My search for inspiration for my creativity led me to Milton, North Carolina. The trip was an incredible experience in fine and timeliness design. Please meet Thomas Day.
Smack in the middle of the town of Milton this powerful imagery reminds us today of the productivity of our yesterdays. Milton calls itself a “Museum without walls.”
I was truly struck by the fact that so many pieces have stood the test of time. Today we have a recycle and throw away culture. We don’t invest in pieces like in the past because we have so much access to more. I want a shift if our thinking. I aim to collect items of monetary and personal value so we decrease our collective waste. Style and sustainability are my motivations when it comes to furniture and design.
Thomas Day also inspired me by his steadfastness as a businessman. He found and created ways to making things happen carving his way into history. I am to leave beautiful things for the world to enjoy long after me just like Thomas Day.
Thomas day was born in 1800, Black and free in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Thomas Day learned cabinetmaking from his father. Education was a priority in their family, Thomas and his brother John attended a local Quaker school. Literate and a skilled craftsman Thomas Day was exceptional for his time.
Free Blacks faced challenges just as enslaved Blacks did. The cotton boom led to white southerners wanting more slaves and less free Blacks in society. Well educated, fair skinned, and an exceptional cabinetmaker Thomas Day fared well compared to others. In 1821, he moved to Milton, North Carolina and remained there. Thomas Day was led to Milton by his brother John Day, a man of the cloth. Thomas Day made Milton his home with a workshop and a farm. In 1848, Day purchased a prominent building on main street in the bustling river community of Milton. As a free Black man this was a risky move, however Day prospered and became one of the most important artisans and entrepreneurs in North Carolina. A member of the Presybeterians church, Day navigated white society the best he could. He maintained the largest furniture shop in the state, producing one sixth of the furniture in North Carolina at the time. On average more than twenty men staffed Day’s shop at any time. Thomas Day owned at least fourteen slaves at the peak of his business.
Historian James L. Roark elaborated on three main reasons for Blacks to hold slaves. One, many were family and it was the only way to avoid separation. The second reason was for the same reason as white “planters”, the exploitation of labor. There is also a thought of free Blacks holding slaves to demonstrate their dedication to the ”peculiar institution” that was American chattel slavery so their freedom wouldn’t be at risk.
Thomas Day furniture can be found in Milton, NC, the North Carolina State Capitol building, at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Philanthropic Society Debating Hall, and in homes throughout the south that have had the ability to build generational wealth by passing real estate from generation to generation.