Thomas J Rigsbee Farm / Duke University West Campus

35.995246, -78.93968

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Rigsbee House, 1912 (Courtesy Keith Bowden)   Pictured, left-to-right: 1 Mary Tom Rigsbee; 2 Jesse Albert Rigsbee; 3 Carrie Rigsbee (in lap of Jesse); 4 Nellie Brogden (niece of Jenny Rigsbee); 5 Mabel Rigsbee; 6 Eugenia 'Jenny' Blalock Rigsbee; 7 Faye Rigsbee; 8 Norman Rigsbee (seated); 9 Jack Rigsbee (standing); 10 Boyd George Brogden (seated -- nephew of Jenny Rigsbee)    
Rigsbee Barn, 1912 (Courtesy Keith Bowden)   Pictured, left-to-right: 1 Mabel Rigsbee; 2 Eugenia 'Jenny' Blalock Rigsbee; 3 Carrie Rigsbee; 4 Nancy Rigsbee; 5 Faye Rigsbee; 6 Nellie Brogden (niece of Jenny Rigsbee); 7 Mary Tom Rigsbee; 8 Boy on horseback; 9 Norman Rigsbee; 10 Jesse Albert Rigsbee; 11 Boyd George Brogden (nephew of Jenny Rigsbee); 12 Jack Rigsbee   Collectively, the Rigsbee family owned a huge amount of what would become Durham. Atlas Monroe Rigsbee, who owned much of Morehead HIll prior to selling it off to William Vickers, lived on the northwest corner of what is now East Chapel Hill Street and the eponymous Rigsbee Avenue. His farmstead stretched to the northeast, taking in much of Mangum St. and Cleveland Holloway. His brother, Thomas J Rigsbee (5/20/1846 - 3/23/1917), owned large tracts of land west of Durham. Both were sons of Jesse Rigsbee (6/22/1808 - 2/1/1881) and Mary Vickers Rigsbee. Given that there was another Jesse Rigsbee in eastern Orange County that served in the Revolutionary War, the Rigsbees have a very long tenure in these parts.   At what is now the intersection of Anderson Street and Duke University Road, Rigsbee Road continued westward along a path cutting diagonally across the current Duke University West Campus, intersecting with 751 at the current cross country trail and continuing westward. The TJ Rigsbee (Sr.) farmhouse and barn stood near the Duke football stadium on the present-day campus.   TJ Rigsbee had three wives, and only the third was still living when Murray Jones came calling as an agent of James B. Duke in 1924. I've written previously about the failed attempt to buy land between Trinity College and Watts Hospital to build Duke University, and William Preston Few's familiarity with the Rigsbee land.    Jones paid $200,771 for 399.68 acres of land from the TJ Rigsbee estate. Rigsbee's estate made up the bulk of the original West Campus, but it was hardly the only land purchased by the Dukes for the university; Jones' many transactions stretch throughout 1925, and the original Duke University plat makes clear the number of parcels combined. I've overlaid this plat on Google Earth imagery - you can see the course of Rigsbee Road on this map.  
Duke University plat, February 1925.     I wish the picture below was higher resolution. The 1929 photo shows the new west campus under construction in 1929 to the left. Rigsbee Road ~bisects the picture, and you can see the new course of Duke University Road snaking into the right foreground. The stadium area is evident near Rigsbee Road. This natural ravine was where the Rigsbee family kept their pigs. Although not sharp enough to be distinguishable, the buildings and roads of the old farmstead are visible just past the stadium.  
1929 aerial, looking northeast.   (Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)  
Trumbauer/Abele's rendering of Duke's West Campus.   (Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)  
West Campus under construction.   (Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)   The site of the farmstead is now parking lot for the university.  
Approximate site of the TJ Rigsbee House, 06.14.11    
Approximate site of the TJ Rigsbee Farm, 06.14.11     The only remnant of the Rigsbee farm is the family cemetery, which sits on the southern side of one of the surface parking lots.  
Graveyard entrance, 06.14.11     The family retained ownership of the graveyard when the Dukes/Trinity College purchased the site. It remains in the family (and maintained by the family) today.
06.14.11     There are four rough stones in the cemetery which are, per family history, linked to the unidentified bodies of Confederate soldiers.   A Rigsbee relative remembered that it was here that three Confederate soldiers were buried, their bodies having been found following one of the last skirmishes in the area. Only their soiled uniforms indicated they were soldiers. The Rigsbees washed the uniforms, redressed the bodies, and buried them in this family cemetery, saying, 'Hopefully, someone will do the same for our folks.'  
Confederate burials, 06.14.11      
Rigsbee Cemetery, 06.14.11     Many thanks to Rigsbee descendants Johnny Rigsbee and Keith Bowden for educating me on the history of the site and their family  
TJ Rigsbee's great-grandson, Johnny Rigsbee and great-great grandson, Keith Bowden


The grave marker for Henry Jackson Rigsbee (CSA) states that he died at "Fort" Fisher Va.  I could only find a "Fort" Fisher near Wilmington, NC that matched-up with the date he was supposed to have died.  However there were no battles at this Fort untill 1864.  Still, he could have died of a camp wide illness as so many did during this war.

