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The first member of the Kenan family to live in America arrived in Wilmington from Ireland in 1736. Once established, Thomas Kenan married and had several children at his home on Turkey Branch in what is now Sampson County. Thomas’s son, James, inherited his father’s wealth and became an integral figure in the Colonial Assembly, Provincial Congress, Revolution, and North Carolina’s Constitutional Conventions. James Kenan lived at his father’s home, which he named “Liberty Hall” during the patriotic fever surrounding Independence. The first Kenan family home burned by 1800. Descendants of the first Kenans built another home, also called "Liberty Hall," in the present town of Kenansville in the early nineteenth century. Subsequent generations lived in the house, over the years making several architectural changes. In time the property passed down to Frank Kenan who donated it to the county in 1964. The house was then restored, furnished, and opened as a museum in 1968.
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The financial resources of the Kenan family long have been made available to the public through ongoing philanthropic gifts to the University of North Carolina and various Duplin County organizations, including "Liberty Hall." The Kenan family funded most of the restoration and furnishing of the house and its twelve outbuildings. The house features eleven rooms and two formal entrances, one of which is accentuated by a classically inspired portico. Many of the furnishings in the home can be traced to ownership by Kenan family members or are pieces similar to those owned by the family.
Of particular note to the history of "Liberty Hall" was the marriage of Mary Lily Kenan to multi-millionaire Henry Flagler on August 24, 1901. Flagler’s immense fortune was gained from oil, railroads, and a multitude of other investments and he lavished much wealth on his bride, many years his junior. The Flaglers moved to Florida and, after Henry’s death in 1913, Mary remarried only to die a few years later. Through the actions of her estate, endowments were established at UNC to fund professorships and building campaigns. Furthermore, their winter home in Florida was subsequently transformed into the Flagler Museum.
Alvaretta Kenan Register, The Kenan Family (1967)
Jennifer F. Martin, Along the Banks of the Old Northeast: The Historical and Architectural Development of Duplin County, North Carolina (1999)
Faison W. McGowen and Pearl C. McGowen, Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government (1971)
Flagler Museum website: http://www.flagler.org/