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Clarise Sears Ramsey and Westover Plantation, 1899–1921


A lesser-known name in the history of Westover Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, is Clarise Sears Ramsey, who owned the plantation from 1899 to 1921. The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) has a small collection of silver and photographs associated with Ramsey and Westover during that period of ownership. The collection came from Clarise’s daughter, Elisabeth Sears Harrold, who never married and who left the collection to her friend Anna Agassiz (Mrs. Gordon Chickering) Prince (1896–1973). She then passed it to her eldest son and his wife, who donated the collection to the VHS in 1991.

Clarise Sears Ramsey

Charlotte Clarise Sears Risley Harrold Ramsey (1867–1922), whose parents were Joseph Henry Risley and Mary Elizabeth Bishop, was a descendant on her mother’s side of Benjamin Bishop, who served in the American Revolution. Clarise is also said to be a Byrd descendant. According to a letter written by Elisabeth Harrold in 1932, a transcript copy of which is in the VHS collection, Clarise is descended from Mary Shippen Willing Byrd (1740–1814), the second wife of William Byrd III (1728–1777).

Photograph of Clarise Sears Ramsey, 1905 by Alice Hughes (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.10)

Clarise was married twice. She had her three children with her first husband, Elam Worthington Harrold (1839–1897). The children were John Sears Harrold (1887–1955); Bishop Sears Harrold (1888–1954), and Elisabeth Sears Harrold (1893–1965). They lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ventura County, California. After Elam’s death, the family moved to Virginia.

Moving to Westover

In 1900, after Clarise purchased Westover—when her children were twelve, eleven and six—she married her second husband, William McCreery Ramsey (b. 1868), but the marriage did not last. She is listed in the 1910 census as divorced. According to the current owners of Westover, William traveled from California to Virginia with Clarise and the children.

Print, Architectural Rendering of Westover, 1902 (Virginia Historical Society 2007.113)

Clarise is credited with having Westover modernized. This process included rebuilding the east wing, which had been struck by cannon fire and burned during the Civil War, and constructing the “hyphens” that connect the main house to the previously separate dependencies, creating one long building.

Elisabeth Sears Harrold

The collection consists of several photographs by Edward Hughes and his daughter, Alice Hughes, of Elisabeth Sears Harrold (1893–1965), Clarise’s youngest daughter, and a print from a dry-point etching of Elisabeth by Arthur Garfield Learned (1872–1959) made in October 1912. Alice Mary Hughes (1857–1939) was the oldest daughter of society portrait painter, Edward Hughes (1832–1908). She opened a studio in London as the first gentlewoman professional photographer in 1891 next to her father’s studio. Clarise and Elisabeth traveled to England at least six times between 1905 and 1918, when Elisabeth was between the ages of twelve and twenty-five.

Photograph of Elisabeth Sears Harrold, 1905 by Edward Hughes (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.21)

Print of Elisabeth Sears Harrold, 1912 by Arthur Garfield Learned (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.16)

Photograph of Elisabeth Sears Harrold, 1916 by Alice Hughes (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.12)

The collection has several pieces of silver that Clarise purchased in London and had engraved with her initials, “CSR,” or monogrammed “CR” or “R,” including a pair of pepper casters, salt cellars, a sugar caster, a tea caddy, and a pair of glass decanters, one of which had an engraved silver lid.

Silver belonging to Clarise Sears Ramsey, Westover, 1899–1921 Pair of pepper casters, pair of salt cellars, and a sugar caster (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.1; 1992.117.2; and 1992.117.5)

Glass decanter “Rye” with engraved silver stopper, belonging to Clarise Sears Ramsey, Westover 1899–1921 (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.8)

Close-up of silver stopper, engraved “C R” “WESTOVER” (Virginia Historical Society 1992.117.8)

Westover Today

Clarise Sears Ramsey sold Westover in 1921 to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Crane. In 1922, Clarise died in London. The Cranes’s great-granddaughter and her family currently make Westover their home and care for this special historic landmark.

For information about Westover, please visit their website

 My thanks go out to the Fisher and Erda families; the Charles City County Center for Local History and Westover Plantation for their assistance.

Rebecca Ansell Rose is the VHS registrar.

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