Orton Plantation And Burgin-Wright House
Rice crops are swamp-loving and labor-intensive, requiring lots of slaves to dam creeks and dredge new canals, not to mention that whole rigorous business of planting and harvesting. The banks of the Cape Fear River took on the appearance of a plaid suit, with new pin-stripe waterways created along much straighter lines than Mother Nature has ever drawn.
Beginning in 1663 King Charles II parceled out land freely and, when the Moore brothers showed up in 1725, they picked up a substantial amount of riverfront acreage, enough to create Orton Plantation adjacent to Brunswick Town. "King" Roger Moore promptly built a house on the land and the Indians promptly burned it down.
Moore tried again in 1735, a 1.5-story house that remains at the heart of the gracious classic revival style Orton Mansion. To supply his rice fields with fresh water he dammed Orton Creek to create the five-mile-long Orton Pond. When he died in 1751 he left behind 250 slaves, thousands of acres, and a grave that has long been part of the self-guided public tour of Orton Gardens.
History is like the sea itself, throwing up the occasional rogue wave just to keep it interesting. One of those came along in 2010 when an incredibly wealthy descendant of Roger Moore bought the mansion and the gardens and returned them to the family fold for the first time since the Civil War. The gardens likely will one day be reopened to tourist traffic, but the house has never been much of a public spectacle. Except for the occasional Hollywood movie.
Wilmington wasn't much when it was incorporated in 1740 but one thing it did have going on was a real sturdy jail house, built with ballast stones and petrified whale bones. Ballast stones came from ships sailing from England that basically sailed on empty, and put the largest stones they could find in their lower compartments to counterbalance the tall sails. Then, in preparation for filling every inch of the ship with timber and cotton and tobacco and such, the sailors chucked the stones out onto a terrain mostly comprised of sand, muck and weeds, and people scurried off with these big rocks to build foundations, walls, and in this particular instance one very solid dungeon.
Murderers and horse thieves were thrown in the dungeon, while pickpockets and misdemeanors had much more attractive outdoor accommodations under gracious brick arches.
The jail house burned circa 1770 and John Burgwin bought the property, now 224 Market Street, and built his house on that solid stone-and-what-not foundation. He envisioned entertaining prominent citizens in a gentleman's townhouse that would be the hub of social activity, and he brought his bride to the new Burgwin-Wright House. But in short order she dropped dead at the tender age of 28.
Incidentally, she was Margaret Hayne, of the family that owned a huge rice plantation called Castle Hayne about eight miles north of the city. Her very grand manor house was burned to the ground during the Civil War, but it already had been lost to the Hayne family when Burgwin married Margaret and automatically assumed ownership. That was pretty much the deal with women and property rights.
Burgwin returned to England after her death and a few years later brought his next bride to his fine house on Market Street, but this time he'd married a Quaker and a morally righteous woman who knew a party house when she saw one. She compelled him to sell it to the Wright family with 11 children—which again defeated the whole purpose of formal parlors and crystal chandeliers.
But at least the house was off his hands when it caught the attention of General Cornwallis, commander of the invading British troops, who called it The Most Considerable House in Town, and moved right on in.