Somerset Place

The Division of North Carolina State Historic Sites is committed to sharing the stories of members of traditionally marginalized communities whose lives have intersected with our historic sites. We launched the #TrueInclusion initiative to highlight the broad interpretive work already happening at our sites and emphasize our continued goal of sharing an inclusive narrative from the mountains to the coast.

Somerset Place State Historic Site - Dave Phelps (b. 1812)

Dave

Dave Phelps (b. 1812) was documented as living in the second two-story slave dwelling at Somerset Place in 1843. Two years later, Dave married widow Dinah Baum and they started a family of their own.  

Tragically, each of their three children passed away at or before the age of 2. The heartbreak of losing young children was all-too familiar to the enslaved families at Somerset Place. Between 1839 and 1862, the chapel register recorded the deaths of 144 children under 9 years old. 

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Kora player Teli Shabu at Somerset Place

Born in Liberia, West Africa, Teli is the Musical Director and lead percussionist for The Magic of African Rhythm. He teaches drum class for adults and youth throughout North Carolina. He has traveled the U.S. and West Africa studying percussions and kora with masters. Awarded Best Original Music 2012 for his work on The Brothers Size at Manbites Dog Theater by Indy Weekly Magazine, his kora playing was recorded for the score of I Love My Hair On Good Days Then Again When it’s Defiant and Impressive in March of the same year. Teli was most recently was featured on Kim Arrington’s sophomore album Getting II Yes.

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Abagail Cabarrus Blount (1815 – 1880s)

Abagail Cabarrus Blount

Abagail was one of three children born to Tiney Cabarrus (2nd  ), but she and her siblings were orphaned at a young age when their mother passed away in 1829. Enslaved persons who lost or were forcibly separated from their parents usually lived with other relatives at Somerset Place, so Abagail and her brother Ben were residents of the same dwelling in 1843. 
By that time, Abagail had married Dick Blount (1809 – 1863), the enslaved personal servant to Josiah Collins III. Together, Abagail and Dick had at least four children. But the mortality rate was very high for children born into slavery on the plantation, and Abagail’s family was no exception. She lost two of her sons by 1853. 
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Abagail and Dick’s family was forcibly taken to Hurry Scurry in Franklin County. They were one of just six enslaved families to remain intact while there (3rd  ). However, Dick became ill and passed away in 1863. Abagail suffered further loss when her sister and brother-in-law passed away that same year, leaving Abagail all by herself to care for their two children alongside her own. 
In the face of these tragedies, Abagail guided her family through the Civil War and emancipation. The five of them returned to Somerset Place in 1865 as freepersons. By the time of the 1880 census, 70-year-old Abigail was recorded as living and working in the home of a white farmer, where she labored as his house servant. She passed away sometime thereafter.

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Wellington Roberts

Wellington Roberts

As a part of Somerset Place State Historic Site's  #TrueInclusion campaign, we would like to share more information about Wellington Roberts (1815-1866). Wellington was born in Edenton in 1815 and arrived at Somerset Place about 15 years later with Josiah III and Mary Collins. He served as their personal coachman and drove the Collins’ large barouche, or family carriage. On July 8, 1841, Wellington married Maria, a granddaughter of Suckey Davis. Together they eventually had seven children. 

Wellington's position meant that the Roberts family was at the top of the enslaved community’s social hierarchy, as determined by the Collins family. This is why they were recorded in 1843 as living by themselves in one of the first-floor houses of the third two-story slave dwelling when usually more than one family unit occupied each home. As a result of his social status, Wellington also wore high-quality, fancy clothing, including a top hat with a large plume on the side, and he once received a Christmas pass to visit family in Edenton. 

However, Wellington was often away from his family for long periods of time because the Collinses traveled frequently. This continued during the Civil War when he accompanied the Collins family to Hillsborough while Maria and their five surviving children were sent to Franklin County. Tragically, Maria passed away in 1863. When Mary Collins could no longer afford the luxury of a coachmen, she hired out Wellington as a teamster to the Confederate Army for the following two years.

After emancipation, Wellington and his children returned to Somerset Place where he continued to work as the family driver until his death on October 16, 1866. Due to their closer association with the Collins family, the Roberts were communicants of the Episcopal Church both before and after emancipation. Wellington's son Theodore and other members of his immediate family were founding members of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Edenton in the late 19th century. Additionally, like other formerly enslaved people, Wellington’s family quickly took advantage of educational opportunities previously denied to them under slavery. Two of his grandchildren were enrolled in school by 1870, and later generations became public school teachers. 

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Urious

In the next installment, we wanted to share more information about Urious (b. 1825). Urious was sent from Edenton to Somerset Place in 1839 when Henrietta Collins hired him out to her brother Josiah III. The practice of hiring out enslaved people was a common way that enslavers derived additional income from the stolen labor of enslaved persons, and Josiah III leased many enslaved people from his siblings to work at Somerset Place. 
Within a few years of his arrival on the plantation, Urious was documented as living in one of the houses in the third two-story slave dwelling. He was forced to labor as a cobbler (2nd), so he likely worked in the Shoemaker’s Shop. Most enslaved persons were rationed one pair of shoes per year, all of which were manufactured on the plantation by cobblers like Urious.  
In spite of his forced relocation and the plantation’s brutal working conditions, which for Urious was likely sunup to sundown 6 days per week, he was able to carve out a life for himself. He married Scylla Blount (b. 1822) in the Lake Chapel on February 12, 1848. Together, the couple had four children. 
Urious and his family last appeared on an 1849/1850 list of enslaved people that Henrietta hired out to Josiah III, but their names were crossed off without explanation (3rd ). Their fate is unknown.

