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By 1751 the sloop Scorpion, under the command of Capt. John Russell, was stationed off the coast of Brunswick Town. In the fall of that year, William Moore, owner of the sizable Orton Plantation, sold Capt. Russell a fifty-five acre tract of property adjoining the northern perimeter of the town. Russell initiated the construction on an extraordinary home on the lot, but died in December 1752, before its completion. The property and unfinished home were sold in the settlement of Russell’s estate, and subsequently wound up in William Moore’s estate.
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Moore’s executors, in an effort to promote Brunswick Town as a location for the seat of government, elicited a sale of the property, by then known as Russellborough, to Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs for a nominal fee. Dobbs moved to Russellborough in 1758, finishing the house and adding several outbuildings. It was in Brunswick that the seventy-three year old Dobbs met and married fifteen year old Justina Davis. Dobbs and his bride continued to live at Russellborough, which they affectionately called “Castle Dobbs” after the ancestral home in Ireland. With Dobbs’ death in 1765, the Russellborough property was relayed to his son, Edward Bryce Dobbs, who, in turn, sold it two years later to the next royal governor, William Tryon.
Governor Tryon had been leasing “Castle Dobbs” since the month after Dobbs’ demise. He gave a remarkable description of the house and grounds in a letter to a friend in 1765. In that missive Tryon mentioned the home’s need of a good kitchen and the price he expected to pay for that addition. Upon the purchase of the property in 1767, Tryon renamed it “Bellfont.” By the time of C. J. Sauthier’s 1769 map of Brunswick Town, Tryon’s “House and Plantation” had eleven outbuildings. The map and Tryon’s letter provide much detail about the place as it stood during Tryon’s occupation.
Tryon left Brunswick Town for his Palace in New Bern in 1770, and in 1771 sold the property to Brunswick’s port collector for customs, William Dry, who perpetuated the name “Bellfont.” The Virginia Gazette reported on April 5, 1776, that the “elegant house” of Colonel Dry had been destroyed in a fire. The site was not rebuilt and, like the rest of Brunswick Town, fell to ruin. The town, including the remains of Russelborough, is now part of a state-owned site devoted in part to archaeological study.
Stanley A. South, “’Russellborough’: Two Royal Governors’ Mansion at Brunswick Town,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1967): 360-372
Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (1965)
James Sprunt, Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear, 1661-1896 (1986)