1800s Home of Furniture Maker Thomas Day Now Historic Site

Thomas Day was a prominent Black furniture maker in North Carolina in the 1800s. His legacy as a free Black resident will live on through his home, which is set to become a historic site in the state.

Born in approximately 1801, his home is now decorated with a historic marker, signifying that Day was a “Free Black cabinetmaker” in the city of Milton. His home doubled as his shop in the old Union Tavern, where he worked for a decade starting in 1848.

His furniture business was heralded by his community for his expert craftsmanship and beautiful pieces. To preserve his history and legacy, volunteers have worked to ensure his home is rightfully displayed.

“By 1850, he is the largest furniture marker in the state of North Carolina,” shared one of the volunteers, Joe Graves. “By a factor of four times, so he was huge.”

Graves showed WUNC reporter Colin Campbell all of the instruments Day used to build his renowned furniture, including a saw to cut the veneer pieces for his creations.

Volunteers such as Graves want the site to grow, especially as it highlights the accomplishments of the historic Black residents within the town. With governmental assistance and oversight through the State Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, they will now be able to showcase and upkeep the “overlooked” site more regularly.

“We will be able to kind of tell that story, not only through the lens of one man, Thomas Day, but the broader story of free people of color across the state of North Carolina during the antebellum period,” detailed Deputy Secretary Dr. Darin Waters on the agency’s mission with their involvement.

Despite being a free man, Day still faced racial discrimination and restrictions even as his business thrived, including his quest to marry a free Black woman from Virginia. Local legislation essentially prohibited Free Black people from moving into North Carolina.

Historians believe that Day was “aligned” with abolitionists, but his story, especially the alleged use of enslaved labor as part of his operations, is still largely missing from most museums within the state. Now, with their management of the Thomas Day house, visitors can learn more of his nuanced history and the livelihoods of many other Black North Carolinians.

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