Slightly off the beaten track.

6 Apr

After our lovely sunny days on the sands we spent a wet couple of nights at Jones Lake State Park sitting out a storm. We had been able to reserve the only water and electric hook up they had in the small campground only problem was the run on to this particular site seemed to have been re – dressed with sand which as soon as haRVey’s weight was applied to it cut up quite badly.


We hoped that with careful negotiating we would drive off without issue but never the less  thought it best to prepare the Rangers if we might need help. We called into the deserted Visitor Centre and had a chat with the lady working there who seemed unperturbed and assured us of help if necessary.

While there we thought we would have a look at the information which proved very interesting. We had not realised that Jones Lake was one of a number of depressions (some filled with water) in North Carolina which are known as the Carolina Bays. Several theories exist as to how these oval shapes in the land occurred, wave action, meteor shower, man made … the debate continues as so far no solid evidence has come to light to prove any of the theories. I also learned where turpentine came from. I had thought it to be a petrol derivative (this would be its alternative – white spirit) and had not realised it was a liquid drained down from cuts in tree trunks then processed.

More rain fell overnight but thankfully next morning we gently pulled off the sand and made a swift exit leaving the Rangers to repair the damage we left. Hopefully they will infill with gravel next time.

As the weather dried out a little we arrived at Kinston, formerly Kingston until the US fell out with England and dropped the ‘g’ along with the monarch. A municipal park alongside the river with 23 full hook up sites overlooking the river made a great week end stopover for us.  The park office is also the site of a Nature Centre and we were greeted when we checked in by one of the Nature centre residents, a big white cockatiel who’s favourite pass time was singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’ which he did very clearly and continually!

Alongside the Nature Centre there is also a Planetarium where we listened to a talk on the night sky visible at the present time. The town was a short walk away (not a nice route to walk however as it partly ran alongside the busy 64 with a grass verge for a footpath ) The older part of town has a few small shops but a lot of large disused property once you walk off the main street. The primary employers now use out of town premises leaving the town buildings empty, such huge buildings are costly to maintain and hard to fill, so, fall into disrepair.One had been turned into loft style apartments, however it needs a better economy and some vision to turn this town around, it is not alone either.

Housed in one restored old building was a catering company with a coffee shop, we enjoyed coffee and some blueberry muffins after a visit to the Farmers Market, we looked in to a small cook shop and chatted with the owners, everyone we spoke with welcomed us, there was a very easy atmosphere to the town, it would be nice to think those who are trying to keep it alive will get the help they need and be successful.

The local brewery Mother Earth occupies what used to be three buildings, it has converted them into a brew house and bottling plant, it prides itself on its ‘green’ qualities and is busy and thriving. We were given a full guided tour of the brewing area by one of the small team of staff while Robert enjoyed sampling the various flavours offered (more at the end of the month in his updated blog).

A few weeks ago our thoughts had been to visit the Shenandoah National Park in the north west of Virginia, however, it became apparent that we would be a little early in the season, the weather conditions are not improving as quickly as we had hoped, more storms coming eastwards bringing unseasonal cold temperatures. We decided to take a coastal path to the outer banks, Pettigrew State Park lay along our route  at a suitable point for a stop, also the nearby Somerset Place Historical Site looked interesting.

The State Park campground was small and dry camping (no water or electricity just a washroom) but sites were big enough for us so no problem, the Ranger was happy to check us in and chat about our travels.


The first night we had the company of a tent camper the second we were Lords of the Manor, maybe that should be Plantation as to the right of the picture, next to haRVey was the path through to the Plantation House and historical site. We later calculated that the last one of a row of slave cottages would probably have just about stood where we were camped.


We arrived too late for a guided tour on the Sunday afternoon but we were able to walk around learning a little of the history before returning the next day for the proper tour. What we did not realise at that point was we would be the only ones visiting on Monday afternoon so getting the undivided attention of the guide and a personal tour.

Sunday evening we strolled to the lake to take in the sunset accompanied by the song of the local frog chorus.


We had been advised a school party was visiting Somerset Place in the morning and after lunch would be better for our tour. When we arrived we were greeted by the same lady we had spoken to the day before who took us through to another room where we sat down to listen to her narrative and begin our learning experience.

In the late 1700’s the land on which Somerset Place is located came into the ownership of the Collins family, Josiah Collins I and his son both ran the plantation from a distance but the grandson of Josiah I – Josiah Collins III and his family all lived at the plantation house with the large number of slaves they owned looking after both them and the land.

Around the restored Plantation House lie reconstructions of the other buildings, the ‘dependencies’ those buildings in which the slaves carried out domestic chores for the family; the overseers house; the slave hospital, a last resort after their own medicine had failed to cure; the small school house where the Collins children were looked after once they reached an age where education was considered necessary (9yrs old); and a reconstruction of one of the 23 slave cabins in which the workers were housed.


The hospital – two slaves were employed here as nurses a doctor came on scheduled visits, sickness came to its own timetable!


The laundry, the other side of the brick fireplace lies the kitchen where family meals were prepared.

The Plantation House is furnished as accurately as possible to the period and includes portraits of the family and furniture passed down and given back by the Collins family for public display. The house is grand in comparison to the small cabins in which the slaves lived.


The dining room

It does appear however that the Collins family tried to be good slave owners and took care of them in a better manner than some. The Plantation was home over its 80 year working life to more than 800 enslaved people. It was one of the biggest properties in the area encompassing 100,000 acres.

The slaves were used to dig drainage ditches and transportation canals build sawmills barns and stables as well as the buildings in which they lived. The children were trained in the trades of their fathers. When the Civil War freed the slaves, leaving the plantation owners without a workforce, some of the slaves were able to use these skills to their benefit but many were worse off than they had been as slaves, with no income or home, no land to work and a society which still looked on them (black people) as inferior.

Due to the precise and extensive record keeping of the Collins family a huge amount of the history of Somerset Place has been conserved. Josiah Collins III wife acted as his secretary, a very unusual thing for this time, but, her precise documentation included the details of the slaves and many years later has enabled  more recent generations to find their ‘roots’.

We were with our guide almost 3hrs, fortunately for us she was not in demand and she I believe appreciated our interest. I could write so much more about the history but space and time do not allow so I am attaching a link for further and accurate information.


Somerset Place Plantation House

One Response to “Slightly off the beaten track.”

  1. Susan April 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Sometimes we go to a place and learn soooo much information, it’s hard to decide what to write and what to not write. Sometimes I could write a book!
    We are having similar issues moving north. Not every place is open yet.

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