Bremo Plantation, Bremo Bluff Virginia
General John Hartwell Cocke (1780-1866), noted planter, soldier and reformer, was a man of great importance in ante-bellum Virginia. A graduate of the College of William and Mary (1794-99), Cocke spent his life in the various reform movements of the first half of the nineteenth century. During the War of 1812 he entered the army as a captain and within eighteen months had emerged as a brigadier general. After the war he settled into his routine of managing his extensive land holdings in Fluvanna County and in furthering his reform goals. He advanced many revolutionary agricultural ideas and vigorously attacked the practice of making tobacco the main crop of Virginia. He was equally outspoken on the subject of slavery and served as senior vice-president of the American Colonization Society from its creation in 1819 until his death. He was a leading temperance leader of the period, serving as president of the American Temperance Union in 1836. A strong believer in public education, Cocke not only supported Mr. Jefferson in the formation of the University of Virginia but was also a member of the Board of Visitors for thirty-three years from 1819 until 1852. It has been stated that Cocke "without being either a prig or a Puritan, ....was a zealous reformer; yet even those who impugned his principles admired his sincerity, catholic benevolence, and alertness to civic responsibility. The causes which he supported indicate him to have been one of the most remarkable Virginians of his generation in power of foresight, a pioneer of modern social reform."
General Cocke first moved from his home in Surry County to his property in Fluvanna County about 1803. He named his property in Fluvanna in honor of the old Cocke family home in Henrico County. While Upper Bremo, the main residence, was being built, General Cocke and his family made their home at Bremo Recess, a small frame house which Cocke substantially rebuilt in its present Jacobean form circa 1844.
For the design of Upper Bremo, Cocke sought the advice of both friends and professionals, among whom were Thomas Jefferson and a Richmond architect named Conneley. While the resulting mansion contains many of the architectural forms and devices found in Mr. Jefferson's work, the final architect was actually John Neilson, a master carpenter who had worked for Mr. Jefferson at Monticello. It was Neilson who interpreted all of the ideas and sketches received or drawn by Cocke and who. gave the house its final appearance. Completed in 1820, Upper Bremo has been described by Fiske Kimball as the most nearly perfect "of all the houses in the Jeffersonian tradition."
General Cocke's great interest in architecture was responsible for the interesting architectural quality of Bremo's numerous farm buildings, the most notable of which is the great porticoed stone barn.
About the same time General Cocke enlarged Bremo Recess, he also substantially rebuilt another small house on the property, Lower Bremo, adding to it Jacobean embellishments similar to those on Bremo Recess. Lower Bremo was rebuilt for General Cocke's son Cary, but Cocke made it his own residence for the last twelve years of his life.
The entire group of houses and farm buildings at Bremo comprise one of the most remarkable collections of ante-bellum structures in the country. Not only do they possess great architectural interest and aesthetic appeal, but they also reflect the taste of one of Virginia's most successful planters and ardent reformers, a taste which was largely shaped by Cocke's close friend, Mr. Jefferson.