clan davidson genealogies researched by John Lisle
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James Latta

James Latta

Male Abt 1755 - 1837  (~ 82 years)

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  • Name James Latta 
    Born Abt 20 Aug 1755  ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 29 Oct 1837  ____, Mecklenburg Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I2183  DNA Family 1 Genealogies
    Last Modified 4 May 2006 

    Father Robert Latta,   b. ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Bef 1792, ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Mother Miss [--?--],   b. ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Unknown 
    Married ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F1175  Group Sheet

    Family 1 Elizabeth Houston,   d. 1792, Londonderry, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married Bef 1780  ____, ____, Ireland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. William Latta
     2. Robert Latta
    Last Modified 4 May 2006 
    Family ID F1174  Group Sheet

    Family 2 Jane Knox,   b. Abt 1775, ____, Lincoln Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1 Jul 1864, ____, Iredell Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 89 years) 
    Married 12 Apr 1796  ____, Lincoln Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. Elizabeth Latta,   b. 9 Feb 1797, ____, Mecklenburg Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 14 Apr 1838, ____, Mecklenburg Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 41 years)
     2. Mary Latta,   b. 29 Dec 1799, ____, Mecklenburg Co., NC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1824  (Age 24 years)
     3. Ezekiel Latta,   b. Abt 1802,   d. Abt 1812  (Age ~ 10 years)
     4. Nancy Angelina Latta,   b. 14 Feb 1804,   d. 5 Nov 1833  (Age 29 years)
    Last Modified 4 May 2006 
    Family ID F274  Group Sheet

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - Abt 20 Aug 1755 - ____, ____, Ireland, UK Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - Bef 1780 - ____, ____, Ireland, UK Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 12 Apr 1796 - ____, Lincoln Co., NC Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 29 Oct 1837 - ____, Mecklenburg Co., NC Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Maps 
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Notes 
    • The Lattas

      James Latta was a Scot who came to America from Ireland in 1785 to settle his father's estate.  Having a good head for business and seeing a ripe opportunity in this burgeoning republic, he became a merchant.  He traveled to Philadelphia and Charleston to buy his wares, then sold sold them from the back of his Conestoga wagon to Piedmont Carolina farmers and villagers.  Imagine the excitement of local folks to see Latta's peddler wagon coming down the road with his muffin tins, muslin, needles, salt and sugar, toothbrushes, tea, bridle bits and curry combs, tinware, cast iron pots - even English china and fine silks!

      James Latta was first married to Elizabeth Houston in Ireland. She died, leaving her husband and two sons, William and Robert. By 1796, James Latta had married Jane Knox of nearby Lincoln County and purchased land that would eventually total 742 acres. He then started construction of his white, two-story Federal style house, assumed to be based on homes he had admired in Philadelphia.

      Latta's entrepreneurial spirit and advancing age soon led him into cotton farming. By 1825, he hired an overseer to manage the plantation and his slaves. Being a prudent Scot, in later years he had no urge to build a more grandiose house; he simply invested or banked his money. He died a wealthy man in 1837.

      Latta's oldest son William never lived at the plantation, since he was already on his own by the time the first land was purchased. Latta's second son Robert did live on the plantation for about five years and then moved to Yorkville, SC, and assumed responsibility for the mercantile business. He eventually bought out his father's interests. By the time of Robert's death, he was the wealthiest man in South Carolina and his obituary referred to him as "the Merchant Prince of South Carolina."

      James and Jane had four children. Rich, attractive, cultured and naturally quite popular, daughters Betsy, Polly and Nancy were often called "the Belles of the Catawba." Their father intended that they marry well: perhaps he had the inside window cut from the parlor to the hall so he could keep an eye on gentlemen callers. Educated at Salem Academy, a girls' boarding school run by the Moravians in Salem, North Carolina, the daughters did, indeed, marry prominent local landholders from the Davidson, Reid, and Torrance families. The youngest child, Ezekial, was sickly all his life and died at the age of ten.

      James, Jane, and their children are buried in the family gravesite just down the road at Hopewell Presbyterian Church, the center of their social and community life.

      The work of some 30 slaves, such as Suky, the cook, and Peter, a field hand, made the plantation an economic success. Living in families and strengthened by religion, they maintained their humanity and sense of worth despite the effects of slavery. A replica of the kitchen house, where Suky lived and worked, is a highlight of the tour. Plans are in place to use an additional log cabin currently on the site, along with others to be added, to more fully represent slave life.

      James Latta
      Perhaps the principal difference between James Latta and most of the thousands of other immigrants who left Ireland for America in the 18th century was that James brought with him a bag of gold. At least, there is a persistent family tradition to that effect. It ties in with another tradition, to wit, that the first Latta did not come primarily for religious or political freedom but for material gain. James Latta was a citizen of Londonderry, North Ireland. Shortly after the upheaval of the American Revolutionary War had settled, James converted a large portion of his worldly goods into money and embarked to America with the gold pieces in a bag. He also brought along his small son Robert who weighed about the same as the gold. A terrific storm arose at sea. The captain ordered all cargo not essential to survival jettisoned..... James clutched his gold. He also clutched his son. He was torn between his loves. They weighed the same.

