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FAMILY BACKGROUND
The Bennehans and Camerons were wealthy southern planter families residing in central North Carolina, just northeast of the current city of Durham. Two plantations associated with the families have been preserved in North Carolina--Stagville, a state historic site with an active descendants group, and the adjacent Fairntosh, a privately held farm. The Camerons held some 30,000 acres of land (47 square miles) and more than 1000 slaves just prior to the Civil War on North Carolina plantations (Orange, Wake, Person, and Granville counties), and additional plantations in Alabama and Mississippi.

Letters in this collection were primarily written to and from family patriarchs, although the context helps to inform life on the plantation for slaves, women, and children. Some letters in the collection were written by women and children of varying ages. Primary Bennehan-Cameron family members included the following:

  • Richard Bennehan (1743-1825), born in Virginia, moved to North Carolina in 1768 as a partner in the Little River Store on Snowhill plantation, invested profits in land and slaves, purchased property from Judith Stagg ~1785 to open another store and built the Bennehan House still open to visitors today at the Stagville state historic site, fathered two children (Rebecca 1778, Thomas 1782)
    • Thomas Bennehan (1782-1847), son of Richard Bennehan, inherited Stagville upon father's death in 1825, one of the first students to attend the University of North Carolina (1795), 35-year member of the University's Board of Trustees, never married
    • Rebecca Bennehan (1778-1843), daughter of Richard Bennehan, married Duncan Cameron in 1803, given land adjoining Stagville by her father Richard Bennehan where her husband Duncan built Fairntosh plantation house, birthed eight children (Mary 1804, Thomas 1806, Paul 1808, Margaret 1811, Rebecca 1813, Jean 1815, Anne 1817, and Mildred 1820), Thomas was mentally ill, Mildred partially paralyzed from an illness, and Mary, Rebecca, Jean, and Anne all died of tuberculosis in their 20s or 30s, leaving Paul and Margaret to care for Thomas and Mildred
    • Duncan Cameron (1777-1853), husband of Rebecca Bennehan, born in Virginia to an Anglican minister, studied law and moved to North Carolina in 1797 landing in Hillsborough, invested in land and slaves, married Rebecca in 1803 and built Fairntosh plantation on land given to him by wife's father, partnered with father-in-law Richard Bennehan and brother-in-law Thomas Bennehan between 1802-1807 to manage stores and plantations, moved to Raleigh permanently in 1836, held various influential positions (judge, general, state politician, Episcopal benefactor, and state banker)
      • Margaret Cameron (1811-1886), daughter of Duncan Cameron, sister of Paul, cared for siblings and parents til the age of 42 when she married George Mordecai in 1853, the successor to her father Duncan as president of the State Bank of North Carolina
      • Paul Cameron (1808-1891), second male son of Duncan Cameron, older brother Thomas was mentally ill and probably not capable of taking over his father's enterprise, passed the bar and married Anne Ruffin of Hillsborough in 1832, daughter of the jurist Thomas Ruffin, built and lived at Burnside in Hillsborough, moved to Fairntosh in 1837 to take over plantation operations where he lived with Anne until late 1850s, added to land holdings by purchasing cotton plantations in Alabama and Mississippi in the 1840s-1850s, held influential positions in the North Carolina railroad industry, leased his lands to tenant farmers and relied on the railroad and cotton for income following the civil war, influential benefactor of the University of North Carolina during reconstruction
      • Anne Ruffin Cameron (1814-1897), married Paul Cameron in 1832, birthed 12 children with Paul with seven surviving to adulthood and marrying
        • Anne Cameron Collins (1842-1915), daughter of Paul and Anne Cameron, married George Collins in 1860, moved to Mississippi after the civil war to manage Paul Cameron's plantation in Tunica County
        • Bennehan Cameron (1854-1925), son of Paul and Anne Cameron, graduated Virginia Military Institute in 1875, moved home to manage Stagville plantation, moved to Fairntosh in 1886 upon his brother Duncan's death where he raised horses, married Sally Mayo in 1891, inherited father Paul's land upon his death in 1891, had four children with two daughters Isabel and Sally dividing Stagville/Fairntosh respectively in 1947, Stagville passed out of the family in 1950 and was eventually bought by Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company in 1954 who held it for more than 30 years, Fairntosh passed out of the family in 1972

This summary is based on a more complete biographical sketch of the Camerons, provided by the University of North Carolina's Manuscripts Department.