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 Halifax County, North Carolina


ASSOCIATED LINK(s): Caledonia; now is Caledonia Prison Farm
ORIGINAL OWNER: Samuel Johnston (1733-1816);  son James Cathcart Johnston (1782-1865)
BUILT: ca 1713

Caledonia, located just south of the Roanoke River in Halifax County, North Carolina, has undergone many changes in its 300 year history. Starting in the early 18th century, Caledonia was settled by early immigrants to North Carolina. It later became part of the large system of plantations owned by the Johnston family, where various crops were grown through the efforts of hundreds of enslaved people. That tradition of agricultural cultivation continued into the 20th century when Caledonia became North Carolina's largest prison farm, a title that it still holds today. The name Caledonia predated the plantation itself. Starting in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, a small stream of settlers began acquiring plots of land south of the Roanoke River in what later became Halifax County. Many of these settlers were Scottish, arriving either directly from their home country or, more commonly, from Virginia. One of those early settlers named the area Caledonia after the Latin word for Scotland. The first recorded mention of Caledonia came in 1712 when William Maule was granted "six hundred and forty acres on the South side of Moratock (now Roanoke) River" at a place called "Calladonia [sic]."Over the next few years William Maule, William Cathcart, and others acquired thousands of acres in a small region on the southern banks of the Roanoke River they continued to call Caledonia. The first step in turning this loose assortment of lands into a plantation came when William Cathcart married his neighbor Penelope, the daughter of William Maule. He thus acquired much of the land belonging to his new father-in-law. This sort of advantageous marriage was repeated a generation later when William and Penelope's daughter, Frances Cathcart, married Samuel Johnston, a politician and lawyer from one of North Carolina's most prominent families. Upon their marriage in 1770, Samuel and Frances Johnston were given "one half or moiety of all that tract or parcel of land known and distinguished by the name of Caladonia [sic] lying on the South side of Roanoke river in Halifax County containing by estimation three thousand acres." This formed the nucleus of Caledonia Plantation which the Johnston family would own and expand for almost a century afterward. An immensely wealthy and successful planter, Samuel Johnston successfully managed Caledonia and his other plantations, but they were always secondary to his prominent political career. Still, when Samuel Johnston died in 1816, he had increased the size of Caledonia significantly. His son, James Cathcart Johnston, inherited thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves when his father died. James Cathcart Johnston dedicated himself to managing the plantations he inherited, and by 1860 had increased the size of Caledonia to 7834 acres of land, worked by 271 slaves. A life-long bachelor, J.C. Johnston had no children and often disagreed significantly with members of his extended family. Yet upon his death in 1865, it came as a surprise when he left all of his holdings not to family, but to friends and employees. Caledonia, the largest of his plantations, was willed to its overseer, Henry Futrell.
In the year of combined ownership and management before his death late in 1866, Futrell and the newly freed slaves struggled to work out a compromise to keep the productive fields from lying fallow, balancing their desires for freedom with economic and political reality. The two sides eventually came together in an agreement brokered by the newly-established Freedmen's Bureau. The former slaves of Caledonia agreed "to do and perform all sorts of labor, such as is usual and necessary to be performed" in exchange for rudimentary shelter, rations, and nominal pay. This document was meant to serve as a contract for the year 1866. The eighty four men who signed this document, along with their families, worked the land for at least that year and probably for many more afterward. After Henry Futrell's death his family continued to own the land and cultivated part of it with the aid of sharecroppers who had previously worked the land in bondage. By the late nineteenth century, the four surviving children of Henry Futrell were frustrated with the high price of producing a crop in a South without enslaved labor. But, even without the labor that had made the plantation such a profitable venture, the land still held the potential for profit. By 1891, 7290 acres of the almost 8,000 amassed at Caledonia remained. The next phase in Caledonia's existence marked a transformation profound as that from slavery to sharecropping and proved its continued agricultural viability.
In January 1892 the board of directors of the State Penitentiary reached an agreement to lease Caledonia from the Futrell family. Seven years later the state bought the farm for $61,000. Ever since, the property has become the Caledonia State Prison Farm.

SLAVE POPULATION: By 1860, Caledonia, then run by James C. Johnston, had 271 Slaves
RESEARCH NOTES: Operated as a plantation until after the Civil War, where in 1860, it was the largest slaveowner in the County, and certainly one of the largest in the State.

MISCELLANEOUS: Caledonia, NCPedia; Caledonia, NC Highway Historical Marker; Samuel Johnston, NC Highway Historical Marker; Samuel Johnston Biography; James Cathcart Johnston Biography

North Carolina Plantations

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