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Slaves of Dr. William Rainey Holt

The follow pages are from the Plantation Commonplace Book maintained by the William Rainey Holt Family, the original occupants of The Homestead (ca. 1834), in Lexington, North Carolina, the county seat of Davidson County. Dr. Holt was a physician, and also owned Linwood Plantation, located six miles southwest of Lexington. It appears that entries from an earlier ledger were copied into this book in 1850, carrying forward the record of Holt’s slave ownership through 1863. Other sections of the Commonplace Book contain Bible stories, family recipes, and advice on caring for ailing livestock. 1860 census records indicate there were 429 head-of-house slave owners in Davidson County, and the average number of slaves each owned was five. Dr. Holt owned around 100 slaves, making him one of the largest slave owners in the county.

The first name listed is “Old Charles,” who was born in 1776 and would have been nearly 75 years old at the time this information was entered. The register notes births, deaths, and the monetary value placed on each slave over a 13-year period, and it is unknown whether similar records made before 1850 still exist. Linwood Plantation was lost by the family shortly after the Civil War, but The Homestead was owned continuously by Dr. Holt’s descendants for nearly 150 years. The first non-family owner, Richard Barentine, donated the Plantation Commonplace Book to the Davidson County Historical Museum to insure its preservation and to enable public access to this information.

Before the War, The Homestead maintained a full staff of slaves. Holt’s holdings at Linwood also included a large cotton operation, and the majority of these slaves worked at the farm. A pronounced secessionist before the conflict began, Dr. and Mrs. Holt lost three sons during the Civil War, and the Confederacy’s defeat financially bankrupted him as well. By 1866 he was forced to put up his entire holdings of 1,939 acres for sale so he could settle with his former slaves, as ordered by the Freedmen’s Bureau. Two years later Dr. W. R. Holt died.

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