Explore History: Explore the World
Spend a morning or an afternoon exploring one of the last remaining plantation complexes open to the public in southeastern North Carolina and within the National Park Service’s Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Poplar Grove, formerly a sweet potato and peanut plantation, was in the Foy family for six generations, from 1795 to 1971, producing peanuts from the agricultural skills of the Gullah Geechee people and then shipped as far north as New York City before P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus popularized this protein packed food to the masses in the late 1800’s.
The original manor house was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1980 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built and maintained by the skills of the enslaved men and women in the Foy household circa 1850, Joseph Mumford Foy chose this Scotts Hill location to construct his home closer to the Old New Bern Road, which later became the Wilmington and Topsail Sound Plank Road.
The museum complex is sustained through the continuing efforts of Poplar Grove Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit Public Charity, dedicated to education, conservation, and preservation. The 15+ remaining acres left of the original homestead are under the stewardship of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.
Poplar Grove Foundation, Inc. seeks to shed light on this pre-Revolutionary War planter family who originally settled in New Bern, NC, from Baltimore, Maryland circa 1760. Foy family members played an integral part in eastern North Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge.
In the October 2013 issue of Our State, you can read Burial and Mourning at Poplar Grove by Philip Gerard, highlighting Joseph Mumford Foy’s wife, Mary Ann Simmons Foy. Her Unionist allegiance in honor of her dead husband and in service to her nation stood steadfast in the face of opposing forces. Her husband had declared “Union forever” in a letter to their eldest son, David, during the fall Presidential election campaign of Abraham Lincoln, a contradiction of political and social ideas among the coastal planters who owned slaves but had strong ties to the Revolutionary War.
The enslaved Foys were descended, bequeathed and split apart from generation to generation among Foy siblings and their subsequent marriages. Their skills and talents are best reflected in the successful cultivation of peanuts and sweet potatoes in the sandy loamy coastal soil. Most notably, though rarely recognized, were the engineering and artisan skills of the enslaved males who constructed the manor house known as Poplar Grove from on-site materials.
From foundation to rooftop to the interior of the home’s horsehair plaster walls & crown molding to the heart pine floors and black walnut staircase, the three-story manor house stands today as a testament to these little recognized individuals who, like the neighboring plantations along the coastal highway of North Carolina, are part of the Gullah Geechee Corridor and its revolutionary roots from Civil War to Civil Rights.
Within the complex is the original smokehouse, kitchen shed and the last remaining tenant house belonging to Nimrod Nixon, who served in WWII and remained in the tenant house without running water and electricity until the late 1950s.
Two heritage art studios are on site for viewing: the Basket Gallery and Blacksmith Shop, in addition to an Agricultural Exhibit housing a peanut thrasher and information on the production of peanuts.
The Foundation would like to thank Kimberly Sherman, consulting historian, for conducting research and providing historical and political context to the Foy family archives located both on the property and in the Robert Lee Foy Collection at the Joyner Library at East Carolina University as well as Beverly Smalls, Bertha Todd, and Karene Manley for their invaluable input.
We are honored to exhibit, From Civil War to Civil Rights: The African American Experience at Poplar Grove, which opened on June 19, 2014. This permanent display is free to the public and located in the lower level of the Manor House. The project was made possible in part by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.