Monday, September 23, 2013

Pender County Library Annex Opening and Conserving the Lillington Collection

This past weekend, I spent my time with good friends working on real pieces of history.  These are a collection of documents that date from as early as 1730.  They concern a huge piece of land on the Northeast Cape Fear River that once belonged to Rev. War General John Alexander Lillington (he's actually buried on this land).  It also includes a "large island" that is mentioned in many historical references, including William Hilton's 17th century exploration of the Lower Cape Fear region.  It was also, get this... first granted to Edward Moseley.  Now, am I interested or what?  

Henry Murphy historic home on S. Cowan Street in Burgaw, NC.  It is now the Pender County Library Annex and Genealogy and Local History Archives.  It is the new home of the W. Dallas Herring Carolina Heritage Research Collection.
Dr. W. Dallas Herring
This past Saturday, the 21st of September, was the grand opening of the Pender County Library Annex in Burgaw, NC.  It will function as a genealogical research facility as well as a local history archives.  This historic home, the Henry Murphy home directly across from the Pender County library on S. Cowan St. houses the W. Dallas Herring Carolina Heritage Research Collection.  Mr. Herring is known as the "Father of NC Community Colleges" and his entire life has been devoted to service and leadership in education.   I was fortunate enough to have met with this gentleman years ago at his home in Rose Hill.  He bequeathed his collection of research and genealogical materials to the Duplin County Historical Foundation upon his passing in 2007 (Obit). As funding was running out and no Duplin benefactors could be found, the foundation accepted Pender County Public Library’s offer to establish a separate facility to house the collection in Burgaw along with their own collection. A historic home owned by Pender County for about 20 years for offices was renovated for this purpose (details of the provenance of Herring's collection by Mike Taylor).

Library Director, Mike Taylor, was generous enough to invite me to conserve one of the most significant collections of written artifacts that has ever been discovered in our state.  This is the Lillington Collection.  It consists of a huge collection of deeds and surveys, many of them never before known, pertaining to the property granted to Edward Moseley in 1730 on the East side of the Northeast branch of the Cape Fear River and just north of Rocky Point.  Besides Edward Moseley, his sons James and Sampson, local merchants John Hawkins, John Arthur, George Reynolds, and Charles Hepburn, Samuel and Mary Ashe, John Porter, Massachusetts Bay resident George Minot, and many other names associated with the beginnings of the Lower Cape Fear settlement are included.  The "Great Island" property of Edward Moseley, near to Gov. George Burrington's "Stag Park" 10,000-acre estate, was later deeded to Rev. War General John Alexander Lillington in 1765 by James Moseley who received this land from his father upon his death in 1749.  

1765 Deed from James Moseley to John Alexander Lillington transferring ownership of the "Great Island" property on the East side of the NE Cape Fear River in (now) Pender County, NC

The deeds reveal that the lands of many others were added to this original grant land over the years.  These documents have been passed to the subsequent owners of the property which has, until recently, remained in the family of Daniel Shaw (see photo below) since the late 19th century.  The property is part of the original Lower Cape Fear settlement begun 1725 in a broad expanse across the region, the first permanent settlement known as the "Brunswick Settlement."  This area near Rocky Point served as a prominent location for many plantations of the day, including Moseley Hall, the home of Edward Moseley, incidentally just across the river from this land grant of 1730.   

1764 survey and Shaw Tract (formerly the Lillington Tract)
While preparing for the grand opening, Mike Taylor and I were discussing the collection and he remembered that there was a large map that was retained by the properties new owners.  Being the excellent facilitator and historian that he is, he called the present owners and asked if we could come over and view it.  The two terms "Moseley" and "map" were just too enticing for us to avoid!  

Of course, the chances were slim that we would discover another Moseley map, but what we found was equally intriguing and spectacular!  It was an 1895 survey performed for the heirs of Daniel Shaw.  The poster-sized survey is certainly a treasure that is here compared to a survey from 1764 by James Colson (conserved on Friday and Saturday) of the original Moseley tract of 1730 for 1875/2000 acres.  With some changes, most of the original land is still intact, though divided into numerous tracts for the Shaw heirs in 1895.  

A title analysis of this land would be a fantastic history to see and the documents in the Lillington Collection provide that history.  As the conservation proceeds, the collection will also be processed and a finding aid developed to help other researchers find this information.  The benefits for genealogical and historic purposes about an historic plantation that has never before been made public are enormous! 

The conservation process began on Friday, September 20th in preparation for the grand opening and proceeded through the weekend.  Seven documents in all were finished during this visit.  Below is the 1764 survey again, seen before and after the conservation process.  The document was fraying at the edges, tearing in some places, split in two, and a smaller backing had been attached to the back of it with glue that permeated the paper itself, leaving an unsightly appearance.  Also, the acidity required neutralization to prevent future damage of the paper.  The document was washed, neutralized, and attached to Japanese tissue paper for support.  

Survey of 1764 before and after conservation.

The most damaged piece was a double deed from 1735 and 1736 involving land transactions between John Arthur and John Porter and two merchants by the names of George Reynolds and Charles Hepburn.  The paper was literally written on almost every free area, front and back.  The iron gall ink had eaten through the paper in a process called "lacing" where the letters fall out of the paper first while the general acidity of the paper reduces to stability of the whole document.  This piece required extreme caution.  As indicated below, the document is shown as it was removed from an envelope and placed on the light table.  The following photos show the conserved document front and back.  There were several smaller pieces that could not easily be identified, especially with writing on the front and back!  This was a long process that was eventually halted and the document and individual pieces were scanned to be reassembled digitally.  The "puzzle" pieces can be inserted into the scan of the entire document, leaving them a slightly different color on screen that will help in the identification and reassembly of the actual document itself.  This is a painstaking process!

1735/6 deed broken by "lacing"

Aside from the document fun, we had many guests visit on Saturday and there were good eats, too!  Another added plus, thanks to Mike Taylor, was a meeting with Matt Hillman, a local history buff and expert on the plantations of the Lower Cape Fear.  Matt has been instrumental in the Cemetery Transcription Project For Pender County.  He has transcribed many a cemetery on the Pender County, NCGenweb site.  

The benefits of collaboration were immediately apparent in our short discussion.  Matt had read the Rev. War papers of a British general who had used Moseley Hall as his headquarters.  Those papers described the home as painted red!  Most homes of the 18th century were not painted at all because of the expensive paint required.  It was a symbol of great wealth and position to have your home painted.  Mike mentioned that many homes of that time and in that area were painted red to show off the wealth.  Red was a pigment that required extensive preparation (see previous blog entry on British Red-Coats).  Matt thinks he knows where Moseley Hall was located and we all eagerly look forward to locating that estate!  He has promised to take me there in his boat one day.

Pender County is in for an historical Renaissance... if there are any more collections like the Lillington's just waiting to be discovered... and I'm sure there are!  Thanks to Mike Taylor, John, Cindy and the rest of the staff for their work with the library and annex and for inviting me for this terrific opportunity!  Thanks as well to Matt Hillman for his intrepidity and exploration!  

I might also mention that Mike gave a recent talk on the William Hilton expedition at the Topsail Historical Society and I'll be there myself December 12th.  I will also be speaking at the Pender County library on at least two occasions, about Edward Moseley and George Burrington... times TBA.  Another talk on the Lillington Collection and/or its conservation would also be a great suggestion!  

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