House in the Horseshoe, Moore County, N.C. Image courtesy of the N.C. Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
Philip Alston, the original owner of the House in the Horseshoe, led a life surrounded by controversy and later mystery. Alston’s attempts at political advancement plunged him into a bitter rivalry that marred his reputation.
Although born to wealthy parents, John and Elizabeth Chancy Alston of Halifax County, Philip did not receive a large inheritance. Alston’s wealth increased considerably after he married Temperance Smith, who owned a large tract of land near the Roanoke River.
In 1772, Alston and his wife moved to Moore County, after purchasing a large plot of land on either side of the bend of the Deep River. In 1777, Alston’s plantation included 6,936 acres. Alston served as lieutenant colonel to a local Whig militia before the General Assembly promoted him to full colonel during the American Revolution.
On July 29, 1781, Alston’s unit was camped at his plantation when Colonel David Fanning and his band of Loyalist attacked the Whigs. Alston finally surrendered to Fanning after both sides suffered multiple casualties and his home almost burned down. Alston was later held captive as a prisoner of war by Loyalist troops during a skirmish in Briar Creek, Georgia but was released before the war’s end.
Alston pursued politics after the Revolutionary War ended. First serving as a Justice at the Court of Pleas and Quarters Session, Alston later became the Moore County clerk of court. Alston then was elected to the State Senate, where his career troubles began. Accused of murdering Loyalist Thomas Taylor during the Revolutionary War, Alston was eventually pardoned by Governor Richard Caswell. However, political rivals of Alston refused to ignore the murder allegations.
George Glascock, the newly elected Moore County clerk of court, joined Henry Lightfoot, the county solicitor, and John Cox, member of the House of Commons, in contesting Alston’s election. These men opposed Alston for various reasons ranging from his alleged murder of Taylor to his disbelief in God. Additionally, Glascock testified that Alston had claimed that he would instigate a riot if he lost the Senate race to Lightfoot. The political maneuvering worked, and Moore County was required to elect another Senator. Alston then accepted a job as a justice of the peace, but Glascock had him removed from that seat as well. But Glascock would not interfere with Alston’s political career much longer.
In August 1787, Alston hosted a party at the House in the Horseshoe and was sure to stay close to his guest throughout the night. The party proved to be an excellent alibi—that night, one of Alston’s slaves named “Dave” murdered George Glascock. Alston bailed Dave out before the trial, and Dave later fled.
Alston sold the House in the Horseshoe in 1790. Then in 1791, after fleeing a Wilmington jail, Alston was shot from his bedroom window of his Georgia hideout. Some speculate that Alston’s former slave, Dave, murdered him.
North Carolina Historic Sites, “House in the Horseshoe: Overview” http://www.nchistoricsites.org/horsesho/main.htm (accessed May 12, 2010); North Carolina Historic Sites, “House in the Horseshoe: Philip Alston” http://www.nchistoricsites.org/horsesho/main.htm (accessed May 12, 2010).
By Jessica Lee Thompson, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Revolution Era, Early America, Colonial North Carolina