Historic Stagville in Durham, North Carolina is the remnants of one of the largest plantations in the South in the era before the Civil War. The Stagville Plantations belonged to two prominent Durham families and spread out over 30,000 acres of land. Today, visitors can take self-guided tours of the extensive property.

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© Historic Stagville

The Plantation originally belonged to Richard Bennehan who purchased 1,213 acres of land in 1776 which became the core of the plantation. Richard ran the plantation business for almost 60 years along with a store making him one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina. When he died in 1825 his estate included Stagville, and several other plantations in three counties that encompassed nearly 4,000 acres of land. All the property was left to his son Thomas.

Thomas never married and had one sibling, Rebecca whom he was very close to. Rebecca Bennehan Cameron built a new plantation home called Fairntosh in 1810 located one mile south of Stagville. Since the early 1800’s The Stagville and Cameron Plantations had been operating together as one complex slavery and plantation community and the Bennehans and Camerons were operating the Fish Dam Store together, as well as several mills along the Eno River.

Thomas was the last Bennehan to live in the Stagville home and willed the estate to Rebecca’s son, Paul Cameron. Not only did Paul inherit his Uncle Thomas Bennehan’s Stagville Plantations, but he also became the sole inheritor of his father, Duncan Cameron’s plantations as well which were all near Stagville. Thomas expanded the family’s total holdings to 900 slaves, 30,000 acres of land by the 1860’s. After his death in 1891, the empire came to an end as the plantation was divided between his 7 children and some of his grandchildren. Only two of the plantations continued to be in operation—Stagville and Fairntosh.

Bennehan Cameron continued to operate Stagville and Fairntosh but rather than agriculture, turned to stock farming. He returned all the original furniture to the home during his residence in Stagville in the late 1880’s. In 1947, 22 years after Bennehan’s death, his daughters divided the estate. Isabel Cameron Van Lennep was awarded Stagville and Sally Cameron Labouisse got Fairntosh. Stagville ended up in the hands of Myers Tobacco CO who farmed the land for more than 30 years while Fairntosh was sold several times over the course of many years.

Today, Historic Stagville is 71 acres that is separated into three tracts with several original structures that can still be viewed and some of the original landscaping as well. Artifacts of the Bennehan and Cameron families can be found at The Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina State Archives.

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© Historic Stagville

There are 4 original structure that remain at Historic Stagville, a family cemetery and the foundations of several dependencies and enslaved family dwellings. The old road bed is also still located to the right of the Bennehan house although no longer in use and there are still fruit filled Osage Orange Trees that grow on the property.

Admission to the site is always free and the entrance is located off Old Oxford Highway along a long gravel drive. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm [last updated March 2017]

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The Bennehan Home- The plantation home was built in the Georgian Style around 1787 and was impressive for the time. The home was built on the hill top surrounded by fields and is built of heart pine with all original interior woodwork still in place. The panes of glass were special ordered from England and most of the original glass work is also still in place. Although no longer present, the home was once surrounded by a detached kitchen, log house, milk house, stable, at least one slave house, and a small kitchen garden.

The Horton Home- Richard Bennehan purchased just over 400 acres of land and the home that the Horton family occupied in 1823. The house is small and was built sometime before the revolutionary war. The original portion of the home consists of one room with a loft and steep staircase. None of the windows have glass panes, only shutters. The rear addition was added sometime between 1851-1860 when the slave houses were built at Horton Grove. During this time, Horton Home was most likely used to house an overseer or large slave family. Horton Home was renovated to include wood floors, a wood shingle roof, stone chimney and hearth and new siding.

Horton Grove- During 1851-1860 Stagville Plantation added slave houses in Horton Grove. Unusual for their time, the slave quarters at Horton Grove were two story, four room abodes that housed between 5 and 7 slaves. This many slaves were typically crammed into a one room one story slave house at most other plantations. Paul Cameron believed in protecting his investment from health concerns such as rodent infestations, and wanted the slave houses insulated from the heat and cold.

The Great Barn- Today the barn is surrounded by trees but it was once open fields and the Grove and Bennehan House were easily seen from the barn. Built in 1860the barn was constructed from local timber and milled onsite by plantation slaves. The barn was used to house mules and was hailed as the best stables ever built at Stagville and also the last structure to ever be built there.

Bennehan Family Graveyards- 100 southeast of the Bennehan House is the Family Graveyard. Only Richard, Mary and Thomas Bennehan are buried here although the cemetery is quite large. The wall is made from stone quarried on Stagville land and the entrance is still the original wrought iron. There are no burial sites for slaves that have been found at Stagville.

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3.Plan your Visit

Plan your Visit
© Historic Stagville

Educational Opportunities

During the summer, guided tours are available three times per day during opening hours. Visitors are welcome to participate in self-guided tours during any open times; however, visitors are only permitted inside of historic structures with a guide.

Tours take up to an hour and include the Bennehan House, Horton House at Horton Grove, and The Great Barn. Bottled water is the only amenity sold at Stagville so plan to bring a sack lunch as there are picnic areas available for lunch. The Welcome Center has restroom facilities and is where all tours will begin.

Historic Stagville offers educational programming onsite Tuesday through Friday for two hours from 10am to 12pm. Each program meets Common Core and North Carolina State Curriculum Standards. The programs must be reserved at least a month in advance, have an 80-student maximum and require a deposit.

There are three different programs offered divided by grade level:

Life on a Plantation: Grades k-2. Students compare the lives of the family that owned the slaves to the lives of the slave family. Tour of the Bennehan home, slave cabins, and Great barn included.

Learning About Slavery Through Archaeology: Grades 3-5. Students participate in an archaeological dig simulation to learn the importance of studying history through artifacts uncovered at Horton Grove. Tour the site of the four original slave cabins, Bennehan home, and Great Barn while learning about artifacts uncovered in each location.

Slave Narratives at Stagville: Grades 6-12. Students will analyze WPA interviews from slaves that lived on Stagville Plantation to learn about the complex system of slavery and how slaves were treated on Stagville Plantation. Students will also learn to question and authenticate primary sources.

Internship opportunities are also available through Historic Stagville with a 150-minimum hour requirement. Internships are generally allotted for 16 weeks and interns are expected to spend several hours per week at the plantation reporting directly to the Assistant Site Manager. Interns will also be responsible for writing a newsletter for the Bennehan Bulletin, assisting in the education programing, genealogical research, Stagville research, and other projects.

What You Need to Know

When you arrive at Historic Stagville there will be two visitors lots available for parking. The Welcome Center will be visible from both lots at the back of the property and is where guided tours will be available. The only way to access entry into any of the structures is by participating in a guided tour. The Welcome Center is also where the restroom facilities and the Gift Shop is located. There are no dining facilities at Stagville; however, visitors can purchase bottled water at the Giftshop.

Visitors should wear comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather when visiting the Plantation. All the buildings are handicapped accessible and assistance is available for visitors with special needs.

Back to: Things to Do in Durham, North Carolina

5828 Old Oxford Highway, Durham, North Carolina, 27712, website, Phone: 919-620-0120

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Things to Do in Durham, NC: Historic Stagville