Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: Skilled Trades

William Burnett’s estate.

William Burnett died 2 May 1881.  His estate was opened in May 1881 by administrator A.K. Smedes and, at final account, was valued at $1049.84.  Items removed from the rooms Burnett kept over J.N. Edwards’ store in Goldsboro included a barber chair and rest, a barber pole, four spittoons, two looking glasses, a pistol, and various items of furniture.  He also had two lots on Pine Street.  The estate file contains considerable information about Burnett’s family, which sued Smedes over his handling of the estate.  Burnett died without a widow, children or grandchildren.  Heirs were his sisters Mary Nixon, Betsy Burk, Elizabeth Burnett and Eliza Burden; nieces Delitha Burnett and Melitha Arnold, Amy Anne Stevens and Mary J. Dortch; and Susan Burnett. (Her relationship to William is not specified, and ultimately she did not receive a share of the estate.)  Brothers-in-law mentioned in the documents were George A. Burden, Solomon Hill, Geo. Arnold, and Whitt Dortch.  Also mentioned, William’s mother Elizabeth Burnett.

Estate Records, Wayne County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

The old reliable.

LEMON TABOURNE,

The Old Reliable Barber.

May always be found at his shop on Tarboro Street, where he will be pleased [to] serve his friends and former patrons.

Shaving 10 cts; shaving and cutting hair 30 cents.

The Wilson Advance, 20 February 1880.

Jeffreys, woodworkers.

Thomas Day—who was born in 1801 in Greensville County, Virginia, to mixed-race parents, John and Mourning Day—moved with his family to Warren County, North Carolina, in 1817. When he moved to Hillsborough in the early 1820s, it appears that he became friends with members of the Jeffreys family who, although listed as “mulattos” in official records, were actually of Indian origin. The Jeffreys were part of a larger group of Occaneechi people from Virginia who had settled in the northwest section of Orange County, which became Alamance County in 1849. As with the Day family, the Jeffreys family had originated in Greensville County, Virginia. In 1830 Uriah Jeffreys served as a bondsman for Thomas Day when he married Aquilla Wilson. A bondsman was usually a close family member (such as a father, brother, or uncle) who assured the court that the couple should be married, and that the groom would not change his mind and leave the bride at the altar. Uriah Jeffreys must have been a close friend of Thomas to agree to be his bondsman. Historic records make it clear that both men were cabinetmakers, and it is possible that Uriah and his brother Nathan worked with Day for a short time. In 1828 Uriah decided to move. He advertised in the Hillsborough Recorder that he had a variety of furniture from his cabinetmaking business for sale, including “Bureaus, Bedsteads, Tables.”

Uriah moved to Ohio with two of his brothers, Parker and Augustus. Unfortunately, they experienced the same type of prejudice in the North that they had tried to leave behind. The law required free blacks entering Ohio to pay a bond of $500 to county officials. Whites thought this would guarantee that only free blacks of “good character” would settle and be able to support themselves. Parker Jeffreys refused to pay, insisting that his blood was a mixture of Indian and white, and not black. The case went to the county court, where he lost. Jeffreys persevered, and the Ohio Supreme Court heard his case in 1842. In Parker Jeffreys v. Ankeny et al., the supreme court justices ruled that he was an Indian with no African ancestry and did not have to pay the bond. Members of the Jeffreys family continued to make furniture near Xenia, Ohio, well into the twentieth century.

Nathan Jeffreys lived the rest of his life in North Carolina. It seems that he continued to work as a journeyman cabinetmaker, because in 1834 he is listed as such in a court document. However, in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, he is listed as a farmer owning $500 in property. Many cabinetmakers supplemented their incomes by farming. Day clearly considered Nathan a close family friend, because in 1851 in a letter to his own daughter, Mary Ann, he mentions the death of Nathan’s daughter, Safroney.

Fine furniture made by Nathan Jeffreys between 1845 and 1855 is known to exist in a private collection. The construction techniques that he used are similar to those found on the bureaus made in Day’s Milton shop, indicating that the two men probably worked together at one time. Jeffreys and other members of the Indian community passed on their woodworking skills. His great-great-grandson, William Bill Jeffries, learned woodworking from his father. He built houses as well as chairs during most of the twentieth century.

Adapted from Dr. Patricia Phillips Marshall, “Indian Cabinetmakers in Piedmont North Carolina,” www.ncpedia.org

Permission to build a saw and gristmill.

Ord. that William Spalden have leave to Build a Saw & griss Mill in Sd County on Slade Swamp about 150 yds above Rooty Branch.

