POW Turned Congressman
Park on the street near the Blount-Bridgers House. If you want to stay in your vehicle, park in front on Bridger Street, near the road that runs directly downhill from the house. But the house can be toured and is wheelchair-accessible.
If you like, walk up to the front porch.
Thomas Blount was born in 1759 at his parent’s home, Blount Hall, 14 miles south of modern Greenville. His father Jacob was a wealthy man with a range of income sources: farming, mills, naval stores (raw materials for ships), and loans. By 1783, after serving in the colonial assemblies and revolutionary congresses, and as paymaster for a Continental Army regiment, Jacob had owned up to 6,000 acres and held 74 people in slavery.[a]
Starting at 17 as a lieutenant, Thomas fought in the 5th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army throughout most of the war. He was a major by the time he was in the Battle of Eutaw Springs (S.C.) in September 1781. There or shortly after he was captured, and for unknown reasons Blount was taken all the way to England as a prisoner of war. Apparently he was back by September 1783, the same month the treaty ending the war was signed. After his return he became a major general of the Patriot militia (part-time defense force).
Blount and two brothers, including infamous William, became highly successful merchants after the war. The business was based in Washington, N.C., where their father had bought a store years earlier, with other facilities on Shell Island.[b] Thomas moved to Tarboro to manage their new store here, the highest point most boats could get on the Tar River.
He also spent three years in Europe for the company, but ran into problems because American merchants had earned a reputation for not paying their debts. This made it impossible for him to buy goods on credit. He wrote John Gray in 1785, “The villainous Conduct of some Americans (I may say most of them)… has conspired with the general want of punctuality in the Merchants of our Country, to fix on the whole Nation a stigma of Dishonesty which time itself will scarcely be able to obliterate.”[c]
From Tarboro he sent to Washington for export “tobacco, corn, and pork from the local populace (and) tallow (fat for candles, etc.), beeswax, and snakeroot.” In return he “received West Indian and New England goods, mainly sugar, molasses, salt, coffee, and rum.” The Blounts also provided shipping services, and farmed tobacco and other crops. “In 1783, for example, the Blounts shipped nearly one thousand bushels of sweet potatoes to New York.” The company built a tannery and nail factory as well, the latter staffed by enslaved people and white apprentices.[d]
Shortly after the war, Thomas also was named a town commissioner for “Tarborough.” The commissioners could force inhabitants to provide up to 12 days of work every year on town and road improvements. They could regulate construction of “’piazzas, porches, and other buildings,’” and tax people to maintain streets and the public landing on the river.[e]
Later Blount became a justice of the peace, served in the state assembly, and was in the state convention that approved the U.S. Constitution along with William. He also was elected a U.S. Congressman, serving three full sessions despite being tried (though acquitted) for misdemeanor land fraud charges in 1800. He was apparently not a fan of Pres. George Washington, writing home of dinner at the Washingtons as “‘spoiling his day.’”
At the same time he was a trustee of the University of North Carolina for its first 20 years, and one of the commissioners who laid out the new capital of Raleigh. Blount Street there is named for him. He died in 1812 during his fourth congressional term. Besides the house and land here, he left behind another 540-acre plantation, other property here in “Tarborough,” his share of company land in Tennessee, and control of an unknown number of enslaved humans. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
What to See
“The Groves” was built for Thomas around 1808, the second home in town for him and his second wife Mary—daughter of Continental Army Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner. No records indicate whether the house was built by enslaved people, free blacks, or white laborers. For a sense of how well the Blounts were doing, look down Saint Andrew Street to the town common. The street replaced the Blount’s driveway. Everything down to the common on both sides was their front yard, part of a 300-acre lot here at the highest point in Tarboro.
Around back are restored gardens and an arboretum. The enslaved workers’ quarters were nearby, and inside the house is a Blount family Bible with slave births inscribed.
Now city-owned, the home is open for tours. In addition to information and items related to Thomas, you can learn more about the house, Thomas and Mary’s prominent descendants, and the enslaved people who lived here. During visiting hours, go to the basement entrance, on the left when facing the front door.
- Blount, Thomas, Extracts of Thomas Blount’s Will, Recorded August 23, 1808 (Will Book E, pp. 34-35), Files of the Blount-Bridger House, Tarboro, N.C.
- Clark, Walter, ‘General James Hogun: A Fragment of a Lost Chapter’, The North Carolina Teacher, 1892 <http://archive.org/details/northcarolinatea1892rale> [accessed 17 April 2020]
- Edwards, Justin, ‘Tar River Blounts and a Transitional Maritime Cultural Landscape, 1778-1802’ (unpublished Master’s thesis, East Carolina University, 2015)
- Green, C. Sylvester, Blounts of Pitt County, 1978 (Pitt County, N.C.: Pitt County Historical Society)
- Keith, Alice Barnwell, ‘John Gray and Thomas Blount, Merchants, 1783-1800’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 25.2 (1948), 194–205
- MacMillan, Laura, The North Carolina Portrait Index (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963)
- Maupin, Armistead, ‘Blount, Thomas’, NCpedia, 1979 <https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/blount-thomas> [accessed 21 September 2020]
- Nash, Jaquelin, ‘Thomas Blount: Soldier, Statesman, Shipper’, Files of the Blount-Bridger House, Tarboro, N.C.
- State of North Carolina, Newbern District, The State vs. Thomas Blount, 1800
- Tour, Blount-Bridger House, Tarboro, N.C., 9/16/2020
- Wegner, Ansley, ‘Blount Hall’, NCpedia, 2009 <https://www.ncpedia.org/blount-hall> [accessed 21 September 2020]