Enfield, North Carolina in Halifax County is the oldest town in the County, having been settled prior to 1725. Originally, Enfield was the County seat for Edgecombe County, however, in 1759, Halifax County was formed out of Edgecombe County and the town of Halifax became the County seat.
An event in Enfield’s history which probably helped to spark American Independence was the “Enfield Riot.” In January, 1759, a group of backwoodsmen seized Lord Granville’s land agent, Francis Corbin, in Edenton and brought him to Enfield. There they forced him to give bond to return illegal fees which had been collected. In May of the same year, a group of citizens in Enfield expressed the same sentiments against British tyranny. Several of the rioters were arrested and jailed only to be freed by another band of citizens who broke into the jail. The actions of these men helped to push for independence from England through the Halifax Resolves of April 12, 1776.
Mainly an agricultural center, Enfield and its surrounding area produced such crops as tobacco and cotton. A rich planter society grew up in the county in the late eighteenth century sponsored by the wealth accrued from the crops of wheat and tobacco sent to markets in Petersburg and Norfolk, Virginia. Halifax County is one of the northern tier of counties in the Tar-Neuse River Basin which is tied economically, culturally, and socially to Virginia. This close connection was produced not only by geographical proximity, but also by these counties’ settlement by Virginians who crossed the State’s borders for rich farmland, the alluvial soils in the river bottoms of the Roanoke and its tributaries. These planters with their immediate ties to Virginia society developed a cultivated and sophisticated society that concerned itself with educational, artistic, and cultural refinement. The architecture naturally reflected this sophistication.
In the earlier days of George Washington, the Dismal Swamp canal, which lies to the west of the Enfield town center, was a means of transporting much of Washington’s lumber from in and around the Great Dismal Swamp through to the coast . This area, rich in natural resources and teeming with wildlife, was mentioned in the letters of George Washington showing the importance of the area from its earliest stages. Washington always spoke of the importance of widening the canal which lead to one of the most ambitious projects in the County, and intimately connected with the development of transportation. The Roanoke Navigation System, intended to connect the landlocked interior of North Carolina and Virginia with the ports of the coastal plain was begun. The Roanoke Canal, completed in 1823, includes handsome stone aqueducts, locks and canals.
Another major impact on the economic position of Halifax County and hence, Enfield, was the extension of the Virginia railroad to Weldon in 1833. While goods were transported earlier over stages with little difficulty, the railroad now removed any obstacle to getting produce to market. Market towns sprang up at crossroads with the railroad and increased in size from the profits of exchange of goods with the planters. Because of these advantages, Halifax County’s society, and thereby her architecture, retains its individuality in the Tar-Neuse River Basin.
By the 1890’s peanuts had become the leading agricultural market in Enfield. The establishment of many buying and cleaning stations for peanuts soon made Enfield the worlds largest peanut market. It also has a tremendous lumber concern, Georgia Pacific, and a large cotton gin. Census studies show a growing business community and a population of over 700 in 1896.
People of Enfield
Enfield has yielded a number of important leaders for a small agrarian center. One of its most prominent citizens was John Branch, Jr. who went on to become Governor of North Carolina. On November 22, 1797, Wilson Carter sold the 300 acre “Enfield Tract” to John Branch, Sr. for £1,325. This deed affirmatively recites that this is the same tract of land granted to Joseph Lane by the Earl of Granville in 1738, which proves clearly the chain of title from the Earl of Granville to John Branch, Sr. On November 23, 1803, John Branch, Sr. deeded the land to his son John Branch, Jr. Governor Branch was clearly Enfield’s most prominent citizen. Not only was he active in the affairs of government on both the State and National level, but he was one of the original trustees of the Enfield Academy and instrumental in its creation. The following advertisement appeared in 1820:
“The trustees of the Enfield Academy, wish to employ for the ensuing year, a teacher to take charge of the male department of that institution qualified to teach the different branches of education commonly taught at like seminaries in this state; and of exceptional moral deportment. Application must be made to Governor Branch, one of the trustees, whom they have authorized to make an engagement.
William Bradford, Sec’y
To the Board of Trustees
Enfield, NC, 2nd November 1820.”
In addition to education and politics, Governor Branch also owned a tavern. Governor Branch began selling off much of his holdings in and around Enfield and at the time of his death in 1863 though he still held a majority of its acreage, much of it was in others’ hands. The Branch name still figures prominently in Enfield today with the Branch family holding much of the acreage. Throughout the years, the Branch family held the town’s major hotel, its funeral home, and also its bank which became Branch Bank & Trust, a small southern financial bank. In 1966 attorney Joseph Branch of Enfield was named to the State Supreme Court.
During this 19th century period, many allegiances were made through compacts of land ownership and alliances of marriage with important families of the area. Much like British landownership, families were intent on merging land acquisitions for greater yield and powerful influence. Some of the names read again and again through research of land deeds, cemetery records, news articles and letters in Enfield are Branch, Whitaker and Bellamy. Of course there are other prominent names as well, many of whom are connected to the Branch family by marriage.
While the Branch family was rising to power, another family in the next county (Nash) was also gaining prominence: the Bellamy’s. Dr.John T. Bellamy was born at Belmont Plantation on January 11, 1827. Belmont Plantation today is the home of Wesleyan College. The manor house of Belmont Plantation still stands on the grounds of Wesleyan. Dr. Bellamy married Miss Sarah Spier William Coffield about 1850 and lived at the Coffield home on the banks of the Fishing Creek while they were building their dream home in Enfield. Dr. Bellamy purchased the property in Enfield in January of 1872 from Whitaker. The original property was wooded with pastureland of about 20-30 acres. Dr. Bellamy was a graduate of the University of Virginia and the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, but apparently engaged in the practice of medicine very little. Instead, he was an astute businessman. He had a mill built in 1858 on the site of an older run down mill (built in 1824) which had been owned by James Grant, Comptroller of NC (1827-1834).
Bellamy’s Mill (as it was known) was owned by Dr. Bellamy and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Hunter. The mill operated as a textile mill for about 25 years. Dr. Bellamy was extremely secure in his financial holdings as exhibited through his will of 1896 where he carefully listed his stocks, land, machinery, mills and other holdings. He had numerous land holdings and stock in railroads . He was one of the few people in the area that had available cash at the end of the Civil War.