Commentary

Constitution Day: Tar Heels Take Center Stage in Famous Painting

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine delegates signed the U.S. Constitution and then submitted it to the various state ratification conventions to approve. What was accomplished on that day was nothing less than remarkable: delegates had agreed on the final draft of the first written national constitution that still remains in effect. Today is Constitution Day, and we as Americans remember the signers’ actions and the document’s importance to ensuring the rule of law, even in our modern world.

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Wynns, Thomas (1760-1825)

Thomas Wynns was a politician and general from Hertford County, North Carolina. He served in the North Carolina House of Commons, the North Carolina Senate, and in the United States House of Representatives. He was also commissioned as a major general in the North Carolina militia.

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Collins, Josiah Sr. (1735-1819)

Josiah Collins, Sr. (1735-1819) was a prominent businessman, merchant, plantation owner, and land speculator from Edenton, North Carolina. Collins was a well-respected member of the Edenton community, and he engaged in global trade, rope making, land development, and farming. He built and operated Somerset Place on Lake Phelps, which became one of the largest plantations in North Carolina and the upper South.

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Dismal Swamp Cannal

The Dismal Swamp Canal, originally chartered in 1790, connects the Albemarle Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. Opened in 1805, the Dismal Swamp Canal created a passage between northeastern North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia. By the mid-1820s, the Dismal Swamp Canal was widened and deepened enough for reliable commercial traffic. As a result, international trade shifted from Albemarle Sound towns, like Edenton, to Norfolk, Virginia.  Today the Dismal Swamp Canal is primarily used for recreational boating.

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Lake Company

The Lake Company was created in 1784 by Josiah Collins, Sr., Nathaniel Allen, and Dr. Samuel Dickenson to acquire and develop land around Lake Phelps.  The Lake Company was a successful agricultural business and built canals around Lake Phelps. After a long legal battle, Collins bought his partners’ shares in the company, and turned the Lake Company into “Somerset Place” Plantation.

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Somerset Place Plantation

Somerset Place is plantation located on the land around Lake Phelps in present-day Washington County, North Carolina. Originally part of the Lake Company’s holdings that spanned over 100,000 acres in Washington and Tyrrell Counties, the area became Somerset Place in 1816 when Josiah Collins, Sr. became sole owner of the Lake Company.  Under Collins’s grandson, Josiah Collins III, Somerset Place became one of the largest plantations in the South.  Today it is a North Carolina State Historic Site.

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Collins II, Josiah (1763-1839)

Josiah Collins II was the son of the prominent merchant Josiah Collins, Sr. He became manager and eventually the owner of the Collins Ropewalk in Edenton. Under his management, the Edenton Ropewalk became one of the most prosperous rope manufacturing sites in North America.  When his father died in 1819, Josiah II became the temporary owner and manager of Somerset Plantation until his son Josiah III came of age.  Josiah II was also important in the organization of North Carolina’s Episcopal Diocese in 1817.