The Camerons

Duncan Cameron

December 15, 1777 – January 3, 1853 

Duncan CameronIn 1777, Duncan Cameron was born into a well-connected family in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. His father, the Reverend John Cameron, immigrated to America from Scotland in 1770. In 1773, the Reverend married Anne Owen Nash, the daughter of an attorney of the king, whose family was already well-established in Southside Virginia. The Reverend Cameron augmented his clergyman’s salary by running a succession of well-respected academies.

By 1799, Duncan Cameron had established himself as a lawyer in Hillsborough, North Carolina. It was here that be most likely met Rebecca Bennehan through family connections. They married in 1803.

Endowed with the same business acumen as his father-in-law, a legal background, and ambition, Cameron soon acquired a fortune and gained the professional preeminence that brought him a judgeship in the Superior Court and the presidency of the State Bank. He invested heavily in land and slaves in the same areas as Richard Bennehan, and later in life bought stock in banks.

Duncan Cameron died in 1853. Four children survived him: his sons Paul and Thomas, and his daughters, Margaret and Mildred. Paul Cameron became the sole heir of his father and uncle’s large estates.

The Bennehan – Cameron Connection

In 1803, Duncan Cameron married Rebecca Bennehan (September 28, 1778-November 6, 1843), the only daughter of Richard and Mary Amis Bennehan. The couple lived in Hillsborough until 1807, when they moved to Stagville. At about that time, all of the Cameron’s lands and enslaved community were combined with the Bennehans. This huge plantation complex was run as a partnership.

In addition to running the combined plantations, the Bennehans and Camerons also ran the Stagville store, a mercantile business in Wake County known as the “Fish Dam Store,” a mill and store in Person County, and mills along the Eno River. These large-scale operations yielded significant profits for all involved.

The Camerons had two children when they moved to Stagville. While living at the Bennehan House, their third child Paul was born in the small first floor bedchamber. They had a total of eight children, six girls and two boys.  Paul’s only brother, Thomas, was described as suffering from a “physical weakness” as well as learning disabilities. Four of his sisters died of tuberculosis between 1839 and 1842.

Little is known of Rebecca Bennehan Cameron other than what survives through letters written to her family. However, it appears that like her mother, Rebecca felt a terrible sense of loneliness and isolation. On a plantation of many thousands of acres and miles from the nearest town, she was often left in charge of plantation operations for months while her husband busily tended to his successful law career elsewhere. The poor health of her children also left her filled with sadness.

In 1810, the Camerons began building a new home on a 300-acre tract given to them by Rebecca’s father, Richard Bennehan, located one mile south of Stagville. This plantation was known as Fairntosh.

Paul Cameron

September 25, 1808 – January 6, 1891

In a letter dated September 25, 1868, Paul Cameron wrote to one of his sisters, “This day 60 years ago in the little back room at the Stagville housePaul Cameron about 5 o’clock in the morning I was born.” Of Rebecca and Duncan’s eight children, Paul was the only one actively engaged in the operation of the plantation. Paul’s interest in agricultural practices (an area of interest he shared with his father-in-law, Thomas Ruffin), and personal involvement with the day-to-day operations of the plantation, ensured the continued success of the immense plantation complex.

Paul Cameron married Anne Ruffin in 1832. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Ruffin, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and friend of his grandfather, Richard Bennehan. They had twelve children. Paul Cameron inherited the estate of his uncle Thomas Bennehan in 1847. He later added plantations in Alabama and Mississippi to his already extensive holdings.

In addition to tending to plantation operations, Paul was a State Senator from 1856-1857. During this time, he was involved with the committee on banks and currency. He unsuccessfully ran for re-election in 1858. At the onset of the Civil War, Paul Cameron was considered the wealthiest man in North Carolina. He and his family listed their combined holdings to include over 900 slaves and some 30,000 acres of land.

In 1891, Paul Cameron died of pneumonia. After his death, the plantation complex came to an end. His estate was divided among his seven living children, and the offspring of two predeceased children. Only Stagville and Fairntosh plantation continued to be operated by his son, Bennehan Cameron.

Bennehan Cameron

September 9, 1854 – June 1, 1925

Like his father, Bennehan Cameron studied law and was admitted to the Bar. Unlike Paul, however, Bennehan was extremely restless, finding it hard to concentrate on any one endeavor long enough to make it successful.

In the late 1880s, Paul Cameron turned Stagville over to Bennehan to run, hoping that the responsibility would settle his son. Bennehan turned to stock farming, rather than raising crops. He raised dairy cattle, goats, hogs, and race horses.

During this period, Bennehan lived in the original home at Stagville. He had the cistern built behind the Bennehan Home, where it is still visible today. He also saw to it that the furniture which once filled the home and which had apparently been put in storage was returned to the house. A niece wrote, “He likes to have things as near as possible like they used to be.” Bennehan moved to Fairntosh in 1887 after his older brother Duncan died.

Bennehan lived a  much more public life than did his father. He was an ardent supporter of good roads, and served on many boards and commissions for the cause. He also served two terms as a Representative in the North Carolina Legislature (1914 and 1916), and one term as State Senator in 1918.

After his father’s death, Bennehan Cameron married Sally Taliaferro Mayo of Richmond, Virginia in 1891. They had four children; their only son died as a child. On June 1, 1925, Bennehan died of pneumonia.

In 1947, his two daughters divided the estate. Isabel Cameron Van Lennep took Stagville, and her sister Sally Cameron Labouisse took Fairntosh. In 1950, the Van Lenneps sold Stagville to A.P. and Kathryn Brown, who sold it to William A. and Jessie Blount in 1954. Later that year, Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company bought Stagville and farmed the land for more than thirty years. The Labouisses sold Fairntosh in 1972; it changed hands again in 1984.