African American History

We know that many of New Bern’s African American 18th- and 19th-century residents were enslaved. The Governors who lived at the Palace owned slaves, as well as many town merchants and artisans. There were also free people of African ancestry who lived and worked in this region. Some became accomplished artisans while others prospered in the world of business.

You’ll learn about these men and women, both enslaved and free. You’ll learn about the work they did and how they struggled to better their situation, despite written and unwritten rules that kept them in bondage.

Tryon Palace offers several exhibits and special programs throughout the year to celebrate and educate its visitors about Eastern North Carolina’s African American culture. Resources include:

Jonkonnu: An African American celebration of song and dance, this colorful program comes to life with special performances and workshops. 

James City: Exhibits in North Carolina History Center help illustrate one of North Carolina’s first settlements of freed African Americans, located just outside of New Bern.

African American Lecture Series: Free monthly program offers lectures, plays, musical performances, and more to celebrate African American history and culture. Visit our events calendar for upcoming programs.

Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900: Available in the Tryon Palace Museum Store, this book by Catherine W. Bishir illustrates the lives of thousands of black artisans—including those that were free and enslaved— worked from the colonial period through the 19th century as carpenters, coopers, dressmakers, blacksmiths, saddlers, shoemakers, bricklayers, shipwrights, cabinetmakers, tailors, and others-played vital roles in their communities.