Russellborough

Russellborough was one of the most notable structures at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson because it was the residence of two royal colonial governors. Originally built by Capt. John Russell in 1751, this two story house between Brunswick Town and Roger Moore’s Orton Plantation was christened Russellborough. Incomplete when Russell died in 1753, the property was later sold to Gov. Arthur Dobbs in 1758. In order to entice Dobbs to move to Brunswick, the town decided to sell the estate for one shilling per acre and one peppercorn. Because peppercorn could not be harvested until the following year, this move guaranteed that Dobbs would stay at least one year.1 Dobbs moved to Brunswick from New Bern, N.C., presumably to escape high rents and rampant disease. Believing that Brunswick Town would provide a marked improvement, Dobbs bought Russellborough and renamed it Castle Dobbs.2

When Governor Dobbs died in 1765, William Tryon became the new governor of North Carolina. He bought Castle Dobbs and, unsurprisingly, renamed it Castle Tryon. Tryon described the house in a 1765 letter:

This house which has so many assistances is of an oblong square, built of wood. It measured on the outside faces forty five feet by thirty five feet and is divided into two Stories exclusive of the Cellars; the parlour is about five feet above the surface of the Earth. Each Story has four Rooms and three light Closets. The Parlour below and Drawing Room are 20 x 15 feet each: Ceilings low. There is a Piaza runs around the House both stories of ten feet wide with a Balustrade of four feet high, which is a great security for my little Girl. There is a good Stable and Coach Houses, and some other Out Houses.3

This is a model of how Russellborough may have looked.

When Tryon left Brunswick Town in 1770 for his palatial new home in New Bern, William Dry III, the port collector, purchased the home and renamed it Bellfont.4

The British burned the mansion and elegant furnishings, along with the rest of Brunswick Town, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. However, archaeological evidence has shown a number of interesting features about the house. There was a storage area for wines and other liquors. There was also a tunnel in one corner, which led a short distance away from the house. Presumably this was used as both a garbage shoot and a sewer. Another find was a brick-lined well in the basement, with whole bottles inside, indicating that perhaps wine was lowered into the water to be kept cool.5 Each of these archaeological finds reinforced the idea that Russellborough, in all its forms, was a sumptuous and hospitable colonial home.

The well at Russellborough during the 1966 excavation, showing bottles and artifacts.

Notes:

1. Brunswick Town Tour Script, 24.
2. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 35.
3. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 35.
4. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 35.
5. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 36.


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