Indeed, Somerset Place was one of the upper-south’s largest plantations. At it’s height, it was, for all intensive purposes, a small independent community unto itself, with almost 200 employees and slaves living and working on the plantation’s grounds.
Built in 1685, Somerset Place had meager beginnings. The land itself, all 100,000 acres of it was densely wooded and a swampy area. It shared a border with Lake Phelps, a 5 by 8 mile body of water, in Washington County, N.C. During the plantation’s 80 year active period, the land was tore down and built up in areas’ where it needed to be to become one of the largest and most productive plantations in the entire south. The land was transformed into rich and fertile grounds where rice, corn, oats, wheat, peas, and beans grew in abundance. The lumber mills on the grounds put out thousands of feet of lumber. By around 1865, Somerset Place had become what it was intended to become, a huge, proud, productive, plantation. As said before, an entire work force of around 200 people, free and slave, not only worked here, but also lived on the property.
These were people who had families. Most of which all the family memebers worked on the plantation, making it truly, like a small village community, independent from the outside world. Somerset Place had on it’s grounds, a number of barns and stables, an Episcopal church, a hospital, 26 homes for the slaves, quarters for the overseers’, tutors, and ministers. Then, of course, the owner’s home, and a place where the kitchens, dairy, and laundry rooms were at. Also, along the banks of Lake Phelps, was the industrial complex, which contained the saw-mills, and the post-harvesting work stations, where the crops were prepared for shipment to various locations in the state.
With the end of the plantation system, soon, Somerset Place would shut down. Their workforce of slaves all left after their freedom was granted. With nothing left of a proper working force, the production of the plantation came to a grinding halt. The owner’s in turn, went in the hole financially, and had to sell the plantation. After they were gone, Somerset Place was empty and alone.
In 1939, though, there was a ray of hope. After 70 years of time and neglect, most of the planation’s original buildings’ had past into history. The main house and some of the adjacent buildings still remained though, and became part of the ‘Pettigrew Stae Park’. Later, these very buildings, along with the immediate land would become an official historical site under the N.C. Department of Natural Resources in 1969. Today the site includes 31 of the original acreage of land and seven orignal buildings. The main purpose of the site is to show what life on a 19th century plantation was like in the most accurate and realistic way.