Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900

By Catherine W. Bishir | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

It is a pleasure to recall the many people who have made this book possible. Its history began during research in the 1970s for Architects and Builders: A History of the Practice of Building (1990) by Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest Wood III, with research assistance from J. Marshall Bullock and William Bushong. We sought to learn more about the often unsung people who created our state’s architecture. Combing records for evidence of architects and building craftsmen uncovered an unexpected wealth of information about black artisans from the colonial period onward. Thanks especially to Marshall Bullock for locating many obscure references. Some of these findings appeared in my article, “Black Builders in Antebellum North Carolina,” in 1984, and a smaller portion made its way into Architects and Builders. New Bern stood out as the home of several such craftsmen, including the free black plasterer and brickmason Donum Montford.

Twenty years later, I returned to the topic. I wanted to learn more about black artisans of various trades in a single community through time and thus to dig a deeper, narrower hole into the past and concentrate on a smaller cast of characters. New Bern, known for its craft traditions and its strong black history, seemed to be a promising choice. As described below, the support of Kay Williams, director of Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens, and Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, confirmed the selection. As it has turned out, New Bern’s welldocumented history and accessible resources provided far more information than I anticipated, and I have learned a far richer story than I ever imagined could be found.

I am happily indebted to the previous research of the many people who have studied New Bern’s history, including its African American heritage. Every student of New Bern history owes a debt to two early memoirists: Stephen Miller, who described the town of the 1820s in his “Recollections of Newbern fifty years ago,” and John D. Whitford, who recorded his memories of his long life in New Bern as well as interviewing many elderly black and white New Bernians, and published these stories in “Home Story of a Walking Stick” and in the series “Bits of History” and “Historical Reminiscences” that appeared in local newspapers from the early 1880s to 1905.

More recent studies of New Bern include Thomas W. Hanchett and M. Ruth Little, The History and Architecture of Long Wharf and Greater Duffyfield: African American Neighborhoods in New Bern, North Carolina; Lynda Vestal Herzog, “The Early Architecture of New Bern, North Carolina, 1750–1850”; Alan D. Watson, The History of New Bern and Craven County; Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County; and David S. Cecelski, The Fire of Freedom.

I am grateful for the patient researchers who have faithfully transcribed and published original documents relevant to New Bern. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative

-357-

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