November Term, 1837, Minutes of Columbus County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions,  North Carolina State Archives.

The Howe family.

The Howe Family of Wilmington, North Carolina, encompassed at least four generations of men of color active in the city’s building trades. As traced in William Reaves’ Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina 1865-1950, they included Anthony Howe (d. 1837) and his sons Anthony (ca. 1807-after 1870), Pompey (d. by 1869), and Alfred Augustus (1817-1892); Anthony’s sons Anthony Jr. (dates unknown), Washington (b. ca. 1827-after 1870), John Harriss (ca. 1841-1902), and Valentine Howe (ca. 1842-1904); and at least four of John H. Howe’s sons who followed their father and uncles into the building business. Although these men erected many buildings, thus far relatively few have been identified as their work.

According to family tradition, Anthony Walker Howe was born in Africa, sold into slavery and transported to the Lower Cape Fear area in the 18th century, where he was bought by a man named Walker and then sold by Walker’s widow to Col. Robert Howe. On Howe’s plantation, Anthony employed building skills learned in his native land and was soon involved in plantation construction projects. Family tradition also relates that local Native Americans had left a baby girl known as Tenah at the Howe plantation, and in time she wed Anthony Walker. They and their children took the name Howe. (It is said that Col. Howe freed Anthony, Tenah, and their children, but the first members of the family to appear in census lists of free people of color are sons Anthony and Alfred in 1860.) Anthony Walker Howe died in 1837 and Tenah survived him until 1852.  they were buried in a family cemetery, and their remains were moved subsequently to Pine Forest Cemetery, where many of their family members would be buried as well.

In the 1860 census of Wilmington, free black carpenters Anthony and Alfred Howe were listed as next-door neighbors. Anthony Howe, aged 53, was married to a woman named Betsy and had two small children at home. Alfred Howe, aged 46, was married to a woman named Mary, and their children included Mary, Isabella, Alfred, and John. Anthony and Alfred each owned personal property valued at $300. Only a few doors away lived carpenter Israel Howe, aged 60, probably a kinsman. John D. Bellamy, Jr., who was a boy during construction of his family’s Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, recalled that “the Howes” were involved in its construction. Other antebellum Howe projects have yet to be identified, though it is likely that they worked with leading architect-builder James F. Post projects other than Bellamy Mansion.

More is known of the Howes’ postwar activities, for they thrived as leading citizens and builders in an era of strong black community and economic life in Wilmington. Having been free artisans before the war, and having established relationships with men such as James F. Post, they were well situated to practice their trades after the war.

Adapted from 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. 

Miles Howard.

Miles Howard was born enslaved and, when he was about 11 years old, was brought to Halifax and sold to Thomas Burgess, a prominent attorney in the Halifax area. Burgess evidently took a liking to the young Miles and made sure that he learned a trade as a barber. Around 1818, Howard took a wife by consent of both his and her masters. Howard was emancipated very shortly afterwards. Burgess sold him property in Halifax in 1825 and more property later. In 1832, Burgess wrote to Senator Mangum regarding a free man of color who was a barber and a musician. The free man had purchased children from a former master. He had not been able to free them due to a law prohibiting this. He wished to move his family to a state where they could be freed and not held as his slaves. Evidently, nothing came from this request, as Howard later died in Halifax.

Burgess, in his will, gave “his worthy and excellent friend Miles Howard the Barber two lots in Halifax, now occupied by said Miles.” In 1838, in an act of emancipation the four children and slaves of Miles Howard were set free, and the family was baptized by a Catholic priest in Halifax. Between 1842 and 1846, Matilda died, and Howard married Caroline Valentine. The two had children who were also baptized Catholic. Howard handled various land transactions and was a sound businessman in Halifax. He died in 1857 without leaving a will. A lawsuit ensued, with the children of his first marriage seeking a share of his property and the children of his second marriage fighting them. The case went to North Carolina Superior Court, which ruled in favor of the children of the second marriage, because the first marriage was a slave marriage and not legal in the eyes of the law.

Adapted from http://www.nchistoricsites.org/halifax/people.htm

Freedman’s Bank depositor, no. 2.

No. 5467. Record for Geo. Hostler.  Date January 6, 1872. Where born: Fayetteville. Where brought up: ditto. Residence: Chestnut between 5th and 6th Streets. Age 35. Complexion: light brown. Occupation: barber. Works for self. Wife: Marie. Children: None. Father: Joe, dead. Mother: Hannah, dead. Brothers and Sisters: (6) Susie, Mary, Mary Isabella, Caroline, Henry [sic].

Freedman’s Bank Records, National Archives and Records Administration.

