Business and Commerce

Manufacturing

What was the importance of furniture-maker Thomas Day?

By 1818, Thomas Day (c. 1800–1861), a free black, was the first widely recognized black furniture and cabinet maker in the Deep South. Between 1827 and 1859, he operated one of the North Carolina’s largest furniture enterprises, making sofas, chairs, chests, tables, and bedsteads from walnut, mahogany, and oak. He also built coffins and did fine interior work, such as stairways and trims. He was a slave owner and hired two of his slaves in his early furniture shop. He also apprenticed white bondservants in his business. Day sold directly to clients, and his ornately carved work was represented in homes of distinguished families throughout the state, including the home of the governor. One of his prime clients was also the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Day was recognized as one of the finest artisans of the day. He worked in Milton, North Carolina, and his workshop, the Yellow Tavern, is a National Historic Landmark. He was born in Halifax County, Virginia, and moved to Milton in 1823, where he opened his shop. Evidence of his fine work may be seen in furniture scattered across North Carolina, but especially in Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte.



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