Thursday, February 9, 2017

General Roberson

The Life of General Roberson

General Roberson

This portrait of General Roberson (circa 1900), which is the only one known to existence, will be on display at the Leigh Farm Park Visitor Center for the month of February.
Used with permission of copyright holder Curtis Booker.

In honor of Black History Month, the Cultural Heritage team thought it might be interesting to share with our readers a lesser known aspect of the history of Leigh Farm Park. So today we will be telling you about General Roberson, an African American farmer who lived on the farm in the early 1900s.

Like his parents Isaac and Patsy, General was born into slavery, sometime around 1844. It can be difficult to find written records of African Americans born prior to Emancipation, so knowledge of his early life is limited. His mother probably gave him the strong, unique name of “General” since enslaved people were typically known by their first name. It is likely that the Robersons came from Pitt County, North Carolina where they are reported living in the 1870 federal census. This is the earliest census in which they are listed by name. Although the 1860 federal census included a “Slave Schedule” it only recorded the gender, age and race of each person. Four years after the end of the Civil War, Isaac, along with his children Abe, General, Thomas and Annie “Robertson” are reported living in California Township near Falkland. The men are working as “farm hands,” Annie is “keeping house,” and no one in the household is able to read or write (however in 1900 General reported on the census that he had since acquired these skills).

Later census data from 1910 suggests that General and his brother Thomas served during the Civil War for the Confederate Army. However the ability to verify this is limited since written records of African Americans fighting for the Confederate states is almost non-existent.

Earlier in 1870 General married a local young woman named Violet, but it is unclear why he is still living at home. Unfortunately, there are many questions about this period of General’s life that remain unanswered. He is not represented in formal records again until 1884 when his second marriage to Rebecca Carlton takes place in Patterson Township [Leigh Farm Park – now present day Durham County – was once considered part of Patterson Township]. Although we do not know what drew the Roberson brothers (Thomas was married and settled in Patterson Township by 1880) to this part of the state, by 1890 General and his wife Rebecca were living there with their three children Rosa, H.R. and Cora. There is some evidence to suggest that Rebecca or her parents were once enslaved by the Leigh family though this is difficult to confirm.  Rebecca must have passed away because in 1894 General married for the third time to a woman named Sarah, and went on to have four more children. 

Large families were common then and the Robersons labored on a rented farm until 1904 when General, as the highest bidder at auction, made his first purchase of 87 acres of Leigh Farm property. He paid $600 (roughly the equivalent of $16,000 in today’s money), half of which he paid in cash.

 Over the next several years General continued to purchase land from the descendants of Stanford Leigh, and by 1919 he owned 209 acres of the original 1,000 acres that comprised Leigh Farm. At this time the average farm size in Patterson Township was about 100 acres. According to the 1925 Farm Census report General’s assets included:

-one acre of tobacco

-one acre of cotton

-eight acres of corn

-half an acre home garden

-12 hens

-two dairy cows

Three of his daughters and their families also worked the land, and after his death in 1927 the property was divided into three tracts. In 1935 Rosa’s husband Sampie Brown (she passed away in 1928) planted 9 of their 73 acres with tobacco, corn, cotton, soybeans, truck crops, and six fruit trees. Her sister Myrtle, along with husband Earnest Davis, planted 21 of their 58 acres with tobacco, cotton, corn, soybeans, sorghum cane, sweet potatoes, truck crops, hay and 12 fruit trees. And Cora and Charlie Mitchell produced tobacco, cotton, corn, peas, sorghum cane, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and truck crops on 17 of their 61 acres. In fact the Mitchell’s six acres of tobacco was the largest of any African American farmer in Patterson Township for that year.

According to oral history interviews, Myrtle Davis and her family were closely connected with their neighbors the Hudsons, who were descendants of Stanford Leigh. Up until Katie Hudson’s death in 1946 Myrtle did household chores for her, and as they had the only television in the area the Davis children would come over to watch it there when they were not at school.

As the years went on the grandchildren and great grandchildren of General Roberson sought work outside of the family farm. Several of them served during World War I and II. Many stayed in Durham and Chapel Hill, but the land he acquired was eventually sold for development.

Are you a descendant of the Roberson family? We’d love to hear from you!

 If you want to learn more about General Roberson and see his portrait or an original drawing of the house he lived in, stop by the Leigh Farm Visitor Center for a special display during the month of February.  For more information about opening hours, contact Natalya Buckel at 919.560.1116 or
Interested in learning more about African American genealogy research? Stay tuned for details on a workshop we will be holding in November to help you get started with your own family history.

Storyteller Willa Brigham

To continue our celebration of Black History Month at Leigh Farm Park we are hosting an African and African American Storytelling event THIS SATURDAY February 11, from 2-3 p.m. featuring two-time Emmy award winner Willa Brigham! This event is free and open to all ages so we hope to see you there!




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

 Making Holiday Gifts

"The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious." ~Martin Luther

Watch as their eyes light up with joy when you present a really special gift you've made just for them!
By Natalya Buckel 

There is a reason many people love receiving handmade gifts during the holiday season.  When you put time and effort into a gift, the recipient feels appreciated and valued.  For example, a couple of Christmases ago, a friend gave me a gingerbread body scrub she'd made.  Not only did it smell divine, I thought of her every time I used it!  It was honestly one of my favorite presents that year.  

There is something about the personal touch that makes a gift truly special.  So whether you're puzzling over what to give someone who already has it all or you just want to show your love with a thoughtful present, handmade gifts have the ability to remind us of the true nature of the holiday gift giving season. They are even a great way to save a little money this holiday season.

