Plantation Timeline


Prosperous Early Years…

Josiah Collins I

• Josiah Collins I, Nathaniel Allen, and Dr. Samuel Dickinson form the Lake Company; acquire more than 100,000 densely overgrown and predominantly swampy acres "surrounding and bordering upon" Lake Phelps; and begin a plan of development to turn the land into cultivated fields. The partnership remains solvent for only five years; Josiah Collins I, the principal investor, eventually becomes the sole proprietor. The property passes to three subsequent generations of his family and becomes known as Somerset Place.

• The Lake Company imports 80 native Africans specifically for the Lake Phelps project. Their African port of embarkation, ethnic background, native language, and tribal identity are still unknown. Several live to the 1840s—including Guinea Jack and his wife Fanny—and influence the foodways, cultural traditions, and spiritual beliefs of the entire enslaved community.

• The Lake Company assembles a labor force of nearly 200 men, women, and children. Some are temporary workers, others lifelong laborers. Of the temporary workers, 26 are salaried white millwrights, carpenters, coopers (barrel makers), surveyors, laborers, and overseers. The company also hires from individual owners, 34 skilled enslaved carpenters, coopers, brick layers, sawyers, a ship's caulker, shoemakers, and a man named Caesar, who specializes in removing stumps deeply embedded in the watery clay subsoil. The permanent labor force includes 48 men, women and children purchased locally and the 80 native Africans. In time, all of the blacks are linked in an extensive web of kinship.

The great barn, built 1790

• The defunct Lake Company partnership still jointly owns 98 slaves at Lake Phelps. With enough houses, mills, barns, and cultivated fields completed, white workers decrease to less than ten. A Scottish engineer named Thomas Trotter is superintendent. Dave Trotter, an enslaved man owned and later emancipated by the superintendent, helps him. Dave's children are left behind at Somerset Place when he leaves.

Josiah Collins, Jr.

• Josiah Collins I is finally able to purchase his partner's shares of the Lake Company property from their heirs. He lives in Edenton along with his son, Josiah Collins Jr., and his family. Somerset Place remains a profitable business investment.

• Josiah Collins I dies in 1819. He wills the land and slaves at Somerset to Josiah Jr. for his lifetime, after which it passes to his grandchildren: Ann Rebecca, Mary Matilda, Josiah III, Henrietta, Hugh, John, Louisa, and Elizabeth Aletha.