Saturday, October 27, 2007

Harmony Hall, Elizabeth Neale & Gen. Cornwallis

Harmony Hall, White Oak, North Carolina
Around 1768, Col. James Richardson built Harmony Hall, his home, on a 12,000 acre tract on the Cape Fear River near the village of White Oak, North Carolina. A native of Stonington, Connecticut, who ran a West Indies shipping line, he had earlier been shipwrecked off Cape Hatteras and, while waiting for the arrival of one of his ships, had explored the area. He liked the Cape Fear River bottom lands so much that he decided to settle and make his home there. About the same time he met and married a young widow, Elizabeth Neale Purdie, whose parents came from Barbados. Together they moved into Harmony Hall.
It was here, according to local legend, that the seeds of Gen. Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown were sown. As the story goes, late in the Revolution, Cornwallis made Harmony Hall his headquarters on his way to Wilmington. One evening, while ascending the stairs, Mrs. Richardson overheard the general and his aide planning their campaign against Gen. Nathanael Greene, whose army was in South Carolina. She wrote a note to her husband, then with Greene, outlining the British plans, and immediately dispatched it by the plantation overseer on horseback. With Mrs. Richardson’s information, the American forces were able to anticipate the British movements, thus hastening the British retreat across the Carolinas to their ultimate surrender at Yorktown.
Whether this legend is true or not remains the subject of argument. Regardless, in Bladen County a historical marker exists for Harmony Hall which tells of Elizabeth's overhearing the plans of Gen. Cornwallis, quartered in her home, then dispatching the information to Greene's army in South Carolina--thus aiding in the defeat of the British and eventually the retreat of Cornwallis. Some believe the Cornwallis story came about because of Jane Meredith’s (c. 1970) novel Harmony Hall, but the story was widely circulated long before that. 

(Source: Harmony Hall Plantation, Bladen County Historical Society)