CASWELL COUNTY, N.C. — You may not be familiar with the name Thomas Day, but his master carpentry work cemented his name in history as one of the most successful on the East Coast.
The free black man’s popularity rose in status in the early to mid-1800s with his uniquely styled furniture. Many of those pieces are displayed right here in the Triad.
We spoke with the Director of Galleries for North Carolina A&T, Dr. Paul Baker. He described the importance of recognizing and educating people on the legacy of Thomas Day.
“As a freeman, Day built his business in furniture making, so we wanted to showcase his work in this exhibition of ten of Thomas Day’s pieces from the 1830s-1850s," Dr. Baker explains.
The H.C. Taylor Art Gallery on the campus of North Carolina A&T will be home to this exhibit from Thomas Day’s collection through August.
With all the success Day had as a furniture maker, what he did for the African American community is even greater.
“He would purchase enslaved African Americans and teach them how to make furniture," Dr. Baker said. "Give them apprenticeships, and once they finished their apprenticeships, he would give them their freedom, so they [would be able to] go out and make furniture on their own.”
History shows us that Day was also one of the first African American business owners to employ white workers as well. As business slowed for the Moravian furniture makers in Winston-Salem, they went to Caswell County to work for Thomas Day. According to Dr. Baker, in the 1840s. Thomas Day and his company were the largest furniture maker in North Carolina.
According to Dr. Baker, the Thomas Day collection is worth up to the north of $12 million in today’s dollars.