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Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

Scrollwork by Thomas Day (1801-1861)

Not all black workers were enslaved. In 1847, the university hired Thomas Day, a highly respected free black artisan, to create woodwork for the libraries of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies. From his workshop in Milton, Day operated the largest furniture business in North Carolina, using steam-powered tools and mass production to fashion fine furniture and trim for wealthy white customers. Its staff included free employees and slaves owned by Thomas Day. As a free black man in a slave-based society, Thomas Day faced stringent restrictions on his activities.