by Lisa Y. Henderson
“James Boon (1808-1850s or later) was a free black carpenter active in North Carolina from the 1820s through the 1850s. As historian John Hope Franklin relates, the rare if not unique survival of the personal papers of this free black artisan provides an important window into the ‘common experiences, the fortunes, both good and ill, which all free Negroes had.’ Boon was evidently born to a free mother and was apprenticed at 18 to Franklin County carpenter William Jones until the age of 21. In 1829, he received a paper that served as a pass, stating ‘James Boon, a boy of colour who was bound to William Jones by this court’ was ‘ordered to be liberated and set free.’
“Boon led a mobile life and carried with him passes and letters of reference from employers and prominent citizens to affirm his free status and good work. He worked first around Louisburg in construction and furniture making. In the mid-1830s, he went to Raleigh, possibly to help build the Duncan Cameron House (1835-1836). He traveled to Littleton in 1839 and to rural Halifax County in 1842. A reference to ‘Boon’ in Skinner family correspondence suggests that he worked on the Greek Revival style plantation house Linden Hall (1841-1844) near Littleton for Charles and Susan Little Skinner; there are also references to ‘Mr. Bragg’ (probably Thomas Bragg, Sr.) and ‘Jones’ (possibly Albert Gamaliel Jones). One of his employers, R. H. Mosby, affirmed in 1842 that Boon was ‘an orderly and well behaved man, and attentive to his business. His work is executed better and with more taste than any persons within my knowledge in this section of country.’ In 1848, James Boon joined his brothers and a friend seeking work in Wilmington. He then went to Raleigh in 1849, where he was employed by the prominent builder Dabney Cosby on various projects. There he hired other workmen to help on ‘Mr. D. Cosby’s work.’ On October 27, 1850, Cosby wrote him a reference stating that ‘Jim Boon’ had been in his employ ‘for some time’ and was ‘a good workman.’
“Boon sometimes worked alone but also hired as many as nine workmen, including whites, slaves, and free blacks. He charged $1.25 a day for his own time and $0.50 cents to $1.00 for his employees. He owned one slave, Lewis, and land in Franklin County, which he occasionally mortgaged. Boon did not learn to read and write, but William Jones, who remained a friend, helped him in business matters. Various receipts note payment for such jobs as ‘Mill House 30 by 36, Ten feet pitch, Two stories, three floors, 12 windows and ten doors, weatherboarding dressed plain strong work,’ or for a more finished project, ‘24 lights glass, 12 x 15, Pilasters rose blocks–inside double architraves.’
“James Boon’s family included a brother, Carter Evans. Boon’s first wife was Sarah, a literate slave who belonged to Maria Stallings. They had a son who went to Raleigh with his father in 1849. (James Boon does not appear in the 1850 census.) In 1854, Boon married Mahaly Buffalo in Raleigh. His last record was in 1857; his death date is unknown.”
Author: Catherine W. Bishir. Published 2009.
As published in North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary, http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu (All rights retained.) This web site is a growing reference work that contains brief biographical accounts, building lists, and bibliographical information about architects, builders, and other artisans who planned and built North Carolina’s architecture.