However, there was a "Camp" Fisher about 25 miles south of Washington, DC in the town of Montclair, Va.  The 6th NC Infantry Division of General Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah had just fought that summer at Bull Run (1st Manassas) and then pulled back to this camp site in September of 1861 to remain for the winter along with some other Divisions of the army as well.  At Manassas, the NC 6th Division's commander, Col. Charles F. Fisher, was shot off his horse and died of his wound.  Both the Fort in Wilmington and the Camp in Virginia were named in his honor as he was seen as a hero (a lot of that was going around, apparently.  That's the same battle that "Stonewall" Jackson got his nickname).  The 6th NC Division broke camp in March of 1862.

It's unclear to me as to whether or not H.J. Rigsbee died 4 or 5 months after receiving wounds in battle or as so many others did...of some kind of disease contracted while at camp.  Nonetheless, it appears most likely that H.J. Rigsbee died while encamped at "Camp" Fisher, Va. on December 22, 1861 and not as part of a building detail constructing the earthen Fort Fisher at Wilmington, NC.

Thanks so much for this post. I have been to that cemetery several times and never understood the connection to Duke. Very enlightening with some great pix and narrative.

I remember back in the late 40s and 50s when my dad would take me over there during the summer and we'd cut the grass. I also remember at some time, vandalism occurred and many of the old headstones were turned over and the more fragile ones were destroyed. Dad said that he knew that many of the stones were not put back in their correct places but he couldn't remember exactly where they were. I do know that one of his young sisters had typhoid fever and died and she is buried there, back alongside the southwest side, closest to the stadium.

Anon - yes that's it. GK

It was great to see the pictures of my Grandad, Norman Rigsbee. Wonderful to know the history of our family and Duke University.

Norman May

Is the cemetery between the east side of Wade Stadium and Wannamaker Drive, perhaps 150-200 feet from each? If so, I used to park nearby but didn't remember the wall. (But that was 40 years ago.)

Could you please share with me any information you have on a grave located within the Jesse Rigsbee Cemetery under the name of "William J Pickett" b. Mar 24, 1857, d. Dec 19, 1912. The middle initial stands for "Jackson". I believe this gentleman would be my great-grandfather, if he had a son by the name of Spencer Milton Pickett. His grave is one of the 9 burials within the grounds. I'm interested in knowing as to why he was buried in this location. His wife, Hannah E. Davis Pickett is buried at Maplewood Cemetery, which is just up the road. I do appreciate your research efforts and your response to me. Lynda

Lynda - everything I currently know about Durham is on this site. If you find out more, appreciate you coming back to post additional info.

Thanks - GK

Many thanks for the write-up and for all you do in preserving Durham history. I need to give a shout-out to my Aunt Jackie Smith for the pictures of the farm house and barn, and also to my cousin Rosalynde Robertson for managing the upkeep of the cemetery. The personal information in the Duke Chronicle article is correct but I also noticed the mistake about the amount paid – I’m not sure where that came from. With regards to the ‘mansion’ reference in the same piece, I believe a Durham newspaper article from the ‘40s referred to the house as substantial for its time and maybe that was the source for the Chronicle writer. Finally, one comment here asked if the wall around the cemetery was new. According to relatives, it’s not new and was there when the farm was sold. Keith Bowden

My biological grandmother was a Rigsbee and I have been looking to see if she is a distant relative of Thomas J. Rigsbee. I have found her Rigsbee heritage all the way back to the early 1700's. If anyone has actual information that could link my Rigsbee family with the Thomas J Rigsbee family that would be great. My Great Grandfather's name was Huey Estes Rigsbee Sr. and was born around 1905 and his father was Benjamin Adolphus Rigsbee born around 1878-1879. Thank you

Michael - yes, I did a post on the western section (before I understood the portion east of 751) = here GK

Anthony Vickers here, formally of Durham, lived on 1212 Vickers Avenue until 1994 when Mom passed and the property was sold. My family has traced a Millie Vickers whom we think is buried in the cemetery there next to the stadium. One of her sons Braxton Vickers was the line I am in. There is some confusion as to her last name and we feel it was a Risgbee since she is buried in there with your family. The story goes that her husband made a trip to Fayetteville and never returned so Millie took her given name back which was Vickers. While married she was a Green, Thrice, or a Rigsbee or so we were told. If you have recollection in your family records about this you would like a bygone savior fellow to us 'cause we don't really know for sure; just some folks speculation we think. I respectfully submit this for you consideration and information as you may see fit to use to explain to me and others. God Bless ..... Tony Vickers 78 yoa. now living in Milton,Florida

I'm glad to finally see a map of Rigsbee Rd. If you look at where it rejoins Cameron Blvd now, you can see a line of old oak trees follow Cameron and then veer off at an angle, where they once lined the Wallace Wade access road before Science Drive was built, and I always thought that road was the remnant of Rigsbee Rd. However, there's a, for lack of a better word, crease in the treeline in Google Maps that's often associated with old rail beds or road beds. Also, one of the parking lots that juts off of 751 into Duke Forest just east of Erwin Rd. is clearly a Rigsbee Rd. remnant. And do I recall that Lemur Ln is also a Rigsbee Rd. remnant?

