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Crafting Lives

African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900

Catherine W. Bishir

Publication Year: 2013

From the colonial period onward, black artisans in southern cities--thousands of free and enslaved carpenters, coopers, dressmakers, blacksmiths, saddlers, shoemakers, bricklayers, shipwrights, cabinetmakers, tailors, and others--played vital roles in their communities. Yet only a very few black craftspeople have gained popular and scholarly attention. Catherine W. Bishir remedies this oversight by offering an in-depth portrayal of urban African American artisans in the small but important port city of New Bern. In so doing, she highlights the community's often unrecognized importance in the history of nineteenth-century black life.
Drawing upon myriad sources, Bishir brings to life men and women who employed their trade skills, sense of purpose, and community relationships to work for liberty and self-sufficiency, to establish and protect their families, and to assume leadership in churches and associations and in New Bern's dynamic political life during and after the Civil War. Focusing on their words and actions, Crafting Lives provides a new understanding of urban southern black artisans' unique place in the larger picture of American artisan identity.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-18

...in the South. By working extra hours he saved the money to obtain his freedom in young adulthood while also teaching himself to read and write. After his emancipation in 1818, he became a prosperous master craftsman with his own apprentices and slaves. Green spent his life in a setting dominated by the institution of slavery where he developed and...

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ONE: The Setting: New Bern from the Colonial Period to 1900

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pp. 19-36

...cities, just as those cities differed among themselves. Among the town’s particular characteristics were its early status as a colonial capital and principal port; its unusually large proportion of free people of color; its status as a liberated city occupied by Union forces from 1862 through the duration of the war; and its role as a center of black political...

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TWO: The Fruits of Honest Industry: Black Artisans in New Bern’s “Golden Age,” 1770–1830

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pp. 37-96

...lived and worked. The specialized tool indicated that he cut and installed window panes as part of his trade. Its diamond head, for scoring precise lines, identified it as an implement of high quality, and its monogrammed handle suggested his attachment to it. The reward of $1.50—a day’s pay or more for a skilled worker—revealed his strong desire to regain the lost object...

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THREE: Hundreds of Fine Artisans: Leaving and Staying, 1830–1861

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pp. 97-150

...and plasterer. His journey came early in a period of mounting challenges for New Bern’s artisans of color. Local economic problems and the state’s tightening racial restrictions undercut many opportunities and rights upon which these artisans had grounded their hopes for freedom, citizenship, and advancement. In common with urban blacks throughout...

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FOUR: Worthy to Be Free, Worthy to Be Respected: Civil War, Union Occupation, and Presidential Reconstruction, 1862–1866

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pp. 151-192

...New Bern, where he joined the growing ranks of black artisan-leadership in an almost unimaginable new world of black freedom and agency. Both towns had been occupied by Union forces for some two years when Federal ships evacuated Washington’s remaining Unionists and slaves to New Bern in advance of a Confederate attack on Washington...

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FIVE: We Can and Will Do More: Artisans and Citizens, 1867–1900

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pp. 193-254

...industry, thrift, and respectability—which had gained broad currency as qualities essential to black Americans’ efforts to “elevate” their race. Like many national figures who tied freedmen’s rights as citizens to the legacy of the American Revolution, Crawford used the classic republican trope of the “Car of Liberty” to assert their stake in the nation...

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pp. 255-258

...From the eve of the American Revolution to the turn of the twentieth century, skilled black workers in New Bern, North Carolina, demonstrated the multiple possibilities of crafting identities as American artisans and citizens. Like their counterparts throughout the nation, they employed techniques learned through apprenticeships or from family members to make...

Appendix: Biographical Summaries

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pp. 259-292


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pp. 293-342


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pp. 343-356

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pp. 357-360

...Ernest Wood III, with research assistance from J. Marshall Bullock and William Bushong. We sought to learn more about the often unsung people who created our state’s architecture. Combing records for evidence of architects and building craftsmen uncovered an unexpected wealth of information about black artisans from the colonial period...


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pp. 361-380

E-ISBN-13: 9781469611785
E-ISBN-10: 1469611783
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469608754
Print-ISBN-10: 1469608758

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013