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Dalkeith Plantation

Photos by Tony Copeland and submitted by Deloris Williams

Dalkeith Workshop

Dalkeith, built about 1825, and first owned by planter John Burgess, is a handsome and little altered temple-form plantation house related in form and detail to other important late Federal period houses in Warren and Halifax counties. It was a Civil War refuge of an important North Carolina political figure and judge, Asa Biggs, who wrote his autobiography there.

Dalkeith is located in the Fishing Creek area of southeast Warren County, where there is an unusually great concentration of impressive plantation houses - most of them connected with members of the locally dominant Alston family, who held property there since the eighteenth  century. In 1814 the estate of Samuel Alston - over 4,000 acres - was divided among his children. The eldest daughter, Caroline received a tract of 535 acres, which she and her husband Solomon Williams sold in December 15, 1824 for $3,050, to Thomas Bragg. Bragg was a Warrenton builder - contractor for the 1835-1840 North Carolina Capital - and the father of Braxton and Thomas Bragg, who were to gain considerable distinction, the former as Civil War general and the latter as North Carolina senator and governor, and attorney general for the Confederacy. After holding the property for eight months, Bragg sold the place on August 23, 1825, for $3,750, to John Burgess of Halifax County. Family tradition, supported by recollections of a board inscribed "Bragg, 1825," contends that Bragg constructed the house which he sold to Burgess; this may well be true, but no documentary evidence supports it, and the price difference is not conclusive.

John Burgess of Halifax County had married Martha Jane Alston of Warren County in 1824; presumably the young couple occupied the place upon purchase or soon after.  Burgess expanded his land holdings through several purchases of nearby land in the 1820s and 1830s. County tax records -1826 show him holding 1,150 acres evaluated at $3,450, along with 14 slaves. By 1850 these records show only 345 acres but 27 slaves; and by 1854, he listed 850 or acres and 25 slaves. The 1850 census, however, listed him with 600 acres improved and 1,100 unimproved. He produced a variety of crops but listed no cotton or tobacco, and held 66 slaves. In his household were his wife, four daughters and a young son; two young black men - presumably free blacks - were also listed in the household, as laborers. By 1860 Burgess was producing tobacco - 20,000 pounds of it - and his slaves had increased to 70.

During the war, according to tradition, Burgess "decided to join the migration to Texas," and sold Dalkeith in 1864,  for 5 bonds of $1,000 each (bonds issued by the State before 1860).  Burgess transferred the "parcel of land called 'Dalkeith'" to Asa Biggs. Biggs, a native of Martin County, was one of the state's most outstanding political figures in the years before and during the Civil War. After serving in the state legislature, he served in the United States Congress 1845-1847 and in the Senate 1855-1858. Upon his appointment as a United States District Judge he was succeeded in the senate by Thomas Bragg, son of the earlier owner of the Dalkeith property. An ardent states' rights supporter, Biggs abruptly resigned his federal post, on April 23, 1861, notifying president Abraham Lincoln that he was "unwilling to hold a commission in a government which has degenerated into a military despotism." Biggs served as secessionist delegate to the state Succession Convention of 1861 and on June 17 was appointed judge of the District Court of North Carolina by Jefferson Davis; he was commissioned in 1862.

In his autobiography headed "Dalkeith, Warren County, North Carolina, March 1865" Biggs recalled that

In February 1862 we were driven from our dear home at Williamston... by the approach of the Yankee invaders up Albemarle sound, after the fall of Roanoke Island. About six weeks we lived... [near] Tarboro and from thence we removed to a dwelling... west of Rocky Mount where we continue to reside until I purchased this place in September 1863, and here we were all located in December 1863... I selected this place as secure from Yankee Ray leads an invasion, and although we have been excluded from society and the social intercourse to which we had been accustomed, and find it difficult with my limited means to obtain sufficient food and rainment," yet so far we have not suffered, and the Lord providing for our wants we continue to this day...

While Biggs family was at Dalkeith, Henry Biggs, aged 17, joined the Confederate troops in July, 1864; an elder son, William was already serving as captain of Company A, 17th Regiment, North Carolina troops. On April 8, 1865 (the day before Lee surrendered to Grant), the younger boy was mortally wounded - the only member of his battery known to have been hit. A family Bible entry, lined "Dalkeith, May 7, 1865," records the loss:

Thus fell our dear and beloved boy, defending the rights of his country; and, in the Providence of an All wise God he is spared the mortification of witnessing this subjugation of his native land.

Biggs did not remain long at Dalkeith after the war but removed to Tarboro, whence he wrote to Thomas Bragg on July 5, 1866, that he had settled permanently and that his "prospects of making a living are fair, though at present I get but little cash."  Because of a controversial protest he signed concerning actions of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Biggs moved in 1869 to Norfolk where he entered business with his brother, Kader. In 1871 he sold Dalkeith to Henrietta Darr T. of New Jersey for $4,039. In 1884 she sold the place to George and Rebecca Davis, who had rented it or a time. In 19 nine Davis left the property to his daughter **Matthew Davis Hunter, who had lived there after her marriage in 1896. Dalkeith is now owned by Lula Hunter Skillman, who lives there with her husband C. E. Skillman.

The home is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places. 
Source:  Photos by Tony Copeland.  Brief history is from the papers filed during the process to have it place on the National Register which were also provided by Tony Copeland and sent by Deloris Williams. Further details of the architectural elements of the home will be posted later.
**Note:
Although the documents on file shows the name as "Matthew Davis Hunter", info from Betsy Brodie Roberts indicates the name should be "Mattie Davis Hunter"
See Also: Some lovely photos of Dalkeith on Flikr

2002 - 2007 by Deloris Williams, Ginger Christmas-Beattie, Nola Duffy  and/or individual contributors.  No portion of this any document appearing on this site is to be used for other than personal research.  Any republication or reposting is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the owner. Last updated 09/19/2012