Hardscrabble Plantation's rich history begins in 1754 in an area called "Corbin Town," then "Childsburg," and in 1756 was finally named Hillborough in honor of the Earl of Hillsborough. Hillsborough was a small village with 30-40 inhabitants and two to three small stores and taverns. By 1767, progressive growth had hit the area with more than 3,870 "taxables." This was the largest population of any county in North Carolina.
Within the decade, descendants of the Cain family migrated to the present Hardscrabble location. Upon their arrival, they were known as the area's oldest and wealthiest family. William Cain was the first American ancestor to move into Orange County to develop an agricultural community. The major crops were wheat, oats, corn, tobacco, and cotton. The Cain residence known as "Hardscrabble" is still located within the boundaries of the 227 acre tract of land which James (William's father) and John Cain(e), (William's brother) purchased in 1779. William Cain was among the 22 persons named by Governor Richard Caswell in March, 1777, as Justice of the Peace for Orange County. William Cain also served as a representative in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1785 and in the Senate in 1794-1796 and 1802. He was active in support of education and was one of the largest subscribers to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during its formulative years. In 1800, he owned 4,417 acres of land (the largest landowner in Orange County at the time), and 30 slaves. By 1830, there were 95 slaves working Hardscrabble.
There were at least 4 generations of Cains that lived at Hardscrabble, William Cain I; William Cain II, who was a substantial landowner and postmaster in Hillsborough; Dr. James Cain III, who was a medical doctor and plantation owner, and Assistant Surgeon to the Medical Department in the Confederacy; and William Cain IV, who was known as a mathematician, engineer, educator, and author. The name "Hardscrabble" was first used by Dr. James F. Cain in the 1840's to describe his life in the country outside of town of Hillsborough. His word "Hardscrabble" implied that it was easier living in the town of Hillsborough. By 1878 about 1675 acres of "Hardscrabble Land" sold for $2.20/acre.
Several years ago, a large section of this property was sold to Southland Development Corporation, who subsequently sold most of the undeveloped property to Chatham Development Corporation in 1995.
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