As good as any mill in the state.

GRINDING CORN!

I have rented the Mill on Cross Creek, formerly owned by Mr. Hall. I will carry Corn to the mill and deliver MEAL or HOMINY without charge in any part of town. I have a Dray ready always for this very purpose, and I will guarantee customers as good meal or Hominy as any mill in the State can make. I will be very thankful for a liberal share of the public patronage.   ABEL PAYNE.  March 11.

Carolina Observer, Fayetteville, 11 March 1861.

———-

The subscriber would be pleased to grind, haul to and carry from the Mill, free of charge, at the Mill near the Gas Works, formerly Mr. Hall’s.   ABEL PAYNE. July 21, 1862.

Carolina Observer, Fayetteville, 21 July 1862.

John Jones.

ImageJohn Jones was an outspoken civil rights activist and a committed leader in the fight to repeal Illinois’ Black Codes. He was born in Greene County, North Carolina to a free mulatto mother and a German-American father. Trained as a tailor, Jones migrated to Memphis, Tennessee, then moved to Chicago in 1845 with his wife Mary Richardson Jones.  He established a successful tailor shop at 119 Dearborn Street. Not long after his arrival in Chicago, Jones befriended local abolitionists Charles V. Dyer, a physician, and Lemanuel Covell Paine Freer, a noted lawyer. Freer taught Jones to read and write. Jones saw the value of the skills for business and also put them to masterful use in abolition work, including the publication of a 16-page pamphlet entitled “The Black Laws of Illinois and Why They Should Be Repealed.” Jones also worked tirelessly in the struggle against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which denied runaway slaves the right to trial by jury and imposed high fines on anyone who aided slaves or interfered in their capture. Though he arrived in the city with just $3.50 in his pocket and had no formal education, by 1860 Jones was one of the nation’s wealthiest African Americans. In 1871, Jones was elected the first black Cook County Commissioner.

———-

John Jones’ 1844 certificate of freedom, issued by the State of Illinois, described him as 25 years old; 5 feet ten inches tall, and mulatto; “has a scarr over the Left Eye Brown a Scratch across the cheek bone a scarr on the left Shin bone Taylor to trade.”

Photo: Chicago History Museum. Text adapted from “Early Chicago: Slavery in Illinois,” http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=76,4,3,4; see also, and more particularly, Sylvestre C. Watkins, Sr., “Some of Early Illinois’ Free Negroes” in Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, vol. 56, no. 3, Emancipation Centennial Issue (1963); http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. 

In the 1860 census of Ward 2, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: John Jones, 43, tailor, born NC; wife Mary, 40, born Tennessee; daughter Susan, 16, born Illinois; and Rachel Pettit, 20, born Illinois. Jones reported real property valued at $17000 and personal property at $700.

Thomas Day.

Image

Thomas Day, a cabinetmaker by trade, is the most celebrated of North Carolina’s antebellum craftsmen. He was born 1801 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, to a family of free, landowning African-Americans. His father, John Day, was a skilled cabinetmaker who plied other trades as well, but always relied on woodworking to bring in money. Thomas and his brother John Day were well-educated. John’s education, during which he boarded with prominent whites and attending schools with them, is documented in his later correspondence, and it is assumed that Thomas did the same. Both of the Day sons initially followed in their father’s footsteps, learning the skills of a cabinetmaker. John eventually left the trade to study theology and later moved to Liberia, becoming one of its founders by signing its Declaration of Independence.

John Day moved to Warren County by 1820 and it is believed that Thomas was with him. The Days had established themselves in the furniture business in Milton by 1823. Thomas Day became a prominent and well-respected citizen of the community. In response to an act that prohibited free blacks from immigrating into the state, Milton’s white leaders petitioned the General Assembly in 1830 to allow Day’s bride, Aquilla Wilson, a free black from Virginia, to join him. They reared two sons and a daughter. In his almost forty years in Milton, Thomas Day built an extraordinary business, employing freedmen and slaves alike to craft stock lines of furniture and to fill custom orders for furniture and interior woodworking. By 1850, Day had the largest cabinetry shop in North Carolina. He is believed to have died in about 1861, after having suffered financial losses due to the national panic of 1857.

Adapted from ncmarkers.com.

In the 1850 census of Milton, Caswell County: Thomas Day, 49, cabinetmaker, born Virginia, property valued at $8000; wife Aquila, 44; son Devereux J., 17, cabinetmaker, born Milton; Mourning S. Day, 84, born VA; and Joshua Wood, 32, cabinetnaker; all mulatto except the last, who was white.