Updated 7 Mar 2023
Just outside of Tar Heel is a small rural community called White Oak. We drive through it every year on our way to Jones Lake State Park. It’s a gorgeous place, full of some of my favorite things: farms and falling-down houses. One of those houses, Harmony Hall Plantation, was the home of Col. James Richardson.
The History of Harmony Hall Plantation
Serendipity brought Col. James Richardson of Connecticut to North Carolina. Shipwrecked off of Cape Hatteras while on the way to the West Indies with a cargo of flour, Richardson spent months in Bladen County waiting on ship repairs. He fell in love with the area and was granted 900 acres of it in return for his service during the French and Indian War.
Col. Richardson quickly set to laying down roots on his new land. Before 1769, he married the widow Elizabeth O’Neal Purdie and finalized the construction of Harmony Hall. Shortly after settling into their new home, the Revolutionary War broke out, and Richardson enlisted in the American Army.
Ever loyal to the American cause, Richardson re-enlisted in the army after the British captured and paroled him. Local legend suggests his wife shared his patriotism.
According to the legend, General Cornwallis briefly used Harmony Hall as a headquarters during his march to Wilmington. One night Mrs. Richardson crept up the exterior stairwell into the attic to eavesdrop through a hole in the ceiling. She overheard Cornwallis and his staff planning their campaign against General Greene in an upstairs bedroom. She slinked back down the stairs and sent the plantation overseer to warn Greene. Her heroic actions gave Greene the information he needed to defeat Cornwallis.
Though evidence proves General Cornwallis marched close to Harmony Hall, it shows that he was on the opposite side of the Cape Fear River. That doesn’t mean the legend isn’t true, just that it didn’t happen at Harmony Hall. Mrs. Richardson may have relocated during the war and spied Cornwallis’ plans elsewhere.
Col. and Mrs. Richardson survived the Revolution and lived out the remainder of their lives at Harmony Hall. The home remained with their descendants until 1865.
Daniel Tatum purchased the property in 1874, passing it down to his daughter Sarah Tatum Layton. In 1961 it was gifted to the Bladen County Historic Society. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
More About The Site
The two-story gabled house has double porches and exterior stairs that lead into a full attic. The home features an unusually tall foundation, probably a flooding precaution (it stands less than a mile from the Cape Fear River).
In addition to the house, there are several buildings on the property. There is a schoolhouse, two restored country stores, a chapel, corn-crib, external kitchen, log cabin, a gatehouse, and a caretaker’s cottage. Most of these structures are not original to the property. They were relocated to the site and restored.
The Harmony Hall Plantation grounds are open to the public – but the hiking trail to the Cape Fear River is currently closed. Unfortunately, the house is closed too due to mold damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
You can help save Harmony Hall for future generations by mailing a donation check to HHPV, Inc C/O E. Melvin, 3401 Old Hwy 41, Bladenboro, NC 28320.