Caledonia Farm History

John Elbert Dearing was born on March 24, 1745, in Orange County, Virginia, the son of William Edward Dearing (1725–1791) and Ann Johnson (1729–1790). He married Elizabeth Ann “Nancy” Jett (1751–1823) on September 19, 1771. They raised a family of 13 children, three daughters and 10 sons, on a leased farm near Thumb Run in northwestern Fauquier County. Remarkably for that time, all of their children survived to adulthood. Most of them settled in other parts of the country, but Elias (1776–1826) and John Jr. (1781–1830) stayed in Fauquier, while Alfred (1791–1856) and Anson (1793–1866) moved with their parents (Table 1).

During the Revolutionary War, John Dearing was a second and then first lieutenant in the Fauquier Militia under Captain (later Major) Francis Triplett. John was promoted to captain in 1791 after the war. In 1797, he was one of the original trustees of Salem, which is now Marshall. Between 1797 and 1806, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and three family members purchased the 160,380-acre Leeds Manor, where the Dearings and other families lived, from the nephews of Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax.

In September 1805, for 480 pounds, John bought 240 acres of the late Col. Presley Thornton’s Peaked Mountain Tract in northern Culpeper County from his grandson Presley Thornton Cocke. The L-shaped farm extended 0.75 mile along the west side of Dearing Road and about the same distance west on the south side of the Jordan River. The stone house was completed in 1812. Along with the stone summer kitchen that is now a guesthouse, the Dearings built a log cabin and stone icehouse that did not survive beyond 1965. Establishing a homestead at their age in the early 1800s was a remarkable achievement. When the house was finished, Alfred was 21, and Anson was 19. John lived in the house for 10 years and passed away on December 9, 1822, at the age of 77. Nancy died six months later on June 30, 1823, at 72. Rappahannock County was created from a partition of Culpeper County in 1833.

In his will, John left the 240-acre farm and stone house to Alfred after the passing of his mother, with instructions “to stay with her during her natural life and provide for her and use kindness towards her in her declining years”. Alfred served in the War of 1812 and continued his father’s prosperity as a farmer, expanding the farm to 847 acres with three additional tracts. He married Ann Jackson (1799–1889) on April 17, 1817, but their family of 12 children suffered losses. During Alfred’s lifetime, five children died under the age of three, one passed away at 18, and one died at 20 after marrying and having a son. Ann lost three more children during her 89 years, including a son shot in a feud and a Confederate soldier who died in 1865. Only two survived her: Dr. John Jackson Dearing (1823–1905), who moved to Georgia; and Alfred Willis Dearing (1828–1916) (Table 2), who never married and bought his siblings’ interest in the farm at auction. An 1870 letter to Ann from her granddaughter Eugenia (1856–1939) in Georgia remarked “The hand of fate seems to have dealt severe blows upon the ones who composed the circle that clustered around the fireside of dear old Fountain Hill.”

Members of the Dearing and Jett families were founding members of the Thumb Run (now Primitive) Baptist Church in northwestern Fauquier County. The Flint Hill Baptist Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places along with Caledonia Farm, was established in 1854 on land conveyed by Alfred Dearing for $1 two years before he died. He and his brother Anson helped to build the church and were founding members.

The Dearing cemetery contains 11 marked graves and 15 fieldstone markers with no inscription. The graves include Alfred, his wife Ann, and five of their children. Alfred’s daughter-in-law Adelaide (1833–1919), wife of Thomas (1832–1865), and their only son Eastham (1857–1936) are also buried there. The cemetery holds two of Anson’s children. The 15 unmarked fieldstone graves may include John and Nancy Dearing as well as other children of Alfred and Anson. The gravesites of slaves on the Dearing farm are sadly unknown. John Dearing had 14 slaves on his last census in 1820. Alfred had 25 in 1840, Ann had 20 in 1860, and five more were on Alfred Willis Dearing’s census at that time. They may have lived in the log cabin that was behind and to the left side of the stone house (Figure 1).

In the middle 19th Century, crops included corn, wheat, rye, oats, Irish potatoes, and flaxseed. The farm produced hay, orchard products, butter, and flax. Livestock included cattle, sheep, and pigs; as well as 15 horses, mules, and oxen. 

Alfred Willis Dearing was a prominent businessman in the county and served on the board of the Rappahannock National Bank. He left his $500,000 estate to his nieces and nephews in 1916. Jesse J. (1888–1991) and Annie Foster (1894–1954) rented the farm in 1917 and raised four sons there. The Dearing heirs sold the vacant house and 342 acres to William E. (1900–1988) and Imogene Barker Pullen (1904–1998) in 1961. Bill Pullen, an insurance executive, was the son of a preacher in the Flint Hill United Methodist Church, where he and Imogene are buried. They undertook a major restoration, preserving the original woodwork where possible, but replacing the floorboards of the first and second floors with pine salvaged from a building in Georgetown. They added a wing behind the house with a kitchen, dining room, and bathroom; and they built a breezeway between the house and summer kitchen, which they renovated as a separate dwelling (Figures 2–6). The house had no electricity or running water before this time. They renamed it Caledonia, the Roman name for Scotland, to recognize the Scotch-Irish settlers of the region, although the ancestors of the Dearing and Jett families immigrated from England.

