The Hugh Torance House and Store and the Cedar Grove House (adjoining private property) were one part of a large financial concern owned and managed by the Torance family. The first member of this family in Mecklenburg County was Hugh Torance, who came to the area in the late eighteenth century. Hugh and his son James accumulated a substantial tract of land and by 1840 owned over one hundred slaves; a concentration of wealth that was not common for this area. Although some plantations thrived in Mecklenburg in the nineteenth century, the more common enterprise for the region was small, and usually subsistence farming.
Hugh Torance (1743-1816) emigrated to the American colonies from Ireland c. 1763. It is not known what ship brought Hugh Torance to America, or where he first landed. It is known that he and his brother Albert came together, and the family believes that they came as indentured servants. Hugh lived in Pennsylvania for several years. Shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution, Hugh took an oath of allegiance to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania.
Hugh joined the revolutionary forces and fought in North Carolina in a light cavalry company, the "Partisan Chargers" led by Captain Galbraith Falls who was killed on June 20, 1780 at the Battle of Ramsour's Mill. Records show that Hugh was a disbursing agent for Falls' militia and probably stayed in the army until 1781. After the war, Hugh married Captain Falls' widow, Isabella Kerr Falls (1783-1816). He and Isabella and her eight children lived briefly in Rowan County where Hugh had a store. They had one child together, James Galbraith Torrence (1784-1847).
According to land records, Hugh Torance was active in Mecklenburg County by 1779. He purchased 667 acres in that year, and by the 1790s, was in a position to purchase over 500 acres during the course of the decade. By the time of his death he had accumulated over 1400 acres. In Rowan County, Hugh was a merchant, but he became a planter in Mecklenburg. The building currently designated as the Torance House and Store is the first of two structures Hugh built to accommodate his family.
Hugh's youngest son James acquired all of the property in Mecklenburg County and focused most of his financial interests in a dry goods store that he opened in 1805. Torance suplied articles to his North Mecklenburg customers that they could not manufacture themselves, which suggests that the majority of his patrons concentrated in agricultural production.
Torance sold the store in 1825 to Samuel McCombs of Charlotte. Besides his store, James also ran a large plantation with a saw mill on site. During James' life, the Torance plantation expanded to approximately 3000 acres. James grew primarily cotton and corn, but also grew the provisions and livestock necessary to maintain a large plantation.
Plantations were rare in Mecklenburg and seem to have been concentrated in the northwestern section of the county. Other substantial landowners in the vicinity were the Lattas, the McDowells, the Davidsons, and the Alexanders. Slave holding was common in Mecklenburg County, but the Torances (now spelled Torrences) and their landed peers frequently owned thirty or more slaves, which was an exceptional number for this area. Unfortunately, very little information about the Torrence family slaves survives in the family papers. A notebook titled "Ages of Negroes" is the only surviving inventory of the slave population on the Torrence Plantation.
The primary role of slaves on the Torrence Plantation was to produce cotton. In addition to cotton, James Torrence also raised sheep for wool. Other major crops included corn and wheat. He built a water-powered saw mill and grist mill in 1824. He sawed lumber for himself and his neighbors.
The Torrence Plantation supported a large number of people. James Torrence had a big family as well as over one hundred slaves. Torrence was married three times. He married his first wife, Nancy Davidson, in 1809. James and Nancy had five children: Jane Adeline (1811-1820), Catherine Camilla (b. 1814), Isabella Malvina (1818-1893), Hugh Jr., and James Franklin (1816-1869). Nancy Davidson Torrence died of "typhus" in 1818 at the age of 26.
James Torrence remarried in 1821 to Mary Latta, daughter of James and Jane Latta of Hopewell. James had two children with Mary Latta: William Latta (1822-1852) and Jane Elizabeth (1823-1844). Mary Latta Torrence died in 1824.
In 1827, James Torrence married for the third and final time to Margaret Allison of Statesville. Margaret and James had six children: Letitia (b. 1828), Mary (b. 1829), Delia (b. 1831). Richard (1833-1927), Sarah Jane (b. 1826), and John (1839-1904). Margaret Torrance died in 1880, surviving her husband by thirty-three years.
Cedar Grove, the extant plantation house currently occupied by Richard Allison Torrence's great-grandson, Richard T. Banks, was built by James Torrence in 1831 for Margaret Torrence. Cedar Grove was built on the same site as a brick house built by Hugh Torance in 1784.
For the full history visit the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission page on Cedar Grove & Hugh Torance House & Store.
A book featuring additional historical accounts can be purchased: Your Affectionate Daughter, Isabella, by our beloved Board Member and advocate, Ann Williams, who passed away in early 2020. This is the story of Isabella Torance, preserved through letters and other records now held in the Rare Book and Manuscript Collection of the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNCC. The story is written from the points of view of those who lived it and told in the language they spoke. It tells the story of growing up on a wealthy antebellum plantation in Mecklenburg County and at the Salem Female Boarding School; of pioneering in primitive conditions on the Mississippi frontier; and of Isabella’s return to Mecklenburg as a young widow with a small child.
The book sells for $21.50, including tax, handling and shipping.
To order send check and mailing address to:
The Mecklenburg Historical Association
PO Box 35032
Charlotte, NC 28235
The book can also be ordered on Amazon.