North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

Coming Soon

NC Architects and Builders is a growing system. We will post this entry