The North Carolina Visitor Center




Harmony Hall

Harmony Hall

    “This small, frame, plantation house on the northeastern side of the Cape Fear River presents a striking example of a regional form, with engaged double porches on land and water facades and a partially enclosed exterior stair rising between the landside porches.  Here, in a rare survival, the exterior stair provides the only connection between first and second stories.  The interior is simply finished and has a hall-parlor plan, later partitioned to create a center passage.,,,

   “Restored as a local historic site after years of neglect, the house stands on a tract that extends down to the river.”

    *taken directly from A GUIDE TO HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE OF EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA by Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T Southern.  Page 422.

UNC Press, c1006.


    This historic house was built by Col James Richardson of  Stonington, Connecticut, a military man and a sea merchant.  The first account of Mr. Richardson’s military adventures was that he was with Wolf at Quebec during the French and Indian War.

     As a merchant, he and his brothers owned several vessels with which they carried on trade between England and the West Indies.  On one of these voyages, James was shipwrecked off the outer banks of North Carolina and was delayed several months while his ship was being repaired.  During this time he rambled up river to Bladen County where he subsequently settled and married Elizabeth O’Neal Purdie, widow of Hugh Purdie.  One source says he bought twelve or fifteen thousand acres of land.  Another says he was granted about 600 acres for his services in the war in Quebec. The main thing is that he built Harmony Hall about one mile from the east bank of the Cape Fear River. (The east side was low and prone to flooding near the river.)

    Most of the interest in Harmony Hall and its owners, the Richardson’s, stems from James’s service in the American Revolution and the stories of Cornwallis commandeering the house.  According to family archives, found in RECORD OF THE RICHARDSON FAMILY, Col. James once served with General Greene in South Carolina.  While he was there, General Lord Cornwallis and at least one of his officers came calling at Harmony Hall, first asking for food and rooms.  Later they asked for candles, stationery, ink and quills before going to their rooms, locking the door and demanding that no one disturb them. This last action aroused Mrs. Richardson’s suspicions and she decided to spy on them. 

   After hearing remarks from Cornwallis’ room that “there were spies around,” Mrs. Richardson crept up the stairs to the attic in her stocking feet and listened to Cornwallis’ plans for his next battle.  “Awed and frightened at what she heard, she crept down the stairway to her room, locked herself in, and there by the bedside of her sleeping babes she wrote it all to her husband in South Carolina.”  She then awakened the superintendent of the farm, gave him a knapsack with clothes and food…and especially the letter to Mr. Richardson. 

    The next morning after breakfast the British officers missed the young superintendent and asked his whereabouts.  Mrs. Richardson told them he had been summoned to the bedside of his dying mother and would be gone for a week or ten days.  They seemed satisfied with her explanation.

   Another source, ANGELS IN DREAM BRING FORTUNE TO AUNT ELLEN, by E. P Holmes, tells a more unbelievable version of the same story.  According to it, the message was given to a slave, Junius, who left on horseback near midnight and arrived in the Santee Cooper section of South Carolina about daybreak.

   Neither of the above stories can be documented, and that is why we call it the Cornwallis legend. However, it is documented that Cornwallis and James Webster came down the Cape Fear River after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.  Webster had been badly wounded and Cornwallis hoped that by getting him to Wilmington his life could be spared with better medical attention. Webster didn’t make it to Wilmington, dying and being buried in Elizabethtown.  Harmony Hall and the Purdie Place were two of the few fine houses on the river that had not been burned by that time. Whether Elizabeth Richardson stole battle plans or not, we do know who surrendered at Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.

     James Richardson served in the Bladen Militia during the Revolution with the likes of Thomas Brown, Thomas Robeson and Peter Robeson.  According to the RECORD OF THE RICHARDSON FAMILY, his two long pistols and two swords that he carried were kept in a trunk in the attic, and his male descendents for a couple of generations played with them.

    The house has a fireplace in every room, and one original fireplace and one original mantle have survived to this day.  All of the doors are six panel ones with HL hinges.  An article in THE STATE, dated November 12, 1938, says that this kind of doors and hinges were common in prominent colonial homes for the purpose of keeping the witches away.  Maybe those panels and hinges have protected the house during the 250 years it has stood….though hurricanes, floods and neglect.

     Three generations of Richardson’s lived in the house:  James and Elizabeth, Samuel and Mary, and Edmond and Sarah.  Edmund sold the house after the end of the War Between the States.  Tatum/Layton families lived in the house till the early 1930’s, when it became vacant.  Mr. Layton gave the house to the Bladen County Historical Society in 1962.  It was entered on the National Register on March 24, 1972 and was ready to welcome visitors by 1986.  Since then it has been staffed by docents on weekends and special occasions.

     Richardson descendents from Virginia, Florida, Texas, California, Tennessee, North Carolina and New England have come back to see what life must have been like for their ancestors.  They have shared many family stories and a few pictures, but the only personal possession of Elizabeth Richardson is a berry bowl displayed over a mantle.

    Presently, there is an entrance hall with a guest register and the Richardson coat of arms.  On one side is a parlor and opposite a “hall” where spinning, weaving, etc would have been done.  Upstairs are two bedrooms with a hallway composed of some of the original wood from the 1760’s.  There is an attic and a cellar.  Guests come upon what was the back of the house, because the front faced the river in the old days.


   If you are interested in seeing the house, check out our website at or call 910-866-4844.  We don’t have an entrance fee but certainly welcome donations.  We also answer email inquiries.