(Editor’s note: From the March 1, 1968 issue of The State magazine, reprinted with permission.)
The giant pecan tree, located at the old Fryar place, three miles northeast of the village of Turkey on Bowden Road, is believed to be the largest pecan tree in North Carolina and possibly the most historic. The tree measures 17 feet 2 inches in circumference, measured three feet above the ground, and although hurricanes and lightening have torn away most of the huge limbs, it is still alive and bears pecans.
The tree was planted between 1805 and 1811 by the Honorable Thomas Kenan, and was a gift to him along with several other trees from President James Madison. Mr. Kenan was at that time a member of Congress from this district. Thomas Kenan was born on an adjoining plantation in 1771 on the Old Warsaw Road and was the son of General James Kenan. He migrated to Selma, AL in 1833 where he died in 1843. His oldest son, the Honorable Owen Rand Kenan, built Liberty Hall in Kenansville and was a member of the Confederate Congress.
The late Dr. Owen Kenan (grandson of Owen R. Kenan) of Wilmington told this writer some years ago that when he was a child, he and his parents visited Mr. & Mrs. Owen Fryar, and that the history of the pecan tree was discussed on that occasion. He further stated that the Fryars gave then some pecans from the tree which they planted at Liberty Hall in Kenansville, and at least one of those trees is still standing.
The Fryar place is now owned by Mrs. Virginia Fryar Watson of Baltimore, and except for a smalltime when it was owned by the Daniel Joyner family who built the house in 1805, it has been in the Fryar family for six generations. The planation was originally part of a land grant to David Thomson, one of the pioneer settlers of this region, who in turn gave it to his son, Captain James Thomson, an officer in the NC Militia during the American Revolution. It was inherited by his son, Willis Thomson, the father of Mrs. William H. Faison and Mrs. M. C. Conoley, who sold it to Daniel Joyner of Virginia. The Joyners raised fine race horses there. They later sold the property to Curtis Thomson (1797-1887), another son of Captain James Thomson, who gave it to his daughter, Sallie. She married Owen Fryar, the first man from Sampson County to volunteer for the Confederate Army. The place was inherited by their son Henry, and at his death it passed to his sister, Miss Sallie Fryar, an aunt of the present owner.
It was at this place that the families of the community gathered for two days in 1831when a slave insurrection conspiracy was being uncovered. It was believed that this conspiracy was tied in with the Nat Turner Insurrection in Southampton County, VA. It is also of interest to note that Nat Turner belonged to a brother of Mrs. William Kirby, also of the Turkey community. The Kirbys matriculated from VA to Sampson County around 1805 and made their home on Needmore Road.
(Both the tree and house sat about a half-mile north of the intersection of Old Warsaw Road and Bowden Road, on the left. Sadly, nothing remains today in that spot where they stood, but there are many folks still around that remember it well.)