On June 10, 1786, the brig Camden arrived in Edenton, importing 80 Negroes from West Africa. The slaves were brought to North Carolina by a group known as the Lake Company – a venture founded to promote rice cultivation on the edge of Lake Phelps in what is now Washington County. At the time, importation of slaves was still legal.
Formed by three prominent men from Edenton, the Lake Company sought to use slave labor to dig a canal from the lake to the upper reaches of the Scuppernong River, thus accessing the Albemarle Sound. Eventually, Josiah Collins would be the sole owner of the Lake Company. He renamed the plantation Somerset Place.
The Lake Company slaves completed the canal, which was six miles long, 20 feet wide and between four and six feet deep, in 1788. The swampland was transformed into prosperous plantation. By the 1790 census, Collins owned 113 slaves.
Today Somerset Place is a state historic site.
Check out Somerset’s website for more on the enslaved community that lived at the plantation, including a list of some members of the enslaved population.
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