Master Craftsman and Entrepreneur Thomas Day

Thomas Day StatueAll this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past. Thomas Day, a cabinetmaker by trade, is perhaps the most celebrated of North Carolina’s antebellum craftsmen. Born in 1801 to a family of free, landowning African Americans, his father was also a skilled cabinetmaker.  Thomas and his brother John were well-educated and both followed in their father’s footsteps, learning the skills to become cabinetmakers. After establishing a furniture business with his brother in Milton by 1823, Day became a prominent and well-respected citizen of the community. In response to an act of 1826 that prohibited free blacks from immigrating into the state, Milton’s white leaders petitioned the General Assembly in 1830 to allow Day’s bride, Aquilla Wilson, a free black from Virginia, to join her husband in North Carolina.

A sideboard by Thomas Day, now in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History A sideboard by Thomas Day, now in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History

 

In his almost 40 years in Milton, Day built an extraordinary business, employing freedmen and slaves alike to craft stock lines of furniture and to fill custom orders for furniture and interior woodworking. By 1850, Day had the largest cabinetry shop in North Carolina. For more on Day's life, check out this podcast from the N.C. Museum of History and for more on the furniture industry in North Carolina head to NCpedia.

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