Kingston

A Revolutionary State Capital

Location


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Coordinates: 35.2587, -77.5801.

Type: Stop
Tour: Cape Fear
County: Lenoir

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Harmony Hall, the headquarters of the Lenoir County Historical Association at the coordinates, can be viewed from the outside anytime. It has limited regular hours, but also offers tours by appointment.

Both it and our second stop are fully accessible.
 

Small boy in a blue shirt that says, "Do Whig Out!"

 
Small boy in a blue shirt that says, "Do Whig Out!"

 

Description

A Home that Became a Capitol

The first version of Harmony Hall was built sometime between 1772 and ’76 by Capt. Jesse Cobb and his wife, Elizabeth. She was the daughter of the man who owned the land that became the town of Kingston. Her brother-in-law, local plantation owner Richard Caswell, introduced the 1762 bill to charter the town and name it after King George III. Cobb and Caswell were close friends.[1]

Cobb joined the local county’s part-time defense force or “militia” as the war broke out in 1775 (then Dobbs County). In February 1776, he fought at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, helping to prevent a British invasion, and came home to learn he was a new father to a baby boy![2] He remained in the regiment until at least 1781, likely helping to protect a military supply depot in town.[3]

In January 1777, Caswell officially became the new state’s first governor (after serving in an interim role). During the American Revolution, North Carolina had no permanent capital city; in effect that was wherever the governor lived. Caswell started out in Tryon Palace at the colonial capital New Bern, but feared threats from both the British navy and smallpox. He decided to live at his plantation in Kingston. He bought the Cobb home that year and arranged for the first Secretary of State of North Carolina, James Glasgow, to move in.

Photo of a white, wood, home, two stories in the main section with two one-story wings, and porches in the center upstairs and down
(AmRevNC photograph)

Glasgow’s Scottish-born father was a preacher in Maryland when James was born. After finishing his education at the College of William and Mary, Glasgow became a clerk at an import-export company. He moved to Kingston by 1763 to study law under a former London lawyer, and joined the bar the following year. Meanwhile he married well, receiving a plantation from his father-in-law in modern Snow Hill (northeast of here). Glasgow joined the colonial militia, and fought in the 1771 Battle of Alamance near modern Burlington against the Regulators, who were protesting corruption and government practices they considered unfair.

Having already attended the colonial legislature, the Provincial Assembly, in support roles, he was elected a member in 1775. By then a major, Glasgow spent half a year training militia in New Bern. He fought at Moore’s Creek, and the next year rose to command of the county unit as a colonel. Cobb served under him.

After the state constitution was adopted in December 1776, Glasgow was elected the secretary of state, a position he would hold for 23 years. Harmony Hall thus served for most of the war as the state archive, housing the state records in Glasgow’s office inside. The Council of State (cabinet), war board, and other official groups met here with Caswell until he left office in 1780, making the house effectively the state capitol. The records probably stayed here until the British occupied Wilmington in 1781, when they apparently were moved to Salisbury for safekeeping.

The “Great Room” encased within the existing house, indicated by the two innermost chimneys, was the entire house during the Revolution. The home was first remodeled in 1795, and the wings were added in 1830. What was a porch in the Revolution is now a side-to-side hallway along the front of the original section. The current single room was divided into two by an enclosed stairway that lead to an attic under an A-shaped roof.[4] Its floor of hardwood planks is original, and the mantles have been repainted to their first colors, found through restoration work. A chair and desk used by Caswell are inside, along with official survey plats he did.

Photo of one end of a wood-floored room with a fireplace in the middle and window on the left
(AmRevNC photograph)

Caswell gave the house to his son, Richard, Jr., in 1782 just before the war’s end. (Presumably Glasgow had moved back to his plantation.) Tragically the young homeowner, a merchant, disappeared on a ship from Charleston to New Bern two years later, perhaps taken by pirates.[5] His brothers moved in.

As for Glasgow, during and after the war he built up enough wealth in land and enslaved people to be one of the top-ten richest people in Dobbs County. But in 1799 he was charged with fraud in the handling of land grants for war veterans, based on a letter from a young Andrew Jackson, the later U.S. president. He resigned his position as secretary of state. Out of 12 charges including felonies, he was only convicted on two misdemeanors around dereliction of duty, in what today would be considered an unconstitutional trial that didn’t allow him to defend himself. He moved his family to the Nashville, Tenn., area, where he died in 1810 at age 85.

Tour the home if you wish.

First Governor of a New State

The grave of Richard Caswell, and exhibits and artifacts from his life, are at the Governor Caswell Memorial Historic Site. From Harmony Hall:

  1. Drive west on King Street to Queen Street at the end of the block, and turn right.
  2. Drive 0.7 miles to Vernon Avenue (US 70 Business West), and turn left.
  3. Drive 2.3 miles to the historic site entrance, and turn left.

If you arrive when the gate is closed, you can park in the driveway entrance and view the cemetery while reading this.

Otherwise, tour the Visitor Center if you wish, and then walk to the cemetery behind and to the left of the building. Go to the Caswell monument in the back right corner, which marks his grave.

