Josiah Collins Acquires Somerset Place Assemblage, 1784

The Collins House at Somerset Place in 1970. Image from the  State Historic Preservation Office.On November 25, 1784, Josiah Collins, a wealthy merchant and shipper from Edenton, entered into a verbal partnership with Dr. Samuel Dickinson and Nathaniel Allen to acquire a large body of land “surrounding and bordering upon” Lake Phelps.

The partnership, known as the Lake Company, agreed to cut a canal from the Scuppernong River to Lake Phelps to drain the land and farm rice and other staples on it. Collins eventually bought his two partner’s shares and renamed the property Somerset Place, after the county in England where he was born.

Somerset remained in the Collins family for three generations, and by 1865, Somerset Place was one of the upper South’s largest plantations. Over the life of the plantation, dozens of white employees, two free black employees and more than 850 enslaved people lived and worked the land, and by the outbreak of the Civil War, the complex featured more than 50 buildings, including a hospital and an Episcopal chapel.

Somerset Place became a state historic site in 1969, and set a national example for interpreting the stories of the enslaved community under the leadership of site manager Dorothy Spruill Redford in the 1980s.

Visit: Somerset Place in Creswell is open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday

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