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MAGNOLIA PLANTATION

 Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina

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PLANTATION NAME: MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
ASSOCIATED LINK(s):  
ORIGINAL OWNER: James Norfleet Smith (1817-1893) and wife, Adelaide Evans (1819-1909)
BUILT: 1840
ASSOCIATED SURNAMES: Smith
HISTORY:

 Magnolia Plantation's house was built in the 1840's for James N. Smith and his wife, Adelaide Evans-Smith (daughter of Peter Evans & Ann Johnston).
He was the son of William Ruffin Smith (1779-1845) and Sarah Walton Norfleet (1782-1870). James's father, William Ruffin Smith, Sr., purchased the nucleus for the Magnolia plantation from his brother Drew in 1802.The fifty-acre tract was described as being in the Piney Woods "20 miles below the town Halifax and four from Edwards' Ferry (on the Roanoke River) on the road from said Ferry to Tarborough.  There he lived with his bride, Sarah W. Norfleet, in a frame house facing the old Tarborough Road. Born into a successful planter family, William Ruffin Smith employed his talent to expand his landholdings. By consolidating the lands of relatives and neighbors, he eventually owned plantations fronting the Roanoke River from Edwards' to Norfleet's ferries and extending westward to the town of Scotland Neck, about 12,000 acres in all of which the home tract (later Magnolia) contained 800 acres. Until 1821 Smith's plantations produced primarily pork and corn. James Norfleet Smith inherited the business he operated until well after the Civil War. William Ruffin Smith became one of the wealthiest residents of Halifax County with 12,000 acres of land, 266 slaves, and cash assets in the vicinity of $100,000.
He never sought political office beyond service as a justice of the Halifax County Court, but he often served as executor and administrator of numerous wills and estates and as guardian for minor orphans. In 1834, William Ruffin Smith moved his family to the Lowrie House north of Scotland Neck. This house eventually became known as the Sally-Billy House, and from there Smith directed the operation of his vast estates. After a long illness, he died on June 22, 1845. He and the children who died before 1855 were buried in the family cemetery in the grape arbor at Magnolia. In 1855 when Trinity Church was completed with a large cemetery adjacent, members of the Smith family were reinterred near the entrance. At his death, Smith's estate, worth nearly a quarter million dollars, was divided among his five surviving children. James Norfleet, the youngest, was given lands that included the old river plantation, Light Neck, and Magnolia. Also bequeathed to James were the Slaves then working his plantations, including "Hog Finder Peter"; all cider casks and stills; farming utensils; his father's stock of mules, horses, hogs, and sheep; and $5,000 cash.
James Norfleet, born June 14, 1817, had grown up in the luxury of the planter class in the Roanoke Valley. Educated at Vine Hill Academy and at the Episcopal School for Boys in Raleigh, he was well read and later established at Magnolia a library where the classics and books on chemistry were well represented. On October 20, 1842, he married Adelaide Evans, settled near Scotland Neck in his father's old home, and began to build Magnolia. The name of the architect or builder is not known, but, according to family tradition, construction took five years. Meanwhile James and Adelaide lived in the older house to the rear of Magnolia and there at least two of their five children (all sons) were born. For many years after completion of the Greek Revival structure, a two-room section of the old homestead (believed to have been a wing) served as a kitchen for the James N. Smith family.
On the eve of the Civil War, James N. Smith owned 1,650 improved acres with another 1,550 acres of timberland and pasture. Total cash value was estimated in excess of $50.,000. That did not include his thirty-eight slave houses and 165 slaves. The War of course ended the plantation economy's prosperity and severely affected the Smiths and others of their class. Smith had invested most of his fortune in land and slaves, and with defeat came economic collapse. A few former slaves remained as servants at Magnolia, and while James lived moderately well, he did not live elegantly. By 1894 Magnolia had been reduced in value to less than $14,000 which included the house and 800 acres. In old age his hair turned white, he walked with a cane, and he eventually became deaf. His deafness caused his death on December 18, 1893, when he stepped in front of an oncoming train while inspecting some repair work to the roadbed of the railroad put in across his land in 1880.

SLAVE POPULATION: James N. Smith had 150 Slaves in 1850; in 1860, he had 165 Slaves in 38 Slave houses.

Will of WILLIAM R. SMITH, Halifax County, Will Book 4, Pg. 244, written Dec.16,1844 , Probated August 1845:
Slaves listed in Will:

Lend to wife SALLY
STARLIN & wife MILLEY, child CLARISA
TOM WEBB
HARRY
NED
OLD GEORGE
SOPHIA & all her children
CLARISA and children
SAM
BARCIA
Old woman RODEY

To son WILLIAM R. SMITH:
All slaves now in his possession, and also-
BUCK & wife MARY, and all of MARY's children
MINER (the blackmith)
HARRY & SAM, after the death of mother (Sally)

To daughter SALLY ANN BAKER:
All slaves now in her possession, and also-
SALL & all her children & grandchildren except ANEKEY and her children
I give to my old man DANIEL the priviledge of choosing his owner among my children, and not to be valued at anything.

To son RICHARD H. SMITH:
All slaves now in his possession, and also-
DAVY (son of FANNY)
man CELUS
boy CHARLES (son of CLEARIAH)

To Sons WILLIAM & RICHARD, to keep in trust for hiring out:
CLINTON & wife LIVY & all her children
man JESS
JESSE & wife MORNING & all her children

To son JAMES N. SMITH:
JACOB & wife RACHEL & all her children
GEORGE & wife PEGGY & all her children
Old man DEMEY(? scribbled over) & wife LEAH
CAROLINE & all her children
TOM WEBB
Old man BUCK
Old man PETER & wife
HOGFINDER PETER & PENEY his wife & her children
To daughter ELIZABETH N. SMITH:
ABRAM & wife SABRY & all her children
AGNES & all her children

also the slaves lent to her mother after her death:
SOPHIA & all her children
CLARISA & daughter BARCIA
STARLIN & wife MILLEY & all her children
man WASHINGTON

To son WILLIAM:
girl LOUISA now in possession of DOCTOR A S. HALL
in trust for granddaughter EMILY HALL
 

RESEARCH NOTES:

MISCELLANEOUS: National Register of Historic Places ; William R. Smith Will, Halifax Co,WB4,Pg.244; Magnolia Plantation, Preservation North Carolina

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