A History of Orton, North Carolina

A dot on a map made in 1799 is the singular reference found for the small village of Orton, located on the western bank of the Cape Fear River in eastern Brunswick County, North Carolina, roughly a few miles north of Brunswick Town (defunct, even in 1799). Whether there was actually a small town or village at this location at this point in time is perhaps subject to debate, but map-makers seldom noted something as trivial as a mere plantation - unless they were attempting to curry favor with some political figure or other noteworthy individual.

However, the name Orton certainly refers to no "mere plantation" in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Orton was "the Plantation" of Brunswick County, among many other notable plantations in the surrounding area - such as Belvedere, Clarendon, Lilliput, Kendal, Russelborough, Pleasant Oaks, and Belville to name just a handful of the over eighteen large plantations established in Brunswick County from 1725 to 1760 as shown below. As can be seen, including what is now Bladen, Pender, and New Hanover counties, there were well over fifty notable "plantations" within a fifty mile radius - some that did evolve into viable towns/villages, and some that were split up and sold off to new landowners.

It is very likely that something close to a "town" or "village" did grow up around Orton Plantation in the 1790s and certainly after 1800, therefore a "dot" on an obscure map just might be accurate. With rice production increasing along the western Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, it is easy to imagine little hamlets springing up around the rice plantations just as people would choose to live in "mill towns" in other portions of the state during this same time frame. As described about two other "dots" - Belvedere and Clarendon - both in Brunswick County at the same time as Orton, these locations employed many people (albeit most were slaves at the time).

In fact, only a couple of decades later than what's described herein, on April 16, 1828, the US Post Office Department granted Orton Mills a Post Office, with the first Postmaster being Mr. Frederick J. Hill - the owner of Orton Plantation at the time. This PO was in continuous operation until April 16, 1834 (exactly six years), when it was permanently closed.

So, with an offical Post Office in the 1820s/30s it is not hard to conceive that perhaps there were enough folks living closeby, even a few decades earlier, for there to be at least a small village or town around the "plantation."

The area around Orton Plantation was settled circa 1726. The land known as Orton was first owned by Colonel Maurice Moore, but he sold it to his brother Roger - both originally from Charles Town, South Carolina and had traveled through Brunswick County to provide assistance to the Albemarle region during the Tuscarora War. It was Roger Moore who developed it into a leading rice plantation with a "reserve" over five miles in length. The first house built on the site by Roger Moore was destroyed by local Indians. "King" Roger obliterated the tribe and then built again at Orton around 1735, settling his family there. The plantation later passed into the hands of Benjamin Smith, governor of North Carolina 1810-1811, and notable Brunswick County landowner, whose financial misfortunes cost him the ownership of Orton. In 1824, the plantation's 4,975 acres were put up for auction

Doctor Frederick Jones Hill became the owner of Orton Plantation in 1826. Around 1840, he added another floor and attic and installed four fluted Doric columns. In 1854, Dr. Hill sold Orton to Mr. Thomas Calezance Miller, who had married, at Orton, Mrs. Hill's niece, Annie Davis. The plantation period flourished up to the end of the American Civil War.

When the Federal troops overran the Lower Cape Fear at the fall of Fort Fisher in January of 1865, they used the main house at Orton Plantation as a field hospital. Following the end of the war, the house was abandoned for a period of fifteen to twenty years.

In 1872, Orton Plantation was advertized for sale at public auction, and sold in 1876 to a young Englishman named Currer Richardson Roundel. Unfortunately, the gentleman committed suicide soon thereafter. In the late 1870s, Mr. Roundel's heirs sold the plantation to Major C. M. Stedman and Captain D. R. Murchison. Colonel K. M. Murchison bought the property about 1880. Murchison was able to restore Orton to its former state. Trees were growing in parts of the house and the whole plantation was in a sad state of decay.

After the death of Col. Murchison, Orton was purchased by James Sprunt, LLD and presented it to his wife Luola - daughter of the deceased Murchison. In 1910, Mrs. Sprunt had wings added to Orton house, and with encouragement of her husband, began to design and plant gardens. Sprunt built Sunnyside for his daughter in the 1890s. After the death of Luola in 1916, Dr. Sprunt had the Orton Chapel named as a memorial to her. Dr. Sprunt died in 1924, and his son James Laurence Sprunt became the owner of the plantation. He opened the old Colonial road to Wilmington, which eventually became today's NC 133. Prior to that, the plantation had only been accessible by water. Around 1934, he extended the area of his mother's garden. James Laurence Sprunt died in 1973, and his wife Annie Gray Sprunt died in 1978. Orton was owned by descendents until very recently.

In May of 2010, the estate sold Orton Plantation to Louis Moore Bacon, a hedge fund manager and direct descendant of Roger Moore, builder of the original Orton home in 1725. Bacon plans to restore the house and renovate the grounds. It is no longer open to the public.

In December of 2013, Mr. Bacon donated more than 6,400 acres at Orton Plantation to the N.C. Coastal Land Trust through a perpetual conservation easement by Orton Plantation Holdings LLC, representing one of the largest transactions in the land trust’s history.

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