Records of Enslavement on Tryon Palace Grounds and Historic Homes

The history of the Tryon Palace site is made up of many stories. For many years, royal governors William Tryon, Josiah Martin, and their families were at the center of those stories. 

Over the last four decades, social and cultural histories have shifted to focus on not just the lives of elites, but of those people whose labor—both paid and unpaid—made possible the lives of men like Tryon and Martin. 

Tryon Palace continues to re-envision the stories of its historical houses and reinterpret them in ways that engage modern audiences with a fresh and diverse look at the past. Acknowledging the lived experiences of enslaved persons is critical to that process. 

Enslaved Persons under William Tryon 

In 1766, Tryon rented the labor of an enslaved man named Tom from James Murray, a Wilmington merchant. Tryon later purchased Tom for £110 sterling. Tom was taken by Tryon to New York when he was appointed governor of the colony. A man identified as “Negro Tom” was listed in the depositions after Tryon’s home at Fort George burned to the ground in December 1773. 

Tryon purchased a second enslaved man named Surry. Tryon later sold Surry to his secretary, Isaac Edwards. In 1777, Surry chose to self-emancipate by running away. An advertisement in the North-Carolina Gazette offered $3 reward for the return of Surry, “formerly the Property of Governor Tryon.” He was identified as a “new Negro,” a term that means he had been born in Africa and brought to the colonies. He was about five and a half feet tall, 30 years old, and spoke “pretty good English.” 

In 1769, Tryon paid taxes in Brunswick County on eight male and two female enslaved persons. 

Tryon also employed paid staff. 

Paid and Enslaved Persons under Josiah Martin 

When Josiah Martin was appointed royal governor, his father sent from Antigua three enslaved persons: Tool, a cook, Prima, “who by her strength and ability, will make … a very good housemaid,” and another enslaved woman named Kate. Kate’s daughter, Betsey, or Bess was willed to Josiah Martin’s eldest daughter Mary and may have been sent to live with the Martins in 1770. Martin also hired six white servants from England. 

Paid and Enslaved Laborers Building Tryon Palace 

North Carolina had a shortage of skilled workers. Tryon sent John Hawks to Philadelphia to “hire able workmen.” Hawks may have hired unskilled local men or enslaved men whose masters hired them out for a fee. 

Unskilled laborers leveled the Palace site and dug foundations. Carpenters, joiners, and bricklayers built the structure. Plasterers, painters, and plumbers finished it. A blacksmith 

worked with interior hardware like locks and hinges. Hawks hired a plumber from England to work with the lead guttering and downspouts. 

In 1772 Royal Governor Josiah Martin hired Jarvis Buxton to do work on the Palace and build a pigeon house. Buxton had six laborers under him: Will, Mallett, Jim, Rawlings, Turner, and Spooner. Martin hired John West to build a hen house and smokehouse. Working under West were Pomp, John Spooner, and two boys. Buxton and West’s receipts do not say whether their laborers were enslaved or free, but they were most likely black. Estate papers left by John West suggest he may have been Pompey’s enslaver. 

Stanly, Dixon, and Hay Houses 

The estate of John Wright Stanly included 78 enslaved men, women, and children. John Wright’s son, John Stanly, died intestate and bankrupt so there are no good records of persons whom he claimed to own. John Wright Stanly had a son, John Carruthers Stanly, with an enslaved Igbo woman owned by Alexander and Lydia Stewart. The Stewarts taught John Carruthers Stanly to read and write and eventually petitioned the local court for his manumission. Stanly himself later petitioned the NC General Assembly to recognize his emancipation in 1798. Trained as a barber, he built a successful business and went on to become one of the wealthiest black property owners not only in North Carolina, but in the entire South. He used his fortune to purchase the freedom of his wife, children, and others while also being one of the largest slaveholders in North Carolina. Stanly owned or rented the labor of over one hundred enslaved persons. Stanly mortgaged most of his assets, including enslaved people. He died bankrupt. 

Records show that several apprentices lived with George Dixon and his family, learning the tailoring trade. The 1830 census mentions five enslaved women and girls. These included a girl under ten years of age, two between the ages of ten and 24, a woman between 24 and 36 years, and another between 36 and 55 years. The paperwork from an estate sale in 1826 shows George Dixon purchasing Lydia and another girl named Catherine. Lydia was seven and Catherine was four years old. To avoid bankruptcy in 1835 and 1836, George Dixon mortgaged Lydia, another woman named Sarah, and Andrew, a man about 40 years old. 

The 1820, 1830, and 1840 census show two enslaved girls or women living with carriage-maker Robert Hay and his family, though the ages listed make it impossible for these to be the same two women across a thirty-year span. When Robert Hay purchased his deceased partner’s portion of the carriage business, the sale included a young man. This young man may have worked in the carriage shop