There is a reputation lacking from the record of early American furnishings makers, and that title is Thomas Day. Day was born in 1801 in Virginia, and labored in the early a part of the 19th century as a furnishings maker in Milton, N.C., till his dying in 1861. Day’s title ought to seem alongside names like Duncan Phyfe, John Cogswell, Samuel Mcintire, John Goddard  and Christopher Townsend as certainly one of the main figures of American furnishings.

Statue of Day at the North Carolina Museum of History*

Thomas Day was a free Black man born free in 1801 to free mother and father. Day moved to Milton at the age of 16, and as was required by North Carolina regulation for all free Black males, took up a commerce by the age of 18. This commerce was cupboard making. He opened his personal store in Milton in 1827. As his work grew so did his store, and by the late 1840s Day’s enterprise wanted a bigger area. He bought the Union Tavern store, which was reported to be certainly one of, if not the largest, furnishings and cupboard retailers in the state. Historians estimate that between 10% and 25% of all furnishings made in North Carolina was produced in Day’s Union Tavern store. Day’s work as a Black man in the pre-Civil War American south is outstanding to say the least.

Day’s work is usually described as “exuberant,” working inside the typical types of the early half of the 19th century whereas including his personal distinctive model. While closely influenced by the Greek revival vogue of the day, it’s clear that Day’s store designed its personal work slightly than merely copying the fashionable items of the interval. Day’s work went on to be an affect on design in the later a part of the 19th century. Patricial Marshall, curator of the North Carolina Museum on History, goes as far as to say Day’s work is a forerunner of the Art Nouveau motion of the late 19th century. Unfortunately, shortly after Day’s dying in 1861, his enterprise was closed and his son was pressured to depart the state, ultimately settling in the Washington territory in the Pacific northwest.

Bartlett Yancey House

North Carolina Museum of History

Thomas Day’s residence and workshop, Union Tavern, Milton, NC.**

Perhaps not so unsurprisingly, exterior of the space instantly surrounding Milton, N.C., Day’s work had been largely forgotten by the late 19th century and early 20th century. It was not till the late 20th century that Day’s work started to be acknowledged for the high quality, design, and craftsmanship that was so apparent in its day.  In 1975, Day’s Union Tavern store in Milton was positioned on the National Register of Historic Places; nevertheless, it sadly burned extensively in 1989. Also in 1975, the traditionally Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta donated $7,000 for the North Carolina Museum of History to start gathering Day’s work. The kernel of this assortment is a gaggle of items that have been commissioned by the governor of North Carolina, David Settle Reid, in 1855.

North Carolina Museum of History

The North Carolina museum would go on to accumulate the largest assortment of Day’s furnishings and work to advertise the significance of this craftsman.  This lastly started the work to place him alongside the different extra well-known makers of Early American furnishings.

Further studying and watching:

From NPR – Thomas Day: A Master Craftsman, With Complications – The Remarkable Life and Career of a Free African-American Cabinetmaker

Smithsonian Mag – The Incredible True Story of Master Craftsman, Freedman Thomas Day

*Photo by RJ Matthews, CC BY-SA 3.0

**By Unknown, Photographer – Public Domain, Link

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