Somerset Place is a North Carolina State Historic Site in the small town of Creswell, not far from Edenton. From 1785-1865, Somerset Place was a prosperous and active plantation producing rice, corn, and wheat. It encompassed over 100,000 acres. Somerset Place offers a comprehensive social history of the family life of the plantation’s residents including the planter family, overseers, freedmen, and enslaved. There were only three plantations in North Carolina that worked more than 400 slaves; Somerset Place was one of them. Eighty of the slaves were brought from West Africa in 1786, with knowledge of rice cultivation. Slaves on this plantation dug irrigation and transportation canals, built a sawmill, gristmills, barns, stables, work buildings, dwelling places, and cultivated the rich fields.
This plantation was a business investment of three men for more than 40 years. In 1830, the property, on the shore of a large lake, was inherited by one of their grandsons who lived there with his wife and six sons. When the Civil War ended in 1865, so did slavery in the United States. Without unpaid labor, the plantation systems that characterized the antebellum South, could not be maintained.
While many historical sites consist of information boards and a replica of a building, this plantation has a lot of actual things to see and learn about.
The 6,809 square-foot family home was a luxury of space and privacy that was uncommon for the average North Carolinian. A large number of household service buildings standing include a dairy (1840), kitchen/laundry (1808), and the nearby rations building (1830) where barrels of molasses, rum, blocks of sugar, and other bulk items were stored. A smokehouse (1830) large enough to hang 400 hams and pork shoulders, the salting house where the meat was preserved, and a boarding school (1840). The boarding school is now the visitor center, but when the six sons were old enough, they were moved out of the parents’ home into the school to live with their tutor, the plantation minister, and 25 Plott hounds. Several of the slave quarters are preserved.
The plantation also had four homes for extended families. Two have been reconstructed, as well as the plantation hospital, stocks, and the overseers’ home. There are archaeological remains of the jail, the Episcopal Chapel, the outside hearth, enslaved kitchen, and above-ground cistern, as well as the wood house.
Somerset Place offers age-appropriate tours and hands-on activities for schools as well as guided or self-guided tours, all of which are free. I recommend it if you are in eastern NC, near Creswell, and interested in American history.