Rev./Dr. John Knox Witherspoon (1791 - 25 Sep 1853) was the grandson of Dr. John Witherspoon, one-time president of Princeton University and signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose estate was called Tusculum, 1.5 miles north of Princeton, New Jersey.
After his father David died when John was young, John was placed under the guardianship of Frederick Nash, of Hillsborough, NC - his half-brother (John's mother had been the wife of both Abner Nash and John Witherspoon Sr.).
John attended UNC and "read law" with his half-brother at the Cameron/Nash law office. On July 1, 1813, he married Sarah Kollock, sister of Frederick's wife. He studied Theology at Princeton and become minister at St. Matthew's in Hillsborough. Around 1817 he purchased and "extensively repaired" "Twin Chimneys."
Sometime likely in the early 1820s, John purchased two tracts of land south of the town of Hillsborough, NC from Frederick (or it may have been held by Nash but technically owned by Witherspoon's deceased father), where he built his own "comfortable Piedmont farmhouse and [...] cluster of necessary outbuildings." He called the farm Tusculum in remembrance of the New Jersey estate where he spent time as a young boy.
Per Mary Engstrom, this farm was located "about where the state prison farm stands today ." It burned in 1827, but was "promptly rebuilt."
Engstrom recounts a rather spectacular series of failed ventures and reversals that plagued Witherspoon after that point (according to documents, even his immediate family seemed concerned with his lack of fiscal responsibility). She paints a picture of him near the end of his life in "singularly pitiable circumstances at his old home [Tusculum] [...] standing in the remnants of a mulberry orchard [...]
"...a disastrous fire on 1 Jan. 1827 completely destroyed the Witherspoons' rural home and its contents, including all but one volume of the invaluable old records of Orange Presbytery, which Witherspoon, as stated clerk, had temporarily in his keeping. Although the house was promptly rebuilt, the money losses involved an estimated $3,000..."
"In 1836 he found it necessary to place a second mortgage of $1,000 on his Hillsborough plantation and apparently, soon after, to mortgage his slaves."
"...on 29 Aug. 1839, Witherspoon formally resigned his charge and went back to his mortgaged Hillsborough farm, Tusculum, named at about that time for his grandfather's New Jersey farm, also about one and a half miles from its village (Princeton). He had returned to his native state "to die," as he told his brother, but in fact he lived another fourteen incredibly difficult years.
An early ambitious plan of the Witherspoons on their return to Tusculum had been to establish a silk farm in order to earn a livelihood and pay their debts. They strained their slender resources to buy eggs and worms, plant "closely" some 5 acres of mulberry trees, and build a hundred-foot-long, one-and-a-half story cocoonery. But the project did not succeed. Neither did the idea of building up a purebred stock farm. They even thought vaguely of driving vast flocks of 500 to 1,000 turkeys overland to autumn markets in Charleston, and Witherspoon decided to attempt opening a boarding school for boys once again—but no boys came.
A crushing blow was the public sale of Tusculum at the courthouse door on 29 Aug. 1845 to Dr. Edmund Strudwick [OC deed book 36, page 19], who had long and patiently held the mortgages. Witherspoon seems then to have departed on a curious Wanderjahre or trek through South Carolina and Alabama, preaching and teaching wherever he could, while his wife, still at Tusculum by special provision of Dr. Strudwick, tried to cope with the increasingly alarming nervous illness of their youngest daughter, Mary Nash, whom she managed to take to Philadelphia for prolonged treatment on three occasions.
In 1851 and 1852 Witherspoon, back at Tusculum, seems to have been well enough at intervals to conduct a baptismal service and even to preach now and then as supply pastor. His ailment, which he later called 'dropsy,' may have been cancer of the respiratory tract. He died at the Tusculum farmhouse, entirely penniless..."
Family finances were mostly managed by Susan Witherspoon [John's daughter], who in 1852 decided that Tusculum's assets (including most of the family's slaves, see below) should be sold. The death of John Witherspoon likely also accelerated the sale of family assets.
The 1820 U.S. Federal Census lists John Witherspoon as owning eight slaves; five females and three males. The 1830 U.S. Federal Census lists him as owning 17 slaves; six females and 11 males. The 1840 U.S. Federal Census lists him as owning 10 slaves; three females and seven males. The 1850 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule lists him as owning 14 slaves; seven females between the ages of one and 75 and seven males between the ages of one and 45. It also lists John's son, Henry, as owning nine slaves; five females between the ages of one and 65 and four males between the ages of 14 and 85. The location of the houses and cemetery where these enslaved people lived and were buried is yet to be discovered.
An 1872 deed between Strudwick family members mentions that William Strudwick and his wife "...recently had their dwelling home with much of its contents consumed by fire..."; it seems as if their intent in this deed is to raise money to rebuild their house.
The property remained in the Strudwick family until 1913 when the property was sold (basically foreclosed on due to debt). In 20th century deeds it is referred to as the "William Strudwick homeplace."
OCDB37/322: Edmund Strudwick to William Strudwick, 196 acres, 1866
OCDB48/298: William Strudwick to Rosalind Strudwick, 132 acres, 1872
OCDB60/331: Strudwick heirs to Edmund Strudwick, 196 acres/467.5 acres, 1907
OCDB66/13: Mortgage agreement with Mary S. Arrasmith, 467.5 acres, 1913
OCDB66/384: Thomas and Mary Arrasmith and Edmund and Nannie Strudwick to Consolidated Realty, 514 acres, 1913
OCDB 66/388: Consolidated Realty to W. F. Curry, 514 acres, 1913
OCDB82/2: Smith administrator (i.e. Birdie S. Smith nee Curry) to O. T. and L. L. Davis, 514 acres, 1923
OCDB98/173: Davis family to North Carolina State Highway Commission, 98.8 acres, 1932