In the realm of genealogy if there is no source noted it should not be considered fact until proven. Simple. One would think.
In the realm of family and local historians, the stories we hear and the writings we come across can seem factual, if not we think at least nuggets of truth may exists in these. These nuggets, or clues, can help us in our research. But all too often what is stated in writing or verbally in stories handed down, after generations, can seem to become facts/truths and that is where continued research and new discoveries can become points to some that are at the least disappointing or as objectionable, seem argumentative or down right hostile words despite the true intentions.
Take the case of a historical home in Kinston, Lenoir, North Carolina, “Harmony Hall”. The name itself given to it by a local historian and was never referred to by this name in it’s time period under discussion.
State researchers recently told the board that they would lose the historical marker as the facts stated were not proven. (The post would remain and if they want to have a new marker installed they would help to word it, though of course not pay for it or the installation.) I met with Mike Hill at the NC State Archives yesterday to learn more about it.
The website http://harmonyhallkinston.com/ states.
Harmony Hall is the only house of historical significance left standing in Kinston, North Carolina.
The site was built in 1772 by Jesse Cobb and his wife, Elizabeth Heritage Cobb, and has served as a residence to prominent historical figures of Lenoir County.
Harmony Hall housed the offices of James Glasgow, Secretary of State, until 1781. The State Board of War and other official meetings were held there at this time.
During the Revolutionary period, it was owned by Richard Caswell, First Governor of North Carolina after Independence was gained from Great Britain.
The house was also the site of a Civil War Hospital, Church Annex, Public Library, and Women’s Club building.
The house was remodeled around 1790, again in 1835 and the most recent restoration was completed in 1984.
The restored house features a large reception room, called the great room, at the center of the first floor with open fireplaces at each end. The great room is the actual size of the original dwelling built in 1772. This area was enlarged by the addition of wings and rooms in later years.
The problem with this is there is no conclusive evidence to link Governor Richard Caswell with either the lot or home. State instituted research going back at least as far as 1969 demonstrate that while the home was found to “have features dating from the mid-eighteenth century including some wide beaded weatherboarding applied with rose headed nails, door casings, moldings, raised-panel doors, and a Georgian secondary mantel on the second floor” proving an 18th-century connection, there is no evidence of original ownership given. A respected local genealogist, extremely well qualified to do so, very recently researched the claim as well and came across no documentation of Richard Caswell’s connection to either lot or building, My own 20+ years of research has shown nothing concerning this lot either, though I admit to not having this on my radar to research.
Dendrochronology could indeed give us a better time period of the original part of the houses age, however this still would not tell us as fact who owned the lot or who built the dwelling prior to 1790. Gov Caswell of course died in Nov 1789. Lenoir county is what is referred to as a “burned county”, having suffered two significant court house fires in the later 19th-century destroying many documents that could have solved this and many other questions.
It has been said that one block over the Governor had a home at 111 E Bright Street, now an empty lot with the brick foundation showing, and behind that on 200 E. Shine street his son, Dallam, had a home that is also now gone. Richard Caswell owned quite a bit of land in the area so it is conceivable that he could have owned the lot on E King Street (Harmony Hall), but no supporting documentation has been found as of this date. Continued research on these other two lots is undergoing.
Though the change in understanding the Peebles House, as it more accurately should be called, has changed how the state thinks it should be historically marked, this does not call into question that this building is still the oldest surviving building in the city and should have a marker noting this and it’s history of being used during the War Between the States.
Too often we tend to take local history as truth unquestioned and that can lead to generations of misunderstandings and take historians, genealogists and researchers down the wrong path of wasted time, energy and disappointment. Since I myself have had to own up to past tales that were not in fact proven and changed my thoughts and research, I know this is hard and hope that those who support (and I am one) the history of Harmony Hall/Peebles House can still celebrate it’s history.