At the time of its construction Ayr Mount was considered one of the finest residential structures in Piedmont North Carolina. This Federal-era house was built in 1815 in Hillsborough, North Carolina for William Kirkland. Kirkland named the house in honor of his birthplace, Ayr, Scotland. Ayr Mount looks deceptively simple, even austere on the outside. Yet, Ayr Mount is far grander – especially in the interior – than one might expect at first look. The ceiling height of 14 feet is unusual for this period as is the elaborate Federal period woodwork and plasterwork found throughout the house. Ayr Mount also was the first major residence built of brick in this area of predominantly colonial era wood frame houses. Hillsborough itself is one of the oldest communities in North Carolina and was an important center of trade at the time of the American Revolution, serving briefly as the state capital when the then-capital of New Bern was held by the British.
Under William Kirkland’s ownership, Ayr Mount was a large working plantation—with the house at its center. Kirkland would have relied on an overseer for the operation of the plantation, and utilized a force of enslaved laborers to work it. Kirkland is known to have owned 12 enslaved individuals in 1800. This number likely included enslaved domestic laborers to work in the house, one or two to assist at his Hillsborough store, and the rest to work the fields and tend to livestock on the estate. The number increased to 19 in 1810, and by 1830, 26 enslaved individuals were at Ayr Mount. Kirkland’s plantation can best be described as diversified agriculture. It wasn’t a single crop plantation but in addition to the growing of crops, herds provided dairy products and wool as well as sheepskins and cowhides for his tannery. At the time of Kirkland’s death in 1836, his inventory noted 22 enslaved individuals. The inventory provides names and ages and gives some other clues to occupations such as Joe, the enslaved blacksmith, and Osborn, a shoemaker, who also served in a number of other capacities for the family and is mentioned in numerous letters. At the time of Kirkland’s death in 1836, he had a number of outstanding debts. Ten enslaved individuals were sold to pay off his debts.
The stories of the individuals who were enslaved on the property is an equally important part of the Ayr Mount story and one that we are dedicated to presenting to visitors—in order to tell a more complete story of this piedmont plantation. Future plans include more archaeological survey and excavation to locate sites of the dependency structures in the vicinity of the house and around the plantation that would have included a detached kitchen, smokehouse, dairy, icehouse, well, and quarters for the enslaved domestics.
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