It was the largest and among the oldest plantations in North Carolina. Located north of Durham along the Old Indian Trading Path, Stagville Plantation was created in 1776 by Richard Bennehan. The original 1,216 acres of land was purchased from the Stagg family, thus the name Stagville. The first home on this land was built in 1787 and was a very modest 400 square feet. However, Richard Bennehand became successful very quickly and in 1799, he built a substantial addition to the home resulting in the Georgian-style home we see today. Bennehan also had significant community ties, serving on the planning committee for the City of Raleigh and being an instrumental founder and trustee of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the time of his death in 1825, the Bennehan properties had grown to include multiple plantations and trading posts around the state.
At this point the properties were transferred to his son, Thomas. However, Thomas never married and when he died in 1847, the estate was shifted to Paul Cameron, Thomas’ nephew. Paul, son of Rebecca and Duncan Cameron, spent most of his childhood helping his Uncle Thomas on the plantation and was very adept. Under the ownership of Thomas and Paul, the plantation reached its peak by the start of the Civil War in 1861 with 30,000 acres and over 900 slaves. After Paul’s death in 1891, the families holdings were divided between the family members, however Stagville remained family owned until 1950. It was later sold to Ligget-Myers who owned and farmed the land for over 30 years before donating the land to the state.
One of the most important locations on this historic site is Horton’s Grove. This is the location of four remaining slave quarters and the “Great Barn” which, in 1860, was thought to be largest agricultural building in the state. Horton’s Grove was named for the original landowners, the Horton family. Their pre-revolutionary war home is still onsite and is thought to be among the oldest original homes in North Carolina. When driving up the dirt road to Horton’s Grove, the first buildings that meet your eyes are a group of four fairly identical homes. These buildings are just a few of Stagville’s slave quarters. When touring the homes, it shows the disparity between the plantation home and these living quarters. Although the raised wooden floors, brick insulated walls, and brick fireplaces were significant upgrades from the dirt floors and rickety log structures most slaves lived in, it is hard to imagine a high quality of life for these residents. The fingerprints and handprints of the slaves who constructed the chimney in the first building are still evident on some of the chimney bricks, an emotionally moving sight. These vivid reminders of inhumanity, captured in the bricks for centuries to come, serve as a memorial of our country’s past.
The Hart House is the white house at Horton Grove. At one time, it was a part of the slave quarters for the plantation, hence the similar design to the other three buildings at Horton Grove. The Harts were freed slaves after the emancipation. Initially sharecroppers, they rented the house from the Camerons, but due to the Hart family’s blacksmith skills, they were able to gain prosperity more quickly than most sharecroppers. Eventually, The Harts were able to purchase the house from the Camerons and make the renovations that are seen today.