African American Craftsmen 1770 -1835
AFRICAN AMERICAN CRAFTSMEN (1770 – 1835)
…AND HOW THEY SHAPED THE HISTORY OF NEW BERN
The Z. Smith Reynolds Inclusive Public Art Project
Tryon Palace has been selected to apply for full funding for a joint Z Smith Reynolds and Andrew Mellon project called the Inclusive Public Art initiative. The initiative is intended to use permanent, public art to share stories of diversity, equity, and inclusion in an effort to stimulate community conversations and sustained community connections. Through this process our goal is to provide a shared and fuller understanding of our common history and to demonstrate how these stories of diversity and strength make our community stronger and more resilient. The goal is to create avenues for ongoing community conversations and collaborations beyond the life of this project.
Our project is using Catherine Bishir’s book, Crafting Lives to provide a background and inspiration to tell the stories of the New Bern African American artisan class from 1770-1835, both free and enslaved. The stories of these remarkable middle- and working-class men and women are important to our understanding of New Bern’s past, present and future. They built the town, provided industries vital to its growth and sustainability, established religious and civic organizations, and bought their families out of slavery and into freedom. They bound together and thrived under an institution that limited them and denied them agency at every turn. They were vibrant participants in the community of New Bern on all levels. Almost no one knows these important stories but people in New Bern, and not all of them do. There is a connectedness and grounded quality to this commemorative work that our committee finds inspiring, and we want to share with the community and have them participate in its development.
THE ARTISANS WE CHOSE TO REPRESENT THE PROJECT…
Individual personal stories
- Amelia Green Trade: Spinning and Weaving
- Asa Spelman – Trade: Cooper
- Donum Montford (Mumford) – Trade: Plasterer and Brick mason
- James York Green – Trade: Carpentry
Catherine Bishir notes that the Spelmans were free black migrants from Virginia to the Carolinas in the early 1700s. His 1820 pension application listed his trade as cooper, someone who crafted barrels and casks for shipping both wet and dry goods. During the American Revolution, he enlisted in the 10th North Carolina Regiment.
Trade: Spinning and Weaving
Associated with 310 George Street, built ca. 1790-1800
Used her skills to save money and purchase her daughters Nancy Handy, Harriet Green, and Princess Green, whom she subsequently emancipated. Green’s granddaughter, Kitty, married John Caruthers Stanly. Her great-granddaughter, Catherine, was a leading member of the free black community and of First Presbyterian Church of New Bern. Her great-great-granddaughter, Sarah Griffith Stanly Woodward (1836-1918) was educated at Oberlin College and taught with the American Missionary Association after the Civil War.
Donum Montford (Mumford)
Trade: Plasterer and Brick Mason
Associated with John R. Donnell House, Craven County Jail (we have a photograph of the jail in the collection).
Enslaved by the Cogdell family and emancipated in 1804 a day after being sold to John Carruthers Stanly. Montford married Hannah Bowers, formerly enslaved by the Gaston family. Montford was instrumental in apprenticing, training, and emancipating, or assisting in the emancipation, of many enslaved individuals.
James York Green
Associated with no listings in Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County
Born a slave and trained as a carpenter before being freed in 1812. Instrumental in freeing or vouching for family and members of his community. Active in First Presbyterian Church of New Bern. Remained in New Bern after 1850s when many fellow artisans and prominent families relocated outside of North Carolina.