Tony Vickers,

You've contacted Charlie Rigsbee and Jackie Smith, and they have contacted me.

Millie Vickers is my 4th great grandmother (William Gaston Vickers/Nancy Emily Chisenhall-->Nancy Llewellen Vickers--> Mattie Cheek --> Gordon Pope --> Shirley Pope --> Richard Pickett). I show her sons as William Gaston, Washington Marion and Thomas D. Vickers. Gaston's brothers both died in the War Between the States.

"Milly's great granddaughter, Elizabeth Vickers Brintle, told me in the winter of 1986/87, that Milly is thought to have married either a Trice or a Green, that Milly's husband is thought to have died or disappeared on a trip to Fayetteville, and that Milly took back her maiden name. Mrs. Brintle's brother, Theodore B. Vickers, told me on 6 April 1995 that he knows nothing certain about Milly's husband, but guessed Milly's husband may have been a Rigsbee. Since in censuses Milly lived near David Vickers Jr., George W. Vickers, and James Vickers and was about their age, I follow oral tradition and make her their sister."

There is also the possibility that Thomas Vickers (who appears in OCBD 24:48, 28 November 1831, as a trustee for T. Pickett in a debt to James Vickers) was a son of David Vickers, Sr. and Elizabeth Gwinn, and the husband of Milly. If so, Milly was the daughter-in-law of David Vickers, Sr.

More evidence for placing Milly as daughter-in-law of David Vickers, Sr.: Claude Vickers (son of William Gaston Vickers) was interviewed on tape by Mack Lester Vickers , Jr. in 1976. Claude said Gaston Vickers and Atlas Rigsbee were first cousins and that Gaston's mother lived on what is now Hope Valley Road in Durham and is buried in Rigsbee Cemetery. (For printed interview, see DMH 3 August 1976.)

OCDB 40:173, 12 March 1870 , Atlas M. Rigsbee and wife Roeney sell to Thomas S. Vickers. OCDB 42:147, 23 September 1873, Gaston Vickers sells to John A. Vickers part of the old Rigsbee property joining Gaston Vickers, George W. Vickers, and others.

Note too that one of Milly's presumed brothers was George Washington Vickers, Sr., and that her youngest son was named Washington Marion Vickers.

Millie's sister (or sister-in-law if married to Thomas Vickers) was Mary Vickers, wife of Jesse Jackson Rigsbee, son of Jesse Rigsbee & Elizabeth Pickett.

Who is Braxton Vickers?

Andy I can't speak to the personal information in that article, but the amount of money is wrong, and the vague and general comment about some 'Rigsbee Mansion' is bewildering. GK

All the photographs were really nice. I like the first picture of Rigsbee House and their family members. All looking so beautiful in the picture. Very interesting article. Looking forward to more articles.

Great post! Finished off with pics of cousins I have never met. Keith and I have talked via e-mail(we met through this site), but have yet to meet. Seth Roberts Grandson of Catherine Rigsbee

Thank you again for your generosity, Keith. The house pictured would not have been very mansion-esque for the period (compared to contemporaneous houses in the core of Durham.) My guess would be that there was a conflation with TJ Rigsbee's 'in-town' house that stood at 415 N. Mangum. It was substantial, and torn down during the 1920s or early 1930s for the Pure Oil gas station (421 N. Mangum) and the extension of Watkins St. (Morgan St.) east from Rigsbee Ave. to N. Mangum. GK

Gary, I have been curious about the Rigsbee's and how all of this transpired for a while. So thanks for shedding some more light on it. I know Buck Duke had quite a few land owners (and just about everyone else for that matter) mad at him. It seems they got a fair shake as far as the selling price goes, though. Anyway, I'm not a Civil War historian or anything but I could only think of Fort Fisher, NC in regards to the tombstone you have pictured. That battle (2 actually) took place years later at the end of the war and the Fort is nowhere near Virginia. He didn't have to die in a battle as many died of disease but I can't even find the place. You have any clues?

Not to butt in, but to Dave G.: Fort Fisher VA is near Petersburg; the battle was March 25, 1865 between Lee's Army of Northern Virginia forces and U.S. Grant.

Thank you for posting this! My maternal grandmother was Gwendolyn Rigsbee and found I'm related to this family through Ancestry. Gwen's father was Herbert P. Rigsbee who was still living in 1950 but according to the census my grandmother was placed in an orphange in Cumberland. I don't know what happened there but it's interesting to see where the family came from.

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