Local historians say much of the credit for building the majestic places that make up historic downtown Wilmington goes to many enslaved and free African-Americans.
Beverly Tetterton, a New Hanover County librarian said, “Architectural historians will tell you Wilmington was built by slaves. They were in all of the construction trades; not just buildings but also boats, vessels, any kind of building was performed by free African-Americans and slaves.”
Prior to the civil war, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina. A southern town in that era with booming construction, a port, and a railroad system required skilled African-American labor.
Much of this history is kept alive by dedicated people like librarian Beverly Tetterton who has spent hours upon hours cataloging many of Wilmington’s historic homes including the Bellamy Mansion, which was built for a wealthy planter before the Civil War in 1859 by slaves and free black artisans. Now the home serves as a museum.
“The history here is so deep and so rich and broad that it really is intriguing,” said Beverly Ayscue the Bellamy Mansion executive director. “We certainly hope that by having the Bellamy Mansion here and other historical homes in town; that’s the reason we save them so we will have physical examples from our past.”
Slaves who were leased out for labor built historical centerpieces like Thalian Hall. The money owed would be paid to their masters.
Tony Rivenbark, Thalian Hall executive director, said, “Slave labor were basically the skilled masons and plasterers in Wilmington. So many of Wilmington’s buildings private and public before the civil war were built by these artisans.”
And what magnificent work they did.