Painting of a dark-haired man in a black frock coat and ruffled, high-necked white shirtYou are on the plantation of Richard Caswell. After his father’s farm and commercial interests north of Baltimore failed, Caswell and his brother moved to New Bern bearing a letter of introduction from the Maryland governor. Caswell became a surveyor for the colony, clerk of court, sheriff, and later a lawyer and attorney general. First elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1753, he joined the militia the next year[6], and rose to command one wing of Royal Gov. William Tryon’s militia army at the Battle of Alamance.

However, Caswell became increasingly rebellious himself as the British Parliament passed more laws against colonial interests. As early as 1773, he joined the Committee of Correspondence set up to communicate with protesters in the other colonies.[7] He went on to serve in the N.C. provincial congresses set up as alternatives to the official Provincial Assembly, and the first two continental congresses. He hatched the plan that drove Royal Gov. Josiah Martin out of New Bern, and led the Patriot forces at Moore’s Creek.

Caswell chaired the state constitutional convention in 1776. After a few months in an interim role as governor, he was elected officially when the new constitution took effect the following January. Caswell served the maximum three one-year terms, spending much of his time recruiting and supplying troops. In 1780 he was made a major general in charge of the state militia and fought at the Battle of Camden (S.C.). But the militia broke badly there, and he was temporarily stripped of command.[8] After the war he served as state controller and again as governor under a revised constitution. He died of a stroke at age 60 in 1789, during the second convention to consider the new U.S. Constitution, in Cross Creek (officially Campbelltown, now Fayetteville).

Photo of a low, monument of narrowing squares, with the word "Caswell" on front
(AmRevNC photograph)

A 2007 archaeology dissertation describes his state funeral.[9] His body was wrapped in a shroud and, unusual for the times, a cap. His coffin was carried by legislators who were Masons—he was the Grand Master of N.C. at the time—through Cross Creek to the State House where the convention was held. The coffin was led by the governor, other legislators, and state officials walking two-by-two. He was then brought here for burial.

There was some controversy over the location of his grave in later years, and the dig for the dissertation found only the bottom of his casket. But the report concludes, based on a lot of other evidence, that he was buried here between his first and second wives. Water likely dissolved his remains, and all but the top of the pine casket.

Probably buried somewhere to the left of Caswell and his wives is his son, Capt. William Caswell. William was in the 5th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army, fought with it at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown (Penn.), and camped with the rest of Gen. George Washington’s troops at Valley Forge. After resigning, the state named him commander of the multi-county New Bern Militia District.

Richard Caswell built up wealth through land speculation, and held a large number of people in slavery.[10] Due in part to money he gave to the war effort, however, he died nearly broke. His family finally had to sell the land, but his grand-daughter was determined to save his home, called the “Red House.” She had it dismantled and moved downtown in 1815, to what now is the site of a bed and breakfast in a later home, two blocks north of the intersection of Queen Street and Business 70.[11] The Red House was replaced a few years later on the same foundation near here, across Vernon Boulevard.

As you exit the site, pause short of the highway and look left. On the right side, barely visible above a screen of trees, you should be able to see an appropriately red roof. That is the 1810s replacement home where the Red House was.[12]

Historical Tidbits

  • The year after the war ended, 1784, Kingston citizens sought permission from the state assembly to drop the “g” in the city name, and thus its association with King George. The state approved, and the town became “Kinston.”
  • Dobbs County, named for a colonial governor, was renamed for Glasgow. Due to the land-fraud scandal, it became Greene County to honor Continental Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. Lenoir County was later carved out of it, named for Brig. Gen. William Lenoir, a hero of the Revolution.

More Information


[1] Holloman n.d.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Local tradition holds that Cobb served as a ranger with the regular Continental Army in the north, including at Valley Forge. As of 2020, he was listed as such by the Society of the Cincinnati, a group of descendants of Continental officers. However, sources at the society’s national library and the state chapter questioned this listing, the latter saying Cobb may have been added under old chapter standards (Nellis, Rachel, Society of the Cincinnati Library, “Capt. Jesse Cobb,” E-mail, 11/20/2020; Warner, Kirk, N.C. Society of the Cincinnati, “Capt. Jesse Cobb,” E-mail, 11/23/2020). The state Colonial Records; Valley Forge muster roll; the book used by the Society to determine eligibility for membership (per Nellis); and the nine veterans pension records found mentioning Cobb (‘Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Applications & Rosters’ <https://www.revwarapps.org/> [accessed 11 November 2020]) all indicate Cobb did not serve with or in the regular army. The one Continental ranger unit in 1777 was recruited and only served north of Pennsylvania (U.S. Army Center Of Military History, “Rangers in Colonial and Revolutionary America,” [https://ranger.org/Resources/Documents/Colonial%20and%20Revolutionary%20History.pdf]). And an expert on the war in the Carolinas wrote he found no record of any N.C. rangers, but mounted militia sometimes called themselves rangers (‘North Carolina Rangers, American Revolution – WikiTree G2G’ <https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/516890/north-carolina-rangers-american-revolution> [accessed 29 December 2020]).

[4] Holloman n.d.

[5] Balko 2009.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Exhibits 2020.

[11] Bass 2020.

[12] Ibid.

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