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Zilpha

Zilpha

Zilpha (b. 1813 – d. after 1900). Like most enslaved women at Somerset Place, Zilpha was likely a field hand, forced to work sunup-to-sundown, primarily six days per week, for an average of 13 hours each day. 
Her day usually began between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m., when the overseer blew his horn. Zilpha woke up her family, cooked a light breakfast, and ensured everyone reached their assigned work environments by sunrise. Although her tasks varied depending on the season, her labor was backbreaking and brutal. By the time she returned to her house and family after sunset, her day was still not over: she prepared an evening meal, tended to her garden plot, and cleaned her home. 
In 1843, Zilpha shared a home with her husband Melvin and five members of his family (3rd). Together, Zilpha and Melvin had one son. Yet Zilpha’s life was turned upside down when Melvin was sold in 1847 after he attempted to escape to freedom. Melvin was just one of many daring freedom seekers who tried unsuccessfully to break the chains of bondage, risking everything in the process. For Zilpha, she was now forever separated from her husband and had to raise their son alone. 
Zilpha later gave birth to a second son and remarried to a man who was enslaved on the neighboring Pettigrew plantations. She lived to see emancipation after the Civil War and was last documented on the 1900 Census.

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Sally Collins

Sally Collins

In the next installment of our #TrueInclusion campaign, we wanted to share more information about Sally Collins (1771-1850). She was born around 1771 in West Africa, and 15 years later she and 79 other native Africans were forcibly brought to the plantation directly from their homeland. We don’t know the name of Sally’s African country and/or village. We also don’t know the nature of her life and status in Africa, her ancestry, or culture. Whether she was kidnapped from her village by white slave traders or brought to them and sold by other Africans is also unknown. How she fared physically and emotionally during the plantation’s start-up period, which encompassed brutal working conditions to dig a canal, clear the swamps, plant sufficient food, and build adequate housing, will never be known. 
All that can be gleaned from the historical record is that Sally was one the few native Africans who survived the plantation’s early years. She began a partnership with another native African named Kofi, which translates to “born on Friday” in the Akan languages of West Africa. Kofi was born around 1760, and together the couple had at least five children. However, Kofi is presumed to have died before 1819, and by 1843 only one of their children was still living, a daughter named Betty who lived in a separate household from her mother. 
In 1843, 72-year-old matriarch Sally was recorded as living in the 13th slave dwelling alongside her 12-year-old granddaughter Edy and four other enslaved persons. Edy’s mother Neisa, whose name means sixth-born child, had passed away only a few years prior. Sally suffered further tragedy when everyone she lived with was inherited by Louisa Collins Harrison and forcibly relocated to Alabama later in 1843. We don’t know if Sally continued living in the 13th slave home or moved into another household, but she remained at Somerset Place as one of the last surviving native Africans until her death in February 1850. 
In the face of unspeakable horror, tragedy, and loss, Sally’s life embodies the resiliency, strength, and determination of the enslaved community at Somerset Place.

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - Sam “Hostler” (b. 1789).

Sam "Hostler" Somerset place

In the next installment of our #TrueInclusion campaign, we wanted to share more information about Sam “Hostler” (b. 1789). He was the son of an enslaved woman named Grace, but their surnames were not recorded. Instead, Sam was usually listed on slave inventories with the second name “Hostler,” meaning someone who takes care of horses and mules. 
Hostlering was a labor-intensive job, and like the rest of the enslaved pasture staff, Sam worked 7 days a week, 365 days a year. He fed, watered, exercised, and groomed the animals; he cleaned their stalls in the stables; and he put them out to pasture. Sam maintained equipment like saddles, reins, and bits, which he prepared each time someone needed to ride or drive the animals. He also may have helped maintain the accompanying wagons, carts, and carriages, although enslaved blacksmiths and waggoneers usually performed more complicated repairs. Enslaved hostlers like Sam sometimes accompanied their enslavers if they traveled by horseback. 
Sam was also a husband and a father. In 1843, he lived in the 18th slave dwelling with his 50-year-old wife Tamar and six of their children: 30-year-old Lank, 24-year-old Stephen, 22-year-old Ruth, 17-year-old Noah, 7-year-old Ashbury, and 4-year-old Joanna. Sam and Tamar also had two other children who were not living with them at the time. 
However, in that same year, Sam and the rest of his household were inherited by Louisa Collins Harrison. All were forced to leave Somerset Place and embark on a 51-day journey to Louisa’s new plantation in Alabama. Of the 35 enslaved households documented at Somerset Place in 1843, only two were entirely relocated to Alabama. Sam and Tamar’s family were one of them.

Image : An African American man holding the rein of a horse in 1863. Photo from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 

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Somerset Place State Historic Site - August Anne “Gustanna” Collins

August Anne “Gustanna” Collins

Newly freed women created new lives and left an indelible mark on their communities after emancipation. August Anne “Gustanna” Collins was born into slavery around 1846 at Somerset Place. She was emancipated in June 1865 and soon after married James Lemit Cabarrus, who was also once enslaved at Somerset. They lived and worked on Weston Farm for Arthur Collins and started a family there.  
Around 1878, they moved to the community of Cherry and sometime after acquired land in the newly-established town of Creswell. Both of these communities became havens for freedpersons from Somerset. The section of Creswell where they owned land in was affectionately known by locals as “Gusstown” in reference to Gustanna. 

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