This past Saturday, an off day between the 1st & 2nd rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the family piled into our rental car and drove to Hillsborough, outside of Raleigh. You can’t swing a dead cat in Hillsborough without hitting a historical marker of some sort.
The town was laid out in 1754, and due in large part to its situation along an Indian trading path that stretched from Petersburg, VA to Augusta, GA, Hillsborough became the center of the North Carolina back country. Hillsborough was the home of five General Assemblies during the 1770’s and 1780’s, and residents who played a prominent role in the Revolution included a signer of the Declaration of Independence (William Hooper, who relocated from Wilmington), a member of the Continental Congress (Thomas Burke, also wartime governor of NC), and Brigadier General Francis Nash, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Germantown. The house owned by Nash and, after his death, Hooper still stands at 118 W. Tyron St. British General Cornwallis camped in Hillsborough in 1781, and the Tory David Fanning (say that like The Virgin Connie Swail) captured Gov. Burke there later that same year.
This blog focuses on the Civil War, so let’s fast forward a bit. William Kirkland built Ayr Mount (376 St. Mary’s Rd.) in 1815, and the home would remain in the Kirkland family until 1971. In 1833, William W. Kirkland was born there (I’ve written about Kirkland here and here). Ayr Mount is now a historic site open to the public – but I didn’t have time to go there. I did revisit St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, where many Kirklands, Ruffins, and Pettigrews lie buried, and took a new photo of the Willie Hardee grave (though I must have been there at a similar time of day last time – this is one tough stone to photo). Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
The Visitor’s Center is in the Dickson House. As the war neared its close, General Wade Hampton made this his headquarters, and it was in the office building outside the house that Joseph Johnston and members of the Confederate Cabinet met to discuss surrendering to the armies of William T. Sherman. It was from there that Johnston rode out on April 18, 1865, bound for the nearby Bennett (Bennitt) Farm. Here’s a photo of the house – I forgot to take one of the office building.
Hillsborough was also home to the Burwell School, a female academy operated by the Rev. Robert Burwell and his wife from 1837 to 1857. In 1836 it became “home” to a teenaged slave named Elizabeth Hobbes. In 1855, Elizabeth bought her freedom, married, moved to Washington, worked as a dressmaker in the White House and in 1868 published her memoir, Behind the Scenes; or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, under her married name, Elizabeth Keckly. She, along with her boss, Mary Todd Lincoln, was the recent subject of this book.
Hillsborough has a ton to offer the history-minded traveler, and lots of shops and such to satisfy the non-history-minded spouses with which many of us seem to travel.