A History of Kenansville, North Carolina

Liberty Hall - Kenansville, North Carolina

Treasured for its grace and charm, the antebellum South was a land where stately homes were canopied by giant live oaks and the fragrant scent of magnolia blossoms filled the Southern air. Liberty Hall in Kenansville, North Carolina stands today as a proud reminder of a time that exists only in memories and storybooks. The ancestral home of the Kenan family built in the early 1800s, has been restored and is now a Southern Historic Landmark welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Liberty Hall, an 1833 two-story white clapboard house a stone's throw from the Duplin County court house on Highway 24, is a typical example. The ancestral home of the Kenan family, who helped found the University of North Carolina in the 1790s, is shaded under a canopy of live oak trees and squeezed between newer homes on one side and city tennis courts on the other.

Liberty Hall's owners were well-to-do, but far from aristocratic. "It was nice for its day but it was not tremendous," said Thomas S. Kenan of Chapel Hill, an eighth-generation descendant of the original settler.

Kenans - of Scots and Irish ancestry - first came to the state in 1760. A son of those first arrivals served as a general in the American Revolution. At the family's peak, Kenans controlled almost 7,500 acres about 12 miles south of Kenansville on the northeast Cape Fear River.

Income came not from vast cotton fields but from sales of timber, pitch tar and turpentine. According to Thomas Kenan, the family had 20 to 50 slaves, and often worked alongside them.

In 1816, Kenansville was laid out on the public lands and a new court house ordered to be erected. In January 1819, court was held in the courthouse at Kenansville, the county seat of Duplin County.
When Sampson County was cut off and organized into a new county in 1784, James Pearsall was Sheriff of Duplin County. Sheriff Pearsall owned a large plantation on which there was a remarkable fresh water spring with a constant flow of water. He donated four acres of land, including the unusual spring, for the new county seat, which was named Kenansville, after the Kenan Family. Court minutes show that Sheriff Pearsall was soon rewarded by being allowed a permit to operate a tavern in his home.

Later, he was issued a permit to build and operate a tavern to sell victuals and drinks on the four acres of spring property he had donated for the Duplin County seat. "The Spring" became a favorite place for picnics and political rallies. It has been the scene of many romantic encounters through the years and a favorite spot for county employees to eat bag lunches. The first courthouse erected in Kenansville on the four acres donated by Sheriff Pearsall was completed in 1785.

Duplin Court House was granted a U.S. Post Office on April 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was James James. The name was changed to Kenansville on March 31, 1825, and its first Postmaster was William K. Frederick. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved