The Purdie - Richardson Connection

A RIVER PLANTATION

Posted: Sunday, December 4, 1988 12:00 am

LUCILE JOHNSON

Sunday, December 4, 1988

and places of the past appear monthly in the Observer-Times.

 

TAR HEEL

The early American Georgian-style plantation house that stands on the west bank of the Cape Fear River on Highway 87 is known as the "Purdie Place," sometimes called "Purdie Hall." Today it is the home of Sandra and Jack Mitchell.

The Purdie name comes from the family associated with the house and land on which it stands for two centuries.

It was in 1727 that George III granted the land to Hugh Purdie, a native of England who for some time after his arrival in North Carolina made his home in Wilmington, where he met Elizabeth O'Neill, widow of Ralph Burgnion. They were married and became the parents of a son, James Samuel. Before Hugh could establish a home on the land grant, he developed yellow fever and died.

In 1760 Col. James Richardson, native of Stonington, Conn., who operated a shipping line to England and the West Indies, was shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina near Cape Hatteras. He met Elizabeth Purdie, and in time they were married. He purchased 12,000 acres of land on the east coast of the Cape Fear River, not far from the land grand belonging to the Purdie family. Here he built a house for Elizabeth, today known as "Harmony Hall." That house, where Cornwallis maintained an office during the Revolutionary War, is today being restored.

 

Perhaps James Samuel Purdie stayed at Harmony Hall with his mother and Col. Richardson or built what is today the wing of Purdie Place, where he lived while building the plantation house. The generally accepted date of construction is 1809, according to Mitchell.

A deed for a piece of property was recorded in New Hanover County by James Samuel Purdie and his wife, Sarah, in 1772. James had married Sarah Bailiey, daughter of James and Elizabeth Bailey of Wilmington. Following the death of her husband, Elizabeth Bailey removed to Bladen County.

 

James Samuel Purdie served as sheriff of Bladen County at one period.  Following the death of Sarah, James married Mary Jane Smith, daughter of Thomas Smith and granddaughter of John Smith of Bladen County.

 

The will of James was recorded Dec. 13, 1817. In it he mentions that "a commodious dwelling house, 18x30 feet, single story," was to be erected for use and convenience of his wife, who was pregnant with his child. Children mentioned in the will were James Bailey Purdie and Elizabeth Purdie Brown.

 

Helen Jane Purdie, born after the death of her father, married Dr. Heman Harwood Robinson, M.D., a native of Bennington, Vt., a relative of Dr. Benjamin Robinson of Fayetteville and ancestor of the late Mrs. J. Bayard Clark of Fayetteville.  James Bailey Purdie married Ann Mariah Smith, and they were the parents of John Wesley Purdie, Thomas James Purdie, Sarah Ann Purdie and Elizabeth Jane Purdie. John Wesley Purdie became a state senator in the 14th district in 1867. He married Frances Robeson, daughter of John Alexander Robeson and granddaughter of Col. Thomas Robeson, for whom Robeson County was named.

 

John and Frances Purdie were the parents of John Alexander Purdie, and for several generations there was a John or James Alexander Purdie. Today John Alexander Purdie and his wife, Celia Grantham Purdie, reside in Fayetteville, and they are the parents of two sons, Alan of Fayetteville and John Alexander of Charlotte.

 

John Wesley Purdie's second wife was Sarah Smith, daughter of Farquhard Smith and Sally Grady Smith, and they were the parents of several children, among them Thomas James Purdie, born 1872 and recognized "as a pioneer in agricultural progress," according to John Oates' "Story of Fayetteville." "For many years he carried on extensive operations in Bladen and Cumberland County. He maintained a keen interest in all farm activities until his death in 1937."

 

He married Callie McKethan, daughter of A.A. McKethan Jr., and their daughter, Catherine "Kitty" Purdie, lives in Fayetteville today.

Thomas James Purdie, the son of James Bailey and Ann Mariah Purdie, left an admirable military record. He joined the Bladen Guards as a private and became a colonel, commanding North Carolina troops. Killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 3, 1863, at the age of 32, he is buried in the family cemetery at Purdie Place.

 

The Purdie plantation remained in the Purdie family until 1945, when it was sold to Sidney Bedsole, a neighbor. He lived in the old plantation home for 20 years before selling the house and six acres of land Dr. Lloyd Pate, M.D., of Fairmont around 1968. Soon Dr. Pate transferred the property to Sandra and Jack Mitchell, also of Fairmont.

 

The Mitchells immediately began restoration of this historic plantation house to which they have added modern conveniences.

In a paperback book titled "Colonial Homes in North Carolina" by John V. Allcott, professsor in the art department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is found a small sketch of Purdie Hall and a brief comment on the porches: "If one big porch is considered desirable, two or four are better; two-tiered porches often are found on great mansions and plantation houses. Such porches were also a feature of inns, providing ample sheltered space for guests and their friends."  Jack Mitchell, a former art student of Dr. Allcott at UNC, describes his home as a plantation house with porches where the planter could give orders and directions to those helping with the farm operations.

 

Though not a mansion, is it a well-built, four-story brick house with double porches on the front and back and a full basement.

The brick, some ballast and some handmade on the place no doubt, are laid in Flemish bond design. The roof is of handmade shakes. A watch tower and porches allowed the viewing of ships and steamers on the river.  Sixteen-inch walls separate the nine rooms. The outdoor kitchen is now joined to the main house. Wood pegs and rose-headed nails were used in construction. Heart pine is found throughout the house with added features of walnut. Casement window frames hold windows with early glass panes revealing bubbles and names scribbled thereon.

 

The staircases are an interesting feature. In the beginning there was an outside staircase at the back leading to the second floor. In 1850, a staircase built of pine but with a walnut hand rail was placed in the central hall, leading to the bedrooms on the second floor. A staircase was built from that floor to the attic watch tower.  Fireplaces are in every room, and the mantels are of pine except two. The living room mantel is walnut and Federal in design with Ionic colums. The walnut mantel in the library was made from a tree that grew on the plantation. The chimneys are enclosed.  Double doors are found at both the front and back entrances. A single entrance door located on the side back leads to a small room thought to have been the planter's office.

Wainscoting is found in the living room, and windows are recessed.

In the springtime the hillside back of the house is covered with daffodils down to the woods. Mitchell has added some 50 acres of land to encourage the growth of trees.

A former teacher in the Fayetteville city schools, Mitchell is an artist and businessman who appreciates architecture and natural plant life.

Staff Photos by DICK BLOUNT