The Rochelle Family - the family most connected with the Rochelle House - dates from an early period in Virginia's history. The first Rochelle appeared on a tax list for Surry County in 1668 - Ralph Rochelle. It has been written that the Rochelle family here under discussion came to Virginia in the large Huguenot immigration in the 1680's. However, records of the Huguenots and their settlement at Manakin do not bear this out. Ralph Rochelle was the attorney for William Rookins, a lieutenant of Nathaniel Bacon in his famous rebellion. It was Mr. Rookins who led the attack on Arthur Allen's home, now known as Bacon's Castle. Ralph Rochelle's son, George, was also a resident of Surry County. George's son, John Rochelle I, resided in Sussex County and his son, John, lived in Southampton County where his will was recorded in 1794. The second John Rochelle's son was James(1786-1835) who served as the clerk of the Southampton County Court for twenty years and who most probably built the major portion of the Rochelle House as it stands today.
James Rochelle owned several lots in the town of Jerusalem (now known as Courtland) in the period 1812-1820. His close friend, Dr. Henry Gray, owned lots 14 and 15 with which we are most concerned as they became the site for the Rochelle House. Lot 14 was in the possession of Dr. Gray by 1814 and lot 15 he was paying taxes on by 1814. Dr. Gray had his house on these lots. An insurance policy, issued in 1817, shows this house as being two stories high, built of wood and measuring 20 by 28 feet. This particular insurance policy shows James Rochelle as guardian for the child of Dr. Henry M. Gray, deceased. At this time, Dr. Gray's widow was living in the house. In Dr. Gray's will, dated May 11, 1814 he names his good friend James Rochelle as co-guardian for his infant son as well as executor of his estate since he 'was better aquainted with my affairs".
In April, 1817, James Rochelle married Dr. Gray's widow, Martha Hines Gray. The tax records of 1820 show the house being valued at $770. In 1821, James Rochelle purchased the two lots, 14 and 15, from Dr. Gray's heirs and from that time until the 1880's the house remained in the Rochelle family.
James Rochelle was a prominent citizen of Southampton County. He carried an extensive correspondence with John Y. Mason, Albert Gallatin, James Trezevant, and Richard C. Parker. His nephew, George Thomas, later to be a Union General, "The Rock of Chickamauga", read law in James Rochelle's office. According to the tax records, he doubled the value of the buildings on his lots 14 and 15 in the period between 1826 and 1827, which resulted from either the rebuilding or substantial additions to Dr. Gray's building. It was shortly before this that his son, James Henry Rochelle, destined for fame as a Naval officer, was born in the Rochelle House.
James Rochelle was clerk of the Southampton County Court during the famous trial of Nat Turner and his followers. His signature appears on a number of the court orders for that trial. James Rochelle died at his home in Jerusalem in 1835 with his will including a special provision for his sons to have a good education.
Mattie Rochelle, daughter of James and Martha Rochelle, married John Tyler, Jr., son of President Tyler. they lived in the Rochelle House for a number of years with their children: hence for some twenty years a son and a grandson of a United States President lived in the Rochelle House.
James Henry Rochelle attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis and was graduated in 1848. He then served with Commodore Perry in Japan. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, he resigned his commission in the United States Navy, serving first as a leutenant and eventually as a commander, beginning with service on the Patrick Henry during the famous sea battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac in Hampton Roads.
Following the Civil War, James Henry Rochelle joined his long-time commander and friend Admiral John Randolph Tucker in surveying the upper reaches of the Amazon river for the Peruvian Navy. Before his death, James Henry rochelle wrote a biography of Admiral Tucker whom he admired greatly, as well as several articles on his naval service with the Confederacy.
The Rochelle family continued to play a prominent role in Southampton County. Mattie Rochelle Tyler's daughter, Mattie Tyler, served for many years as postmistress and is said to have been instrumental in changing the name of the county seat from Jerusalem to Courtland. Another daughter of John Tyler, Jr. and Mattie Rochelle was Letitia for whome her uncle James Henry named an island in the Amazon during his hydrographic trip. She married General William B. Shands.
The Rochelle House today is owned by the Southampton County Historical Society through the generosity of the late Ann Louisa Prince. Although a wing at the rear of the house has been removed, the simple white framed house has changed little since it housed one of Southampton County's more prominent 19th century families.
James Henry Rochelle died at his home and is buried in the near-by churchyard of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Courtland. This is on the toumbstone: