Early New Hanover County Records lists 170 acres of Poplar Grove in possession of James Moore and Ann, his wife, who sell the 170 acres (E 370-1767) to Cornelius Harnett, one point of which touched the Sound near Perry’s oyster shell landing and another touched on Rich Inlet Creek at a point a little above the fork of the creek and then followed the eastern fork far inland; an additional 40 acres sold to Caleb Mason, next to the 170 acres, both having an interesting border point which they called the “Brickyard;” finally another 628 acres sold by “Henry Urquhart & Henry Toomer to James Foy, Jr. (land sold by Mary Harnett Widow & Exec. of Cornelius Harnett to Francis Clayton, 3 February 1784, and by him by will 2 October 1790 devised to be sold).
The property of which is so named and referenced as Poplar Grove in both the land deed of sale and also in a letter by Cornelius Harnett after his last journey from Philadelphia to North Carolina in January 1780: “From his quiet home at ‘Poplar Grove near Wilmington,’ on Washington’s birthday, he wrote to Burke then at Philadelphia, ‘After one of the most fatiguing and most disagreeable journeys that ever an old fellow took, I at last arrived at my little hovel and had the happiness to find my family in good health.’”
James Madison Foy, Jr., purchased 628 acres in 1795 from Francis Clayton – the expanse of land, the mansion house and and the banks lying to the southward and in the sight of the Mansion House (L 133-1795).” The expanse included what became known as Foy Island or Woods Beach, now most well-known as Figure Eight Island. Elizabeh McKoy further notes that “various windings of the said Creek (Rich Inlet & Perry’s) to a grist mill some time ago erected by Cornelius Harnett and taking in one acre of land on the opposite side of the Creek purchased by the said Harnett from the estate of Benjamin Gurly for the purpose of the Mill” (110-111).
Indeed, Poplar Grove was the second home of Mary and Cornelius Harnett who lived principally at Maynard built circa 1752 near where Smith Creek emptied into the Cape Fear River (later known as Hilton when sold to John Hill on May 31, 1784) on the east bank of the Cape Fear just north of Wilmington, and commanding a fine view of the river as well as the second plantation, Poplar Grove, on Topsail Sound. Mary Harnett died in New York City in April or May 1792. They had no children.
However, James Foy, Jr. and Henrietta Rhodes Foy had six children: Henry Rhodes, Eliza, Hiram Washington, Frances, Joseph Mumford, and William.
After James Foy, Jr.’s death at his seat on New Topsail Sound in March 10, 1823, the acreage and home remained in the care of his wife, Henrietta. The Slave Deeds of New Hanover County lists his wife as receiving ownership of slaves: Hannah, Jacob, Joseph, and recognizes the marriage of slaves, Tom and Sarah, who have a son and daughter also named, Tom and Sarah, of which Sarah remains with her mother and father in Henrietta’s household; however, their son, Tom, is bequeathed to James Foy, Jr.’s first son, Henry Rhodes Foy, who also receives Dick, and Dick’s children with his wife, Nancy, named Jim, Anthony, Lusy and Morris; their mother, Nancy, is bequeathed to Joseph Mumford Foy, to remain in the household, more than likely to tend and care for Joseph Mumford who is just shy of his 5th birthday when his father dies.
James Foy, Jr.’s second child, Eliza Foy Shepard, receives ownership of Edmund, Ephraim, and Maria; his youngest children, Hiram Washington, Frances (Fanny), Joseph Mumford, and William share 1/4 interest in multiple remaining slaves not named in James Foy, Jr.’s last will and testament; however, Fanny is designated to also receive full ownership of Abel and Cindy.
Though the circumstances are unknown, James Foy, Jr. has instructed his executor, Henry B. Howard, that Marion, Poldore, Robin and Zephy “be sold on a credit of twelve months, drawing interest after 6 months.”
Their 5th child Joseph Mumford Foy married Mary Ann Simmons (b. May 2, 1822 in Onslow County) on a Tuesday evening of November 19, 1839. He was 22 years old, and she was only 17. As a new bride and groom, both Joseph Mumford and Mary Ann would have brought into the marriage the slaves they had been bequeathed as well as received as gifts from their respective households in which to start their own.
The following spring, April 7, 1840, Joseph Mumford Foy’s mother, Henrietta Rhodes Foy, dies and bequeaths four of the twelve slaves in her possession to only one son (Joseph Mumford), who are John, Nelly, Tom and Winslow.
The remaining eight slaves are bequeathed to Henrietta’s grandchildren as follows: James F. Foy and J. H. Foy (boy) receive equal interest in Cate (woman) and Jonah (boy), whose relationship is not indicated except by gender; William L. Foy receives Izaah and Ruth, noted only as a boy and girl; Francis S. McAllister, Eliza G. Shepard, and Henrietta R. Shepard receive 1/3 interest each in Hannah and Jacob, who are listed as mother and child; and lastly, Henrietta R. Foy (granddaughter) receives a female slave named Tena (Slave Deeds of New Hanover County).
The 1840 Federal Population Census lists Joseph Mumford Foy (newly married and only 22 years of age) as owning a total of 22 slaves, 11 males and 11 females, nine of which are under the age of 10. However, it is not yet clear if the slaves, John, Nelly, Tom and Winslow from his mother’s estate, are included in the 1840 census.
Of the 22 slaves under the ownership of the young couple, 12 of slaves were listed as employed in agriculture and would have continued their assignments in maintaining the house and fields. The original plantation home, located closer to Rich’s Inlet, burned prior to the construction of the manor house between the years 1850-53. Joseph Mumford Foy chose to build his new home closer to the new Wilmington and Topsail Sound Plank Road (today US Hwy 17).
The children of Joseph Mumford and Mary Ann Simmons Foy include:
(1) David Hiram, born Sunday, December 27, 1840 in New Hanover County; died June 12, 1862, Scotts Hill, New Hanover County, NC
(2) Henrietta, born at midnight on Saturday, March 2, 1844 in New Hanover County; died November 6, 1915, Wilmington, New Hanover County, NC; married Joseph Christopher Shepard
(3) Joseph Thompson, born November 16, 1846 in New Hanover County; died April 26, 1918, Scotts Hill, Pender County, NC; married Sarah Eleanora Dozier
(4) James William, born September 19, 1850 in New Hanover County; died February 8, 1920, Raleigh,Wake County, NC; married Susan Bryan
(5) Henry Simmons, born February 15, 1853 in New Hanover County; died June 8, 1935, Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, NC; married Louise Scott
(6) Francis Marion, born August 22, 1855 in New Hanover; died December 20, 1930, Scotts Hill, Pender County, NC; married Melvina Dozier
Poplar Grove was a self-sustaining plantation, which, at its height in 1860, was one of the earliest peanut producing farms in the state of North Carolina, along with the neighboring plantation of Nicholas N. Nixon (b. 07/24/1800 & d. 10/29/1868), who acquired an additional 650 acres of Porters Neck plantation in 1839 and another 500 acres of the same in 1851 and 1854 (Johnson 65).
In the the August 30, 1860 issue of “The Country Gentleman,” Joseph Mumford Foy is quoted as saying that “the principle crop raised in this vicinity is the pea nut, or ground peas as they are generally called. In my section of the country there are over one hundred thousand bushels raised. We consider them more profitable than cotton, where land is suitable for their culture. They have been a great source of wealth to this section of the country. Good land will produce fifty to seventy-five bushels to the acre” (Johnson 61). However, duly noted, Nixon adds that “the picking and preparing for market is a tedious and troublesome process, as the best hands (slaves) will not clean more than two to four bushels per day and those who are inexperienced, not more than half of that” (Johnson 71).
The successful operations of Poplar Grove were based upon an increase in the number of slaves from the onset of Joseph Mumford Foy’s marriage by twenty-seven additional slaves, both born into bondage and/or purchased during the 1850s. The 1860 Federal Slave Schedule of the in the County of New Hanover, State of North Carolina on August 14, 1860, includes a total of 59 Foy slaves, living in 16 slave houses and listed in the following order:
*M – Mulatto
Joseph Mumford Foy intended that his eldest son, David Hiram Foy, be the next to manage the family’s estate. As political storm clouds were looming, Joseph wrote to his son in 1861 that: “should Lincoln be elected which I fear will be the case will the South secede and how shall it be prevented. My motto is Union forever.” Even though the Foys were Unionists, they were reflective of the complicated and complex legacy of slave ownership among North Carolinians, and coastal North Carolinians in particular. (Refer to the Gullah Geechee Corridor page for more information).
In the meantime, Joseph’s health was failing, and he died on April 1, 1861 — the American Civil War beginning only two weeks later. He was only 44 years old. His children, including David Hiram, Henrietta Rhodes, Joseph Thompson (born November 16, 1846), James Williams, Henry Simmons, and youngest son, Francis Marion, barely six years old, remained under the care of their mother, Mary Ann.
