First president of Davidson College owned Lincoln County plantation
Compiled by Ken H. Fortenberry
Rev. Robert Hall Morrison was one of the most influential people of his time and established Davidson College.
After he left the presidency of the college (and the house that went with it, Morrison needed a new place to live so he constructed Cottage Home on 200 acres he wife, Mary Graham Morrison, inherited from her father, Joseph Graham.
Lincoln County at the time was a small, but wealthy, place to live. Iron ore manufacturing had made many people wealthy. During this time, Rev. Morrison also pastored Unity Presbyterian Church (for about 30 years) and later organized and pastored Machpelah and Castanea Grove churches.
The new homestead Cottage Home was considered a place of culture and refinement before the Civil War devastated the South. The house itself was three stories, surrounded by a grove of forest trees on a plantation supported by slaves. Cotton, corn, wheat and livestock were grown on the plantation that Morrison called home for nearly 50 years.
Despite Morrison’s background as a Presbyterian minister, he owned 66 slaves at one time (1840). That number had dropped to 29 by the time the Civil War began. Historians record that 28 slaves were born on the plantation – the last three in December 1864.
According to historical records at Davidson College, Mary, Morrison’s first slave, was valued at $437, and became a lifelong servant to one of Morrison’s daughters, Anna. She was called “the overseer” by other slaves at Cottage Home because of her supposed influence on Morrison.
“All of Morrison’s sons-in-law became slaveowners themselves. Hetty, inherited from Joseph Morrison in 1837, and All of Morrison daughters including Mary Anna who married Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were married in the front parlor of the house. Jackson and Morrison were married on July 6, 1857.
The newlyweds moved of to Virginia, but as the Civil War became more intense, Anna returned to Cottage Home while Jackson rose in the ranks. and
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was accidentally killed in battle by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 10,1863.
Anna was a widow at age 31, and she was left to raise her daughter, Julia, alone. (Another daughter died after living only three months). In 1873 she took her daughter and moved to Charlotte so Julia could get a sound education. She spent the rest of her life as the revered widow of Stonewall Jackson. She died in 1915 and was buried beside him in Virginia.
After the war, Rev. Morrison rented part of the property at Cottage Home to sharecroppers. A contract dated January 10, 1868, listed three men as renters at Cottage Home. The men rented and farmed the land, and built homes. In exchange, Morrison received corn and cotton.
In one of his letters he wrote about life at Cottage Home after the war:
“We have very few servants about us now, only one woman and a boy–We got on with as much quiet and peace as could be expected. My farm is rented out to four men and … we must try and live on what we get.”
Rev. Morrison remained at Cottage Home until he died of a kidney infection in 1889.
The original house burned sometime later, but was rebuilt and was still standing as late as 1939. The house is no longer there, but a marker nearby marks the location.