Mt. Moriah Plantation | c. 1830s | North Carolina
James Jones Philips was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina in 1798 to Frederick and Sally Tartt Philips.
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 was enrolled and as Frederick remarked in a letter to his cousin, James was a fine scholar who was studying Latin that year. James would soon go to Raleigh to finish his education where he decided to become a physician.
While away studying at the University of Pennsylvania, James’ father Frederick fell on financial hardship and decided to sell off the last person he enslaved (a carpenter) to pay for the balance of his son’s medical education.
By 1822, James had established himself as a physician in his home county of Edgecombe where he grew a reputation as a man of incredible knowledge and skill in his field. In those days, it was difficult to sustain a family on doctors wages so he grew his wealth as a planter too. He became well-known for his progressive farming practices that embraced chemistry and focused on soil-analysis.
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 from nearby that had been built between 1810-14. This original home now comprises the back side of the house.
In 1834, he married Harriet Amanda Burt, daughter of William and Susan Burt of Nash County. The couple would have 5 daughters and 5 sons together and in 1850, work began to considerably enlarged the home to accommodate this large and affluent family. The greatest additions were to the front of the house which were completed in a Greek Revival style just in time for James and Harriet’s oldest daughter Sally’s wedding in December of 1851.
As James continued to grow his plantation, he eventually amassed 3,000 acres and according to the 1860 census, enslaved 80 people.
The Mt. Moriah Masonic Lodge used to stand 100 feet north of the existing home but today, all that remains of it are a ghostly imprint in the ground from the buildings old footprint. The upper floor was used for Masonic rites and the bottom floor was a schoolhouse for white children on the plantation. There are 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.
The farm has remained in the family to this day who do what they can to keep it up, despite extensive fire damage from a lightning strike.