House in the Horseshoe

Written By Jessica Lee Thompson

The story of the House in the Horseshoe, and the men who fought there during an American Revolution skirmish, reveals the nature of the war in the North Carolina backcountry. One of the first “big” houses built in the frontier lands of North Carolina, the House in the Horseshoe is located near the center of today’s North Carolina. The house still has bullet holes from the fighting that took place in 1781.

Named for its location in a horseshoe shaped bend in the Deep River, near Sanford, North Carolina, the House in the Horseshoe was built in 1772 by Phillip Alston. Alston bought 4,000 acres of land and likely enlisted the work of a Scottish contractor named McFadden to oversee the construction of his home by enslaved people. A prominent political figure in the area, Alston served as a colonel in the Revolutionary war.

On July 29, 1781, Alston and his men were camping at the House in the Horseshoe when a group of Tories led by the infamous David Fanning attacked the home. During the skirmish, the Tories rolled a wagon full of burning straw against the house in an attempt to burn it down. Eventually Alston and his forces surrendered to the Tories after both sides suffered numerous casualties. Mrs. Alston negotiated the terms of her husband’s surrender to Col. Fanning.

In 1790, Alston sold the house to Thomas Perkins. Eight years later Perkins sold the 2,500-acre plantation to the future Governor of North Carolina, Benjamin Williams, who served four terms (1799-1802, 1807, and 1808). An aspiring planter, Williams accumulated 103 slaves who were managed by a paid overseer and produced up to 300 acres of cotton annually. Williams’ additions to the home (a master bedroom and a kitchen) brought the value of the home to $30,000 in 1803. Williams died at the plantation in 1814.

The Moore County Historical Association purchased the House in the Horseshoe in 1954 and the state acquired the property the following year. Named a North Carolina Historical Site in 1971, the home now hosts reenactments and craft demonstrations. In 2023, the house received a $444,926 grant from the National Park Service for preservation of the site.