The Pullens subdivided their 342-acre property and sold the house with 40 acres to international radio broadcaster R. Philip Irwin Jr. (1934–2020) in 1967. He added a laundry room under the mid-1960s wing, a tractor shed behind the car shed, and modern HVAC systems. Phil operated a bed and breakfast from 1985 to 2020. He added three more parcels to his farm over his lifetime, including the Dearing family cemetery, for a total of 115 acres. The property now includes 85 acres of the Dearing farm and a 30-acre hayfield across Dearing Rd. from the stone house. The Irwin family maintains their 9,300 feet of the original stone fences, which still hold cattle today. The summer kitchen guesthouse is available as a vacation rental.

Phil Irwin founded the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection in 1970 and led conservation efforts in the Virginia piedmont for the rest of his life. In 1974, he recorded the first conservation easement in Rappahannock County and the tenth in Virginia to protect his original 40 acres from development. Similar easements followed on his subsequent three parcels and an adjacent property to the east. In 1990, a separate easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources covered the 19th Century stone buildings and cemetery. Thanks to Phil Irwin and the Dietel, Aliff, Martin, and Olson families, conservation easements now protect 137 acres (57%) of the original 240-acre Dearing farm and 554 (65%) of the maximum 847 acres (Figures 7 and 8).

Nomination of Caledonia Farm to the National Register of Historic Places (PDF)

Table 1. Children of John† and Nancy† Dearing.

Elizabeth 1772–1850 Nehemiah Dowell Smith, TN
Nancy 1774–1839 Samuel Massie Harrison, TX
Elias 1776–1826 Ann Billingsly Fauquier
Mary “Polly” 1778–1850 Daniel Barbee Wilson, TN
John Jr. 1781–1830 Polly Hailey Fauquier
Willis 1782–1822 GA
Bayless 1783–1822 Elizabeth Wickliff Lewisburg, KY
Albin J. 1784–1846 Amelia Lawrence Clarksville, TX
William Edward 1785–1853 Eliza Pasteur Savannah, GA
Asa 1785–1826 Margaret Pasteur? AL (l. Wilkes, GA)
Francis 1787–1833 Narcisa Hickerson Fleming, KY
Alfred* 1791–1856 Ann Jackson* Rappahannock
Anson 1793–1866 Nancy Tannahill Rappahannock

Table 2. Children of Alfred* and Ann* Dearing.

Mary Jane† 1818–1820 Rappahannock
Eliza Ann* 1819–1839 Samuel Rhodes Rappahannock
William Alexander 1820–1862 Jane Eastham Amherst
John Jackson 1823–1905 Indie Dearing Covington, GA
Alcinda Elizabeth† 1824–1827 Rappahannock
Phoebe Evaline† 1826–1827 Rappahannock
Alfred Willis* 1828–1916 Rappahannock
George Richard* 1830–1848 Rappahannock
Thomas Edward* 1832–1865 Adelaide Eastham* Rappahannock
James Anson* 1834–1873 Sarah Moore Rappahannock
Arthur Middleton† 1836–1837 Rappahannock
Washington Asa† 1838–1838 Rappahannock

William F. Dearing* (1818–1838), son of Anson and Nancy Dearing
Kiziah E. Dearing† (1827–1828), daughter of Anson and Nancy Dearing
Nannie E. Dearing* (1831–1902), daughter of Anson and Nancy Dearing
Eastham Dearing* (1857–1936), son of Thomas and Adelaide Dearing

*Buried in Dearing cemetery (11)
†Likely buried in Dearing cemetery (8)
Unknown graves (7)


Figure 1. Log cabin that stood behind and to the left of the stone house, date unknown. The shingle roof was similar to the summer kitchen’s earlier roof.

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Figure 2. (top left) Stone house with two-story front porch in 1935, painted white behind the first floor of the porch. (top right) House after replacement of the front porch, date unknown. (bottom) Same view in 1967 after restoration, with the wing added behind the house and dormers in the attic roof.


Figure 3. Front view in (left) 1961 before restoration and (right) 2010.


Figure 4. Rear of stone house in 1961, before restoration. The back porch was not present in 1935 and may have been built at the same time as the smaller front porch.


Figure 5. Front of summer kitchen in (left) 1935 and (right) 2022.


Figure 6. Rear of summer kitchen in (left) 1935, (right) 1961, and (bottom) 2021. A metal roof replaced the shingle roof by 1961. The remains of a stone icehouse are evident behind the summer kitchen in the 1935 and 1961 photos.

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Figure 7. Survey of Alfred Willis Dearing’s 847-acre farm showing approximate locations of conservation easements on and adjacent to the farm in red. The house is on the yellow parcel.


Figure 8. Map from figure 7 shown on U.S. Geological Survey 1:24,000 topographic map for context. The ridges are Nixon’s Arm of the Peak Mountain to the SW and Big Bastard Mountain to the NW.

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