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Are there any plans to restore Clarendon Plantation?

Ben Steelman

Not at the present time, according to Camilla Herlevich, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, which holds conservation rights on the historic property on the west bank of the Cape Fear River, about 6 miles south of Wilmington and about 5 miles south of Belville. The property remains in private hands, with ownership divided among members of the Thomas and Pace families, and it is not open to the public. The 1834 manor house on the plantation was destroyed by fire in 1974.

Clarendon was one of nearly 30 rice plantations that once dotted the shores of the Lower Cape Fear, growing “Carolina Gold,” a rich strain of rice that was especially prized in the 1700s and 1800s. Consisting of about 1,000 acres, the property lies between N.C. 133 and the Cape Fear, north of Town Creek and just south of Mallory Creek and Little Mallory Creek.

The original land grant for the plantation was made in 1728 to John Gage, although the area was inhabited long before that. According to local historian Bill Reaves, one canal on the property was allegedly dug by Indians to function as a sort of calendar. Supposedly, on the summer solstice, the sun rises over the dead center of the canal.

The property is named for Edward Hyde, the earl of Clarendon, one of the original Lords Proprietors of the Carolina colony. Clarendon County, created by the Lords Proprietors in 1664, including the territory around the mouth of the Cape Fear River and (originally) extended as far south as St. Augustine, Fla.

From 1662 to 1665, a group of English settlers from the Caribbean island of Barbados, led by Sir John Yeamans, attempted to establish a colony, called “Charles Towne,” in the vicinity of Clarendon. (Troubled by disease and Indian attacks, the group eventually abandoned the site, headed south, and founded what would become Charleston, S.C.) A brick building on the Clarendon property, sometimes identified as “the smoke house,” is constructed of distinctive English brickwork with a pantile roof typical of English work of the 1600s. Some people believe this structure served as the Charles Towne settlers’ powder house; if true, it could be the oldest brick building in North Carolina.

Clarendon Plantation passed through a number of hands. Before the American Revolution, it was owned by John Ancrum and William Dry. Benjamin Smith (1751-1826), a governor of North Carolina and onetime owner of Bald Head Island, held the title for a while after the Revolution. James Carson and then John Poisson owned it for a while beofre Marsden Campbell acquired the plantation in 1805, Members of the Watters family owned it in the 1800s.

An 1834 advertisement for Clarendon in the People’s Press and Wilmington Advertiser described it as consisting of 335 acres of tidal swamp, 654 acres of upland, with 229 acres in “a high state of cultivation. The advertiser claimed the property could yield 72 bushels of rice per acre. Accommodations were available for 100 hands (slaves), along with a “comfortable” overseer’s house and a grist mill.

D.H. Lippitt owned the plantation in the early 1900s, building the present home site there in 1923-1924. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Thomas of Charlotte acquired Clarendon shortly before World War II; the Thomases frequently opened the property to visitors during Azalea Festivals. During a stay at Clarendon, author Inglis Fletcher completed work on her 1944 historical novel “Lusty Wind for Carolina.”

In December 2008, the Thomas and Pace families agreed to place 400 acres of the property under a water quality landowner agreement with the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, in cooperation with the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and another 325 acres under a working forest landowner agreement, with the Land Trust and the N.C. Division of Forest Resources. These agreements will protect wildlife and natural resources on the two tracts. The upland property is covered by large stands of longleaf pine and mixed pine hardwoods, as well as limesink ponds which are habitats for much interesting wildlife. The marshes and riverlands are home to native sturgeons, American alligators and large populations of birds, shellfish and other wildlife.

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3 Responses to “ Are there any plans to restore Clarendon Plantation?”

  1. On January 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm Helen Crockett wrote:

    so sad to see history not opened to public. not that theirs many around anywere any moore . and i do so love to see history in the making i hope to in my live time see this place. i lived in Maryland and we had Fort Armstead which was build under the supervision of Rorert E Lee. but do to the fact that birds have taken over it wont be long befor this is gone sad to say my children and grandchildren have been lucky enough to see this. I hope some day someone will do this is at the entress to the harbor, build to pertect the harbor before the spanish american war

  2. On June 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm Thelma Thaxton wrote:

    Thank you so much for doing this research. I have always wondered as I drove up 133 what that elaborate gate went to. So much undeveloped land there. It is a pity they couldn’t open it to the public. It is good to know they are protecting wildlife, though.

  3. On January 1, 2017 at 10:55 pm Karen Conner Conroy wrote:

    This is more of an enquiry. I was wondering if Mrs Cornelious Thomas was still alive. My mother, Jacqueline Conner just recently passed away and I found a letter from Mrs Thomas with the Clarendon Plantation address on it. I remember my mother speaking of the plantation and how she had visited it a few times in earlier years.
    I was just inquiring how my mother and Mrs Thomas knew each other. It’s very interesting to me.
    If you would have any information I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you for your time. Hope to hear from you.

    Karen Conner Conroy

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