We do not know where Patrick St. Lawrence was born or where he died. He shows up in western Chatham County in 1783 as husband of the rich widow Elizabeth McCarroll, builds a house so grand – a house still standing in Pittsboro – that he bankrupted himself and his contractor, fled to Mississippi, and died (according to an obscure 1804 report) on his way to the West Indies.
That we do not know much about Patrick St. Lawrence is not unusual. We don’t know much about Dr. James McCarroll, either, who bought 500 acres on the stagecoach road just east of today’s Siler City. He operated a store there, and Patrick St. Lawrence took that over, too, for his name is attached to a post office installed at the store in 1830. St. Lawrence may have brought his own money; we really don’t know. He started buying land in 1786, and when the town of Pittsboro was laid out in 1787, he bought six lots, covering his bets for development in several directions. On lot 50, on the North West corner of the courthouse square, he built a house for his new bride, perhaps using her money.
St. Lawrence figured as a man of influence as well as a man of means. He was appointed as one of the first town commissioners, served as a trustee for the Pittsborough Academy, and was an early member of the Masonic Order.
But fifteen years after his arrival he was in debt to his stepson and to Robert Donaldson, a merchant from Fayetteville, who bought the house and lot for 720 pounds when it was put up for public sale in 1798. An inventory taken at the time of sale lists a billiard table, two dozen chairs, a clock, a buffet, desk and bookcase, twelve pictures, a settee, and four beds, among other things.
Two years later, Elizabeth St. Lawrence was granted a separation from her husband (which back then took an act of the state assembly). That year (1800) the federal census listed her as head of household, with seven children under the age of 15 and three sons between 16 and 25. Her 1823 will left property to three McCarroll grandchildren, three Prince grandchildren, and a cousin Charity Gee. The name St. Lawrence appears only in her signature.
– Jane Pyle
Author’s note: This article is based partly on "Patrick St. Lawrence in Chatham County, 1783-1797" by Wade Hadley in the Chatham Historical Journal, December 1988. See also an article about St. Lawrence by Fred Vatter, in The County Line, Winter 2004, and a fanciful story by W. B. Morgan in the Chatham Record of September 1962
Mr. St. Lawrence and his big yellow house
"A Mansion for his bride"
Patrick St. Lawrence originally maintained a tavern about four miles east of Siler City, perhaps on or near the 500-acre estate of Dr. James McCarroll, a prominent citizen of Chatham County between 1773 and 1777. Dr. McCarroll died at the age of 43 on October 25, 1777, leaving behind his widow Elizabeth, and 2-year-old son, Thomas. Between 1780 and 1784 Elizabeth was given three grants of land by the State of North Carolina, one of which was in trust for her son.
About six years after McCarroll’s death, his widow Elizabeth married Patrick St. Lawrence, who appears to have taken over the administration of her affairs and was also appointed guardian to 8-year-old Thomas.
The North Carolina General Assembly was anxious to form a town near the Chatham County Court House and in January 1787 appointed nine commissioners including Patrick St. Lawrence, to purchase 100 acres of land north of Roberson Creek form one William Petty. They laid out 125 lots and streets surrounding a public square, which later became the location of a new court house.
The substantial funds invested in construction his grand yellow house caused both Patrick St. Lawrence and his contractor to declare bankruptcy.
Photo by: Caroline Vatter
Photo by: Caroline Vatter
During the same year the General Assembly appointed St. Lawrence to a 10 man board of trustees to establish an academy in Chatham for the education of youth. The County was selected because of its healthy climate compared to the malaria and fever laden Eastern lowlands, as well as relatively low cost provisions and accommodations.
As soon as the lots in Pittsborough, as it was then spelled, were plotted, Patrick St. Lawrence purchased the North West corner lot overlooking the public square. This is where he built a substantial mansion “for his bride.” A ball room on one side of the hall could be expanded to join the two parlors on the other side by means of a hinged paneled partition that could be hoisted up and latched onto the ceiling. The entire first floor then became one massive ballroom, which also permitted the building to be used as an inn.
An ornate staircase was said to be constructed of imported woodwork, with massive newel post in a hexagon shape, heavy handrails and very sturdy balusters. The exterior of the house had beaded clapboard and molded sills, which suggest that it was a bit more extravagant than most of its contemporaries. The house bore a coat of yellow paint, and stood out as a symbol of opulence.
St. Lawrence was an early member of the town’s Masonic Order and in 1790 was made a Mark Mason and a founding trustee of the prestigious Pittsborough Academy. He seemed to be a well regarded member of the community.
Unfortunately, the substantial funds invested in constructing his grand yellow house caused both Patrick St. Lawrence and his contractor to become bankrupt the house was put up for sale in 1798 and purchased for 720 Pounds by one of his creditors, Robert Donaldson of Fayetteville. Chatham County Estates Records in North Carolina State Archives show an inventory of Patrick St. Lawrence assets as including twelve chairs, , a buffet, and billiard table, somewhat more expensive items that those owned by most local citizens of Pittsborough. The documents referring to the sale of these assets by the sheriff of Chatham County referred to St. Lawrence as being “late of Pittsborough” which indicates that he had left town by that date. His wife Elizabeth was granted a separation by an Act of the North Carolina Assembly in 1800.
The late Wade Hadley of Siler City, an authority on Chatham history, found a statement regarding claims of British merchants after the Revolutionary War in the North Genealogical Journal (Vol. X No.4). It included a paragraph written by Col. John Hogan of Orange County in about 1804 which said that St. Lawrence had wasted his wife’s estate, ran away, and had died in route to the West Indies.
For many years, the area in which originally St. Lawrence lived, and the land owned by his wife Elizabeth’s deceased first husband, Dr. James McCarroll, was known as the St. Lawrence community. It had a new Post Office named for it in 1830, and the St. Lawrence Post Office address was used until November 1903.
Patrick St. Lawrence has been gone for over 200 years, but his yellow house still stands in Pittsborough, although not in its original location. In the 1920’s it was moved to a lot just south of the court house square and in 1957 the house was again moved a short distance to south east 205 South Street, Pittsboro, to make room for the expansion of the county office complex.
The yellow house is shown is a painting of Pittsboro done by Mrs. Annie Lutterloh Bynum when she was 92 years old. It is seen on its original site on the northwest corner of the court house square. The picture represents Pittsboro as she remembered it in 1890’s. A copy of the painting can be found in “Since Then-A short Illustrated History of Pittsboro North Carolina” by John Haughton London. That book can be perused but not borrowed in the Chatham County Historical Association Museum in the Court House (Wednesday noon-3 PM).
Under a succession of owners the yellow house has witnessed a cross section of Chatham life over the years. The inn must have been a popular place during Pittsboro’s Court Week, when thongs of observers and vendors came to town from all over the county. In 1806 the house hosted a three-day series of cockfights, with attendees coming from as far as Raleigh, which in those days of rudimentary roads, was considerable trip.
By 1863, during the Civil War, the yellow house had become Mrs. Goldston’s Inn. Reflecting the inflated prices of the time, a room went for $7.00 a night, corn sold for $50.00 a barrel, and good brandy cost $40.00 a gallon.
Patrick St. Lawrence’s house was the second house built Pittsboro and is now the oldest serving house in town. It stands forlornly alone on South Street, wrapped in historic memories, awaiting an uncertain fate.
Fred J Vatter is president of the
Chatham County Historical Society, an
Organization for which he is also a board
Member and museum curator.