If you need a little help creating a one-of-a-kind present for someone special, then be sure to register for our Make Holiday Gifts with Essential Oils class this Saturday December 3 from 1-3 at Leigh Farm Park. Our certified aromatherapist will help you make a few gifts that are sure to be treasured.  You'll be able to choose from high quality essential oils to create three lovely aromatic gifts for friends and family this season.  
Register here (registration closes November 30) or at any recreation center using Course #23747.  For ages 12+.  For more information contact Natalya Buckel at 919.560.1116.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Just for the Smell of it


Just for the Smell of It


Saturday, October 22, 2016

10 AM to NOON

at Leigh Farm Park

Register now! There is still space in the October 22nd essential oils class, led by a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist!

In this introductory class, come learn about essential oils' health benefits and explore the history of aromatherapy. In addition, learn how to safely use essential oils in your daily life.  You will get to smell over 25 different oils, then create your own blend to take home.  Ages 12 and up.
The last day to register is Wednesday October 19, 2016. Sign up online at or at any recreation center using course #23741.

For more information, contact Natalya Buckel at 919-560-1116 or

City Resident with Play More Card: $7
City Resident with No Play More Card: $8
Non City Resident with Play More Card: $11.75
Non City Resident with No Play More Card: $13

Tuesday, September 27, 2016



Here's to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
'Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!

-From the North Carolina Official State Toast


The Scuppernong Vine at Leigh Farm Park

Ripe scuppernong grapes at Leigh Farm Park

Did you know that the grape vine at Leigh Farm Park is thought to have been cultivated by the Leigh family for over 100 years? This vine produces scuppernong (vitis rotundifolia) grapes, which are a type of muscadine grape. The name comes from the word askuponong, which is Algonquian in origin and means “place of the askupo” which refers to a sweet bay tree. Around 1800 this type of grape was given the name scuppernong after a river of the same name located in the Eastern part of North Carolina in present day Washington and Tyrrell counties.
The scuppernong grape is intertwined with North Carolina history to such a degree that in 2001 it was named the official state fruit.  It was the first grape cultivated in the United States. In 1524 the Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano took note of it and later British explorers sent to Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh wrote to Queen Elizabeth that the land was
"so abounding with sweet trees that bring rich and most pleasant gummes, grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath not greater…"
For many years it was actually called the “Roanoke grape,” and today there is a scuppernong grape “mother vine” that covers half an acre on Roanoke Island and dates back over 400 years! It is thought to be the oldest grape vine in the world and members of the Roanoke Island colony are credited with its discovery.
 The scuppernong grape was just one of the many foods produced at Leigh Farm since its settlement in the 1830s by Richard Stanford Leigh and his wife Nancy Ann Carlton Leigh.  By 1860 the Leighs owned almost 1,000 acres, six horses, eight milk cows, 45 sheep, 66 hogs, 12 cattle, and a mule. Along with 16 enslaved people, they produced milk, corn, peas, beans, cotton, sweet potatoes, honey, beeswax, wool and wheat.
The grape arbor in October 2014

When the City of Durham acquired Leigh Farm Park the grape arbor was in bad shape and the cedar posts were rotting and falling over. Fortunately our volunteer Mike Shelby took over the maintenance of the vine in February 2015 and it’s now thriving! Mike not only replaced all of the cedar posts, he brought the vine back to life using a process called “air layering.” This involves taking a vine runner, threading it through an empty two liter soda bottle and adding a mix of peat moss, sand and wood chips. This is attached to the post and kept moist until it starts rooting about 10 weeks later. The new rooted plant is then snipped off at the bottom and the plastic bottle removed. This process basically clones the original heritage vine, which is important since there are over 50 varieties of scuppernong. The grapes are just starting to ripen, and are a lovely bronze color. Mike regularly prunes the vine so that it will grow spread out across the entire arbor. Thanks to his hard work, it should be around for another 100 years!
New cedar posts in 2015

Pruning the vines in August 2016


Our volunteer Mike with the fruits of his labor

Friday, April 1, 2016

There is still space available in our Essential Oils and Dogs Class

Essential Oils and Dogs
Leigh Farm Park
Saturday, April 9th
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Did you know that you can treat a dog with essential oils?  This is a healthier and more cost-effective way of treating colds, coughs, fleas, arthritis, muscles, aches, anxiety, hot spots and more.  This workshop will focus on how you can make your own compress, diffusion, spritzer, or massage for your dog and the correct quantity of essential oils.
Course Barcode #20534
CR PC $7; CR NPC $8, NCR PC $11.75; NCR NPC $13

For more information or questions, contact Karen Ipock at or call 919-471-1623 and select option 2.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Are You Interested in Sarting a Bee Hive in Your Yard?

Attend our introductory Bee Keeping Class to get started on your path to becoming a backyard beekeeeper! Our upcoming “Welcome to Bee Keeping” class on Saturday, March 12th still has spaces available for it.  This introductory class runs from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. in the Blacksmith Shop Education Center at West Point on the Eno Park.  This class is geared for beginners ages 12 and up.  

Please visit  and use Course Barcode #20526 to register. Course is free for Play More Card holders and $1 for City of Durham residents without a Play More Cary and $6 for non-City of Durham residents without a Play More Card.  

If you have questions about this program, West Point on the Eno, or Cultural Heritage Programs with the City of Durham in general, please contact Karen Ipock at or call her at 919-471-1623 and select option 2.