The eldest son, David Hiram Foy, recently graduated from Chapel Hill, may have helped his mother manage the plantation before enlisting as a private on March 7, 1862, in Company A, 3rd Calvary of the 41st North Carolina Regiment, know as the “Rebel Rangers.” Shortly thereafter, while working in a nearby training camp, David contracted typhus and died at the age of 21 in the back parlor of the home on June 12, 1862. He was buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington.
After the deaths of both her husband and eldest son, Mary Ann Simmons Foy assumed managerial responsibility of the plantation and for the remainder of 1862 enlisted the expertise of an overseer at the cost of $290.12, though no records indicate that an overseer had ever been hired previously. The lines between battlefront and home front often blurred during the Civil War, especially for the Foy family of Scotts Hill, whose political leanings were buried throughout the war. Mary Ann was reimbursed from the Confederate Army $25.00 for twenty-five bushels of corn and later in August of 1862 reimbursed for another fifty bushels of corn and 1,200 pounds of fodder for $68.00
With the advancing Union lines and the threat of a yellow fever epidemic that ravaged the city of Wilmington during the fall of 1862, Mary Ann evacuated her children to Owensville, Sampson County, NC. Her widowhood was referenced in a Confederate map listing her as Miss Foy on the property lines of Poplar Grove in Scotts Hill, as seen in the above illustration by William Benjamin Blackford. Also note the location of the Artillery Camp just north of Miss Foy’s home.
In March of 1864, Mary Ann hired out seventeen slaves, five of which were young girls, bringing a revenue of $2,395.50. Those slaves included:
|Israel & wife||125.00|
|Bill & wife||250.00|
In late 1864, Mary Ann applied personally to Confederate President Jefferson Davis for an exemption for her second eldest son, Joseph Thompson (J. T.) Foy. She eloquently pleaded for her son’s presence at home to help assist in the management of the plantation.
At the age of seventeen, J. T.’s obituary asserts that he took “charge of the large estate and managed same for his invalid mother and younger brothers and sisters.” Though he was granted a civil service position with the Confederate government, the young J. T. remained in Scotts Hill for the remainder of the war. After the war ended in 1865, Mary Ann and her younger children returned to Poplar Grove.
Wasting no time to align herself with the Union, Mary Ann took the Oath of Allegiance on June 19, 1865. The signed document of which is above & to the right.
Within only a few short years, The Morning Star noted that in 1867 the “farm under his [J. T.) management prospered and an unforeseen security debt of thousands of dollars was met and cancelled. At the age of 21, Mr. Foy had given the farm a clean sheet and had an accumulation to be divided among the younger boys at their maturity” (“Pender Man Passes Away” April 27, 1918).
However, the Census of 1870 lists Mary A. Foy as the head of household, and includes the black and white families surrounding Poplar Grove, more than a dozen of which were emancipated former Foy slaves: 1870 Census of Mary A. Foy. On March 3, 1871, Mary filed a claim with the Southern Commission to be reimbursed for those items Union troops confiscated during the war, including four horses, two mules, 50 pounds of ground peas (peanuts) , 300 pounds of bacon and finally 30 beehives, all of which she valued at $1370, though she did not receive a reimbursement.
On the Wednesday evening of November 8, 1871, J. T. married Sarah Eleanora (Nora) Dozier (b. August 23, 1850) of Marion County, SC, a daughter of Dr. Thomas Jefferson Dozier and Elizabeth Emma Gause, both natives of Marion County. The mother of Nora passed away during her birth, and Dr. Dozier married his deceased wife’s first cousin, Sarah Gause. The children of the second marriage included: Thomas, Benjamin, James, Charles, Pamela, Melvina, Elizabeth and Harvey.
Melvina Dozier (1862-1946) marries Francis Marion Foy (1855-1930), the youngest brother of J. T. Foy.
Mary Ann Simmons Foy died on December 24, 1875, in the 54th year of her life. Her 2nd and 5th sons, Joseph Thompson and Francis Marion, lived and worked side by side at Poplar Grove raising close knit families until their deaths. Her fourth son, Henry Simmons, relocated to “Winston-Salem on February 22, 1879, and engaged in the tobacco business, manufacturing plug and twist tobaccos under the firm name of H. S. Foy and Company. He married Mollie Frances White on January 29, 1880, and continued in the tobacco business until 1883.
