King’ Carter, which is one of only a few known originals painted of him. Over the entrance to a side hall is an arch through which one passes to ascend the hand-carved walnut staircase with fluted balustrades, again recognized as being one of the finest examples of its kind from that period. The author, William B. O’Neal, stated that: "Sabine Hall’s pilasters, splendid entablature and the curious construction of the staircase itself make it one of the most superb architectural documents in the country". 

"The Household was Not Harmonious..."

From the 1750s, Landon’s son and heir, Robert Wormeley Carter (1734-1797), lived with his wife, Winifred Travers Beale, and their five children on the upper floor of Sabine Hall while Landon occupied the ground floor until his death in 1778. The household was not harmonious: Landon referred to his daughter-in-law as “Madam Audacity” and his own son, “Wild Bob, the married gamester,” he considered to have become a mere “man of pleasure,” passing his days gambling, sleeping around and all the while developing an, “arrogant assertiveness” that threatened, “to destroy family life and filial respect”. As for his grandchildren, there was the next heir to Sabine, “my insufferable grandson,” Landon Carter (1757-1820), “the most outrageous scoundrel who ever appeared in human shape”!

"Parental Love Can Never Cease"

Landon died in 1778 and "Wild Bob" was now the new master of Sabine Hall. If his father's diary is to be taken at its word, Bob/Robert took every opportunity to escape the confines of home on the pretext of "inspecting his estates" to instead indulge his passions for horse-racing and gambling. While his papers are certainly dominated by his wins and losses at the card table and the racetrack - which he documented as meticulously as his father had done for crops and livestock - when his son, George, got into serious trouble by losing £1,893 at cards in just one night, Robert demonstrated that as well as being honorable, he was both a kind and forgiving father. Having arranged for George to pay off the debt in affordable annual instalments of £100, Robert then penned this short poem:
Tho' children as their years increase, 
Increase our cares and spoil our peace
Parental love can never cease
But ever will remain. 
The kindly father died in 1797 and Sabine was passed to the man whose grandfather had described him as an, "insufferable scoundrel," Landon II. Insufferable or not, Landon II's tenure here passed with little remark and on his death he was succeeded by his son, Robert Wormeley Carter II (1792-1861). Robert II died six months into the Civil War without male issue and left Sabine to his young grandson, Robert Carter Wellford (1853-1919), whose inheritance was managed by his parents until he came of age.

Sabine Hall Today

Robert Wellford married Elizabeth Cunningham Harrison (1852-1926). Their sons, Armistead Nelson Wellford (1879-1939) and William Harrison Wellford (1882-1944) jointly succeeded to Sabine Hall in 1926. By the end of the Second World War, Sabine had passed to William’s son, Robert Carter Wellford (1908-1998), and his descendants still live here today. In 1970, Sabine Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark. The farm is still operational and it is still home to the Wellford family today. However, neither the house nor gardens are open to the public and its privacy is to be respected. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 27/11/2018 and last updated on 25/02/2021.
Image from Manors of Virginia in Colonial Times, 1909; Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth-century Chesapeake Society, by Daniel Blake Smith; Debt of Honor by Thomas Katheder for Historic Fredericksburg


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TR Hamilton's ancestor, Landon Carter, owned Sabine Hall