Self-help efforts are fascinating and laudable stories. A particularly interesting one is how, in an age of de jure segregation, charitable and creative African-Americans were agents of change in their communities and were able to alleviate various economic and social problems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
James Holland or “Big Jim” Holland was a North Carolina Militiaman and politician from Anson County, North Carolina. He served in the Revolutionary War and was elected to the North Carolina State Senate (1783, 1797) and the North Carolina House of Commons (1786, 1789). He also served in the United States House of Representatives (1795-1797, 1800-1810). Later in life Holland moved to Tennessee and served as the Justice of the Peace (1812-1818). He died in Maury County, Tennessee in 1823.
James Gloster Brehon was an influential physician and scientist from Warrenton, North Carolina. Originally born in Ireland, he moved to the United States and participated in the Revolutionary War as a surgeon. One of Brehon’s great legacies was his role in the foundation of the Warrenton Academy in Warrenton, North Carolina.
A jurist and pamphleteer from North Carolina, Maurice Moore opposed the passage and implementation of the Stamp Act (1765). He was the father of Alfred Moore, a justice on the United State Supreme Court.
Many North Carolinians expressed Antifederalist sympathies and were skeptical of giving the national government more authority, especially without a Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. There might be problems with the Articles of Confederation, sure, but did Americans, many Tar Heels questioned, need to hurriedly give the national government more power?