      But at this point a ray of sunshine pierced the clouds. James was not forced to a decision and he arrived safely in America with both his sack and his scion for posterity. No one believes the heartless myth, of course, but it is frequently retold whenever his descendants recount his rise to fortune. There is one other incident associated with the storm. The immigrant later discovered that on the very night of his ordeal in the Atlantic his wife had departed this life in Ireland.

      The few authenticated dates do not entirely invalidate the legend of the crossing. In his naturalization statement in 1812, James Latta stated that he "came into the United States of our Lord in 1785 and has continued therein ever since." One story has it that he came to America to settle the estate of his brother William and his father Robert in Lincoln County, NC, who had returned to Ireland and died there. However, if the storm at sea coincided with the death of Elizabeth Houston, his first wife, it occurred in 1792, so James must have returned to bring over his son Robert and his money. There was also a son William, older than Robert, and he also was eventually fetched, or found his way, to America. Both sons left descendants now widely scattered.

      Gentlemen's styles
      of early 19th century James Latta amassed a fortune as a traveling merchant. He and two other Scotch Irishmen, James Patton and Daniel McMahon of the Carolina back country usually traveled to Philadelphia, the mart at which they obtained their stock, together as the money bags they carried were attractive to robbers of which many waylaid the road. In unity they found strength. For mutual benefit, they divided up the territory for trade.   Patton had the Spartanburg area on through the mountainous region of Buncombe County, NC. He became a very rich man. McMahon's rounds lay in the Union, Newberry, and Fairfield districts of South Carolina.  Latta had York, Mecklenburg, Lincoln, and Rowan.

      For years," relates Maurice Moore's Reminiscences of York, "court week invariably found Mr. Latta at Yorkville. On some planks laid across benches in the public square, his
      varieties were spread open for inspection of the crowd, among whom, of course, he found many
      purchasers. If the weather was inclement, a room at McCall's tavern furnished a shelter and convenient spot for his counter...."

      In time, James built a store in Yorkville. This he turned over to his son Robert when he reached a man's estate and, like father like son, Robert made money. Eventually he became one of  the "merchant princes" of South Carolina, with a home in Columbia, and was said to have possessed more actual money (the planters owned land and slaves) than anyone else in that state.
      Robert, who resembled James

      James Latta's best day's work in establishing himself in America was his marriage in 1796 (the bond is dated April 12) to Jane Knox, the daughter of Robert and Mary Ewart Knox of Lincoln County, NC. Jane  associated the Lattas with the winning side in the American Revolution, a not unimportant distinction in the 18th century.

      As early as March of 1799, James Latta was buying land on the east bank of the Catawba west of Hopewell Presbyterian Church. About this time or shortly thereafter, he built "Latta Place," a frame house with many interesting architectural features. Here he raised his second family, three daughters:  Betsy, Nancy, and Polly.    The girls were not only rich but also cultured, and quite naturally extremely popular. James had no intention of letting them marry poor men and tradition says the inside window at "Latta Place" from the hall into the parlor was cut so that he could keep an eye on gentlemen callers. There are interesting anecdotes of  James' vigilance told in Dr. John B. Alexander's Early Settlers of Hopewell Section. To put it mildly, James was "cranky" on the subject of watching the boys who came to see his girls.....

      Speight McLean and his cousin Joe McKnitt Alexander were boon companions and frequently went "courting" together. Late one rainy evening they drove up to Mr. Latta's and asked to spend the night.  Mr. Latta conjured up the idea that the two gay Lotharios were preparing to run away with his girls, and not fancying either of them for a son-in-law, chained their carriage's wheels to a tree, and to be doubly sure, locked his guests in the garret.

      Benjamin Wilson Davidson who built the handsome house on "Oak Lawn" plantation for her. Polly married James G. Torrance of "Cedar Grove." And Nancy, the youngest, married Major Rufus Reid who, after her death, married her sister Betsy, then the widow Davidson, and built the present "Mount Mourne" mansion, in the town of the same name,  with his second wife. All three of the girls had families, although Polly Torrance's line is now extinct.

      Their brother Ezekiel died when only 10 years old.  If he had lived, he would have inherited the plantation, as stipulated in James Latta's will.

      James Latta died on October 29, 1837, aged 82 years, 2 months, and 9 days, He had not been easy to live with but he left his widow wealthy. In addition to the 329 acres and servants at "Latta Place," he also left another plantation of 320 acres called the Moore Place, and an interest in a valuable fishery known as "Penny's."

      His wife erected a handsome memorial to him in Hopewell Presbyterian churchyard. "Latta Place" was sold shortly after his death and Jane Knox Latta moved to Mount Mourne. Latta family plot; James'  crypt on far right,  Jane's grave to its immediate left.

      The first of the Lattas represents the determination, the ambition, and the acquisitiveness that were essential to the success of free enterprise in Mecklenburg's and the nation's beginnings.

      Excerpted from articles by Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson, Davidson College