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Plummer, Kemp

by Daniel M. McFarland, 1994

1769–19 Jan. 1826

Illustration of Kemp Plummer, from biographical essay in the Hampden-Sydney College (Virginia)  <i>Kaleidoscope</i>, 1906, p. 41. Presented on Kemp Plummer, host, lawyer, and political leader, was a native of the Mobjack Bay area of Gloucester County, Va. Some sources list his birth date as 1767. His grandfather, William Plummer I, emigrated from England early in the eighteenth century and settled in Middlesex County, Va., where he married Elizabeth (Betsy) Kemp, descendant of Richard Kemp, deputy governor of Virginia for a year (1644–45). Kemp's father, William II, moved to Gloucester County and married Mary Hayes. Their children were William III, Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, Hannah (who married Nathaniel Macon in 1783), and Kemp (namesake of an uncle who had been a major in the French and Indian War). William II died in 1774, and about 1778 Mary Hayes Plummer moved her family to North Carolina.

Kemp Plummer attended Hampden-Sydney College, graduating with the first class to receive diplomas from that new school in 1786. He then read law with Chancellor George Wythe at the College of William and Mary before being licensed to join the bar in Warrenton. The 1790 census reported him in Warren, unmarried, and the owner of thirty-eight slaves. Four years later he married Susanna Martin (1776–1838), daughter of William Martin of Granville County and a granddaughter of Nicholas Long, commissary general of North Carolina during the Revolution. The young lawyer represented his county in the House of Commons the year he married, 1794.

As a lawyer Kemp Plummer practiced in all the counties surrounding Warren, becoming immensely popular with his clients and associates. He was known as "the honest lawyer." His singing and story-telling abilities, his generosity, and his convivial disposition attracted all classes. The hospitality of the Plummer home drew friends from far and wide; the dinner parties and balls were legendary in the upper Roanoke area. By 1815 Plummer had become a dominant spirit in the "Warren Junto," the close-knit collection of politicians who lived in and around Warrenton. Nathaniel Macon, James Turner, Weldon Edwards, William Hawkins, and William Miller were a few of the luminaries of the group. Together they dominated the political life of North Carolina during the era of the Virginia Dynasty.

In the decade after the War of 1812 Kemp Plummer reached the threshold of great power. He represented Warren in the state Senate in 1815 and 1816. In Raleigh he became chairman of James Monroe's campaign organization in North Carolina. After Monroe's election, he was dispenser of Republican patronage in the state. He was a leader in Masonic and Episcopal affairs. In 1817 he was appointed a trustee of The University of North Carolina, a prestigious position he held for the rest of his life. His friends were the dominant group in the General Assembly. In 1820 they offered Plummer the governorship, but Kemp Plummer's large family and style of living made it impossible for him to accept the honor. His livelihood depended on his legal practice, and he could not afford a move to Raleigh and the governor's mansion.

Kemp and Susanna Plummer had a large family. Among the children were Anne, Mary, Henry, William, Austin, Bettie, Lucy, Kemp, Alfred, Susanna, and Thomas. One of their most illustrious grandchildren was Kemp Plummer Battle, president of The University of North Carolina (1876–91). Kemp, Sr., developed gout in his middle fifties and died soon afterwards. The Warrenton Republican mourned, "He was the glory of our little world, the pride of the village." Susanna lived on twelve more years. Three years after her death the citizens of Warrenton purchased the old Plummer home for the Warrenton Female College.


Kemp P. Battle, "Kemp Plummer," Hampden-Sydney Kaleidoscope (1900), and Memories of an Old Time Tar Heel (1945).

J. B. Boddie, Southside Virginia Families, vol. 1 (1966).

J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Papers of Thomas Ruffin, vol. 1 (1920). (accesse July 21, 2014).

L. W. Montgomery, Sketches of Old Warrenton (1924).

Raleigh Register and North Carolina Gazette, 27 Jan. 1826.

L. G. Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, vol. 4 (1915). (accessed July 21, 2014).

F. A. Virkus, ed., Compendium of American Genealogy, vol. 7 (1942).

Additional Resources:

Hampden-Sydney College. Kaleidoscope. Hampden-Sydney College. 1900. (accessed July 21, 2014).

Image Credits:

Hampden-Sydney College. Kaleidoscope. Hampden-Sydney College. 1900. (accessed July 21, 2014).


Origin - location: 


I'm looking for some information about Thomas Plummer Jones who was possible a direct descendent of Kemp Plummer. There is a park in Wake Forest (Wake County) dedicated to him and I was hoping to find some more information about him and his legacy to the local area.

Dear Ms. Lowe,

Thank you for your comment and for visiting NCpedia! I am forwarding your inquiry over to our library's Reference Team at so that they can assist you further. A staff member from our library will be in touch with you soon!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library

Hi. My great great-grandfather, Solomon Plummer was born in Warrenton in 1823. I have no information on him or any pictures. I want to find out if he was a slave, and who owned him. He married Sarah Clausell abt, 1854 in Burnt Corn, Monroe County, AL. However, their first born, William Alexander Plummer, was born in Warrenton. Can you assist me with any information? Thanks.


Thanks for visiting NCpedia and asking your question.

I am forwarding your query to our Reference services who can assist you:

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Hello, my 2nd great grandfather was a man named Kemp Plummer Alston. He was the son of Preston Alston born abt 1826 (Butterwood, Halifax, VA) and Sarah Alston. I'm trying to get any info on if they were slaves and who may have owned them on which plantation. Thanks for your help.

To Alicia Plummer
Your family in Warren County was on one of the Plummer Plantation. Most likely Dr. Alfred Plummer or his Brother Henry Plummer. The sons of Kemp Plummer a State Senator who turn down the governorship of North Carolina. Kemp was one of the riches in the state. Also one of the biggest land and slave owners. Warren County was the Center of Slave trade in the early 1900's.

Hi, I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana. My Grandfather, Edward Plummer, a mulatto, born January 4, 1870 in Warrenton, NC, son of Daniel and Indiana Ransom Plummer. Our family is seeking any info or pictures of our Plummer family or connections there. Can you help or give direction to seek? Anything of assistance is greatly appreciated!
Thanks, Alicia Plummer

Thanks for your note! Your inquiry has been forwarded to reference services at the State Library of North Carolina's Government & Heritage Library (

Thanks for using NCpedia!

Michelle Underhill
NC Government & Heritage Library

Looking for information about Luvenia Plummer once enslaved in Warrenton,NC. She was married to Ben, Micajah, and Cager Plummer before marriage to Ned Kearney. My grandmother was Mary Green Kearney, and I remember meeting Edward, William, and Herbert Plummer as a child, my father's cousins; they were Mulatto. Ned Kearney purchased land from W.G.Plummer.

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