Joel Lane Museum House Celebrates 250th Anniversary With An Independence Day Open House

Jul 3, 2019

The Joel Lane Museum House in Raleigh will celebrate its 250th anniversary this Independence Day. The house - the oldest in Wake County - was built in 1769 for the eponymous Joel Lane, a planter and prominent figure in early state politics. 

Lane began his political career as a collaborator with the British colonial administration. In 1770, while serving as a representative at the Colonial Assembly in New Bern, Lane introduced the legislation that formed Wake County from parts of the surrounding counties. According to Museum Director Lanie Hubbard, Lane's relationship with the British had soured by 1775, at which point Lane became an active supporter of the revolutionary movement. 

In 1792, [Lane] sold 1,000 acres of his land to the state of North Carolina. The beginnings of the city of Raleigh were built there, specifically intended to be the capital of the new state. -Lanie Hubbard

"In 1776, Joel Lane was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Wake County militia. He wasn't a member of the Continental Army under George Washington," Hubbard said. "Instead, he was the equivalent of the National Guard."

Despite Lane's record of military service, Hubbard is careful to point out that he most likely never saw combat.

"We think that he was one of those desk Colonels - the kind who kept things moving and organized the efforts behind the scenes, enabling the militia to go about its business," Hubbard said.

After independence, Lane made two appearances at North Carolina's Constitutional Conventions. Like the majority of his fellow delegates, Joel Lane initially voted not to ratify the Constitution of the new nation: North Carolina and Rhode Island were the only states to withhold ratification until the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. 

The 1790 census records Lane as owning 27 slaves, but because no personal letters or diaries from the plantation survive, Hubbard and other museum researchers have struggled to assemble the details of the lives of the people enslaved on the Lane plantation. Research has turned up a handful of names, including serveral people who were born into slavery to the Lane family. Though the museum has encountered a number of people who may be descended from the people enslaved on the Lane plantation, the dearth of records on the fates of those sold or given away by the Lane family make it difficult to confirm a relation. 

Hubbard also noted that near the end of his life, Lane and his plantation played a central role in the foundation of Raleigh.

"In 1792, he sold 1,000 acres of his land to the state of North Carolina," Hubbard said. "The beginnings of the city of Raleigh were built there, specifically intended to be the capital of the new state."

After Lane's death in 1795, the house spent several years passing between various relatives before eventually falling out of the family's hands. In 1911, it was moved from its original location at the top of a hill onto a less-desireable lot nearby. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) purchased the home for preservation in 1927, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1970. 

The house has since been restored to its original appearance, although all the original furnishings were auctioned away after Joel Lane's death. 

The museum's Independence Day open house will include historical reenactment, crafts, and educational activities focused on the lives of the wealthy, middle-class, and enslaved residents of the plantation during the transition from colony to independent nation. The event will run from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free for all visitors.