Mt. Moriah Plantation | North Carolina | c. 1830s
Completed in 1851, this massive North Carolina Plantation house sits like a time capsule, overlooking the fields that once made one family rich.
The Philips Family
Frederick and Sally Tartt Philips married in the 1780s, and in 1798, they had a son, James Jones Philips, born in Edgecombe County, NC. Frederick was a planter, surveyor, store owner, and educator and by the 1810s, Frederick had established the Hickory Grove Academy where white male students could enroll in 5 months of reading, writing, and arithmetic education for twelve dollars.
In 1815, his son James Jones was enrolled and as Frederick remarked in a letter to his cousin, James was a fine scholar who was studying Latin that year. James was given the opportunity to finish his education in Raleigh, NC where he decided he wanted to become a physician. He left soon after for the University of Pennsylvania to study medicine. But while he was away studying, his father Frederick fell into financial hardship and decided to sell off the last person he enslaved, a carpenter called “Uncle Charles”, to pay for the balance of his son’s medical education.
Dr. James Philips: Doctor and Planter
After his studies, James returned home to North Carolina, and by 1822, he had established himself as a physician in his home county of Edgecombe. Despite his reputation as a man of incredible knowledge and skill in medicine, it was difficult in those days to sustain a family on doctors’ wages so he grew his wealth as a planter too. Over the following years, he reportedly became well-known for his progressive farming practices that embraced chemistry and focused on soil analysis.
Mt. Moriah Plantation
In 1827, Dr. Philips bought land in Edgecombe County where he would build a Masonic Lodge and start his plantation. The lodge was named Mt. Moriah and the plantation followed suit. At this time, he relocated a cabin (built in the 1810s) to the present site from a hill near Moccasin Branch where the family graveyard is. This old cabin home was incorporated into the rear portion of this home.
In 1834, he married Harriet Amanda Burt, daughter of William and Susan Burt of Nash County. James and Harriet Philips would have 5 daughters and 5 sons together all born in this home. In 1850, work began to considerably enlarge the home to accommodate this large and affluent family.
The greatest additions were to the front of the house which was completed in a Greek Revival style just in time for James and Harriet’s oldest daughter Sally’s wedding to Francis Marion Parker on December 7, 1851. No expense was spared on the home which featured marble mantels, hand-carved features throughout, and handmade iron hinges.
Slavery at Mt. Moriah
Over the next 40 years, James continued to grow his plantation, which eventually amassed 3,000 acres. But the wealth he earned was on the backs of enslaved laborers who were responsible for the production at his plantation, which was a massive operation. In the 1860 census, Dr. Philips reported that he was enslaving 80 people and that his estate was worth $157,000.
Mt. Moriah Masonic Lodge
The Mt. Moriah Masonic Lodge used to stand 100 feet north of the existing home but today, all that remains of it is a ghostly imprint in the ground from the building’s old footprint. The upper floor was used for Masonic rites and the bottom floor was a schoolhouse for white children on the plantation.
There is also a collection of outbuildings still standing on the property that served a variety of purposes over the years, one of which dates to the 1810s.
Mt. Moriah Plantation Today
The farm has remained in the family, although the land was carved up between descendants over time. to this day and they do what they can to keep it up, despite fire damage to one wing of the house from a lightning strike.