Artisan Workers in the Upper South
Petersburg, Virginia, 1820-1865
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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Visiting Petersburg, Virginia, at the beginning of the antebellum era, European traveler William Tell Harris observed that “bustle and activity are every where seen.” Although the city was recovering from a recent fire, paved and level streets lined the town and “elegant brick buildings” predominated. Petersburg was already a busy commercial center, and Harris recorded its advantages: “a ...
1. “A Great Deal of Enterprise, and a Great Deal of Dirt”: The Rise of a Southern Industrial Town
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When northern book peddlers Sarah Mendell and Charlotte Hosmer came to Petersburg in the early 1850s, they found a bustling city. Boasting twenty tobacco factories, six substantial cotton mills, two iron foundries, and a host of independent artisan shops, it is no wonder that these women remarked that “Petersburg has something the appearance of a Northern town.” Commerce...
2. “All of One Family; Like Brethren”: The Petersburg Benevolent Mechanic Association
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On the chilly morning of 2 December 1826, a group of Virginia artisan workers gathered in the Blandford churchyard to pay their respects to Sceva Thayer, a fellow mechanic and Petersburg blacksmith. Two days earlier someone passing had discovered his body on Old Street in Petersburg’s market district. At an impromptu meeting called in the churchyard following the funeral, his fellow...
3. Artisans Caught in the Middle: White Workers in Petersburg
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The Petersburg Benevolent Mechanic Association (PBMA) represented, for the most part, those masters succeeding in an expanding market economy. Although a significant segment of Petersburg artisans found membership in the elite artisan organization beneficial to their career goals, many more skilled workers either could not afford to, or chose not to, join the PBMA. In February...
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4. The Paradox of Freedom: Black Artisans in Petersburg
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Because of his “uncommonly devoted attention to, and care of his late master during a most dangerous illness,” black boatman John Brander became a free man in April 1822. Brander’s benefactor was his former owner and Petersburg tobacco manufacturer James Dunlop. Dunlop fell ill while at Lynchburg and apparently Brander provided care “by which probably his life was preserved.” ...
5. Tobacco and Iron: The Foundations of Industrial Slavery
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Beginning in 1852, Tom Bragg worked for Petersburg brick layer and contractor Daniel Lyon. Bragg was likely a suitable skilled worker, for Lyon continued to employ his services through 1858. Unfortunately, Bragg did not receive wages as a reward for his hard work because he was a slave owned by local tobacconist Charles F. Osborne. Lyon leased Bragg, paying an annual hire fee that increased...
6. Between Class and Caste: The Culture of Southern Antebellum Artisans
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As the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached in 1826, members of the Petersburg Benevolent Mechanic Association (PBMA) busied themselves with special preparations in celebration of the “Jubilee of American Freedom.” The master mechanics used the opportunity to “congratulate each other” on the arrival of this patriotic event, and established a special...
Epilogue: And Then the War Came
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When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, James Coldwell was among the first to volunteer to serve the Confederacy. Enlisting as a private in Company B of the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg carpenter spent most of the war wielding a hammer instead of a rifle. First he helped build his regiment’s winter quarters, then, in 1862, he went to South Carolina, where his job was to keep ...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008