Magazine article American Visions

Somerset Place

Magazine article American Visions

Somerset Place

Article excerpt

Many African Americans view plantations in one light only: as places of bondage and degradation, places where their ancestors were enslaved and mistreated. But at one plantation, Somerset Place, near Creswell, N.C., African Americans are given proper respect and are credited with being artisans and pioneers who helped build the South.

When Josiah Collins bought Somerset Place in 1816 from his two partners, the plantation was well on its way to becoming one of the largest and wealthiest in the state. Three generations of the Collins family--aided by 400 enslaved men, women and children--expanded Somerset's holding to cover more than 100,000 acres surrounding Lake Phelps.

Somerset's slaves worked as carpenters, millers, blacksmiths, bricklayers, tailors, cooks, gardeners and general laborers, transforming swampy land into a profitable rice business.

That was then; today, Somerset Place is a state historic site, a 27-acre symbol of the accomplishments and culture of the African-American people. if only the plantation's cypress trees could talk, today's visitors would hear how 16 slaves were sold in 1853 because they tried to poison the overseer. And if the water in the canal that runs in front of the house could speak, they would hear how three of Josiah Collins' sons died before they reached manhood.

But of course trees and water can't whisper about what happened, so tourists are left to use their imaginations as they walk through the site's eight buildings--including the Collins mansion, the kitchen, the smokehouse, the bathhouse, the kitchen ration house and the dairy--some of which are original and some of which are reproductions. …

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