Under J. T. Foy’s direction, the plantation prospered as peanuts were shipped all the way to New York City. Later, J. T. Foy’s “experience in business affairs and his success in life have led to his being chosen by the people of his county to fill important public positions … His part was always that of leader in progressive movements and improvements. He may be credited with an important share of the movement which brought about the construction of what was formerly known as the Wilmington, Onslow & East Carolina Railroad in 1890″ (History of North Carolina).
J. T. Foy’s wife, Nora, served as the Scotts Hill postmistress for several years. At 4’11″, she was issued a single shot 22 for protection. Sadly, the deceased children of Mrs. J.T. Foy were removed from Scotts Hill to Oakdale Cemetery on December 27, 1918, to be buried in the family plot of their father. They included a son born in 1878, a son and daughter who both died in 1879; another son in 1883. However, the manor house at Poplar Grove continued to be a gathering place for entertainment.
Noted in the Wilmington Messenger of March 24, 1889, “An entertainment for the benefit of Scotts Hill Methodist Church will be given Friday night next, March 29th, as the residence of Mr. J. T. Foy, at Scotts Hill. The affair will be under the auspices of the ladies of the church, and will consist of a magnificent supper to be followed with a festival. The ladies promise a royal time to all who will favor them with their presence, and cordially invite everybody to attend. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.” (Reaves 9).
The September 7th 1891 edition of the Wilmington Star News announced that “Joseph T. Foy, chairman of the Pender County Board of Commissioners was elected president of the County Board of Health” (Reaves 12).
Since J. T. and Nora had no surviving children, in 1895, they adopted their nephew, Robert Lee Foy, Sr., son of Henry Simmons Foy, Sr. of Winston Salem and younger brother of J.T. Foy. The family ties were close, as the Wilmington Star edition of August 10, 1900, indicates: “Mr. Henry Simmons Foy, Jr. [Robert Lee Foy’s older brother], who has been here visiting friends and relatives for three weeks, has returned to his home at Winston-Salem, N.C.” (Reaves 19).
Active in local government, J. T. expanded his political ambitions to the state. “In 1901,” The Morning Star notes that “he was elected to the state senate from Pender and Duplin counties and for three terms he was a member of the lower house of the general assembly” (Reaves 32).
The Wilmington Messenger in its April 26, 1904, edition describes “the big white home with broad stairway leading to the second story with hospitable doorway and big curtained windows, and a circling carriage drive typical of a Southern plantation home, with its spreading oaks four and five feet through, and poplars and pines tower 80 feet high. Beautiful Jerseys add coloring to the lots at the barns, where big oaks grow, and wells of crystal purity are found in the shade; cultivated fields extend beyond the big vegetable gardens, and wood horizon the scene.
This is the home of the Honorable Joseph T. Foy, who was born here, and so was his father, Joseph M. Foy, and his grandfather, James Foy, lived on the place half his life. It is worthy of note that Cornelius Harnett owned a part of the present place which encompasses 815 acres, but Mr. Foy owns about 1,500 acres, including splendid timber. The big house looks as if it was finished yesterday, but it was built 55 years ago. It has eleven rooms and twelve big fireplaces, and is the embodiment of peace and comfort. Therein for half a century has been Scotts Hill post office. Mrs. Foy looks after Uncle Sam as well as her own household, with great ability … His farm foreman, D. R. Ornsby, has been with him a dozen years and raises about everything from peas to peanuts, and Mr. Foy is the champion sweet potato grower.
Mr. Foy’s nephew, Robert Lee Foy, is a young gentleman of excellent promise, who will go to A. & M. College [State Agricultural and Mechanical College at Raleigh] this fall” (Reaves 22). Providing their nephew, Robert Lee Foy, Sr., a college education, he would later assume entire charge of the plantation, including the supervision of the twelve or so tenant families living on the property.
It is important to note that “the lots” in the above-referenced article refer to the group of tenant houses located behind the the “big house.” The black residents of which are also listed in the 1910 Census of J.T. Foy. These tenant farmers were also accompanied by local domestic servants who tended to the Foy family and helped prepare the house for small and large, private and public, family celebrations as well as cultivate and harvest the large expansive fields between the two brothers (J.T. and F. M. Foy) farms.
Such celebrations included regular family reunions, the location of which rotated between here and Winston-Salem. The Wilmington News Dispatch on August 22, 1910, announced that “A reunion of the Foy family was held at Scotts Hill today. It is estimated that about fifty of the family and their descendants were at Scotts Hill for the celebration and it is needless to state that the occasion was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Messrs. F. M. Foy and J. T. Foy at Scotts Hill. There were also present, a brother, Mr. J. W. Foy and sister, Mrs. Henrietta Shepard, of Wilmington. The celebration was held at the home of Mr. F. M. Foy. At midday a fine dinner was served and the splendid feats of good things was discussed with real enjoyment. The pleasant hours were present with reminiscences and stories and the occasion certainly proved to be one of real enjoyment” (Reaves 25).
On December 14, 1911, Robert Lee Foy married Elizabeth Dozier Abbey, a niece of his Aunt Nora’s. She was only 19 years old and soon pregnant. However, their first child, a girl, born and died on the same day of September 3, 1912. No doubt, Aunt Nora was a sympathetic confidant to the grieving young wife. Two years later, Elizabeth Abbey Foy was born on October 30, 1914, and another daughter, Gertrude Theresa Foy, was born on August 16, 1916.
Shortly thereafter, the Morning Star of Wilmington announced that “J. T. Foy , for many years one of the most prominent citizens in Pender County and well know in Wilmington, passed away yesterday morning at 9 o’clock at his home at Scotts Hill. His death will be mourned by a wide circle of friends throughout eastern North Carolina. Funeral services will be held from the residence tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock and the interment will be in Oakdale Cemetery, this city (“Pender Man Passes Away” April 27, 1918).
From Volume V, History of North Carolina, 1919, “the Foy home was formerly in New Hanover County, but since 1875 has been in Pender County. The lands of the plantation and estate embrace 835 acres and extend from the main street of the Village of Scott’s Hill to salt water. The east boundary of the plantation is Lower Topsail Sound. It is a beautiful and healthful location, affording every charm and comfort of a country home and the salubrious climate assured by the salt air of the Atlantic Ocean. Its situation gives it a splendid climate both summer and winter.”
After the death of J.T. Foy, the care of his widow, Nora Dozier Foy, continued under their nephew Robert Lee Foy and her niece, Elizabeth Dozier Abbey Foy. Robert Lee Foy, Jr. was born on October 2, 1919. Aunt Nora remained under the care and in the house of the growing family until she died on January 12, 1923; however, not without controversy.
On June 6, 1923, the Wilmington News Dispatch disclosed that “The heirs of the late Joseph T. Foy and Nora D. Foy have filed suit against Robert Lee Foy and Elizabeth A. Foy in an effort to break the will of the late Mrs. Nora D. Foy over contention of properties located here and said to be worth approximately $75,000. The shift is based on the grounds that the will of the late Mrs. Foy was made with the intention that the will of her husband would be carried out and that her wording had been misconstrued by Robert Lee Foy who, under the liberal interpretation of her will, is the principal beneficiary and who is now in possession of the Foy properties in Wilmington … Mrs. Foy’s will disposes of much personal property, including jewelry and directs that a piece of land at 710 South Third Street be sold and the money derived from the sale, together with money she had on deposit in the Wilmington Savings and Trust company, be used for the erection of an old ladies home. The remainder, not mentioned otherwise, is left to R. L. Foy and wife, Elizabeth, who the donor says cared for her during her widowhood” (Reaves 36).
In the May 26, 1924, edition of the Wilmington News Dispatch, Elizabeth’s own father, “William Chester Abbey, 75, died Saturday night at Scotts Hill … the funeral was conducted from the residence of Mrs. R. L. Foy. Mr Abbey was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y.” (Reaves 36). She was pregnant with child and gave birth to a second son on June 9, 1924, only two weeks after the death of her father. Devastatingly, the baby died two days later, on June 11, 1924. They had named him Joseph Thompson Foy.
Their only son, Robert Lee Foy, Jr., was the last generation of Foys to operate the farm.
References & Further Reading
Block, Susan Taylor. Cape Fear Lost. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
Brown, Joseph Parsons. The Commonwealth of Onlsow – A History. New Bern, NC: The Owen G. Dunn, Co., 1971.
Kellam, Ida B. The Wilmington Town Book. Raleigh, NC: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1973. Print., 250 pages, p. 70.
McKoy, Elizabeth. Early New Hanover County Records. Wilmington, NC, 1973.
Onslow County Heritage – North Carolina. The Onslow County Historical Society. Jacksonville, North Carolina, 1983.
Reaves, William. Reaves Collection. Series 1, v. 26. Foy thru Fussel Family History. New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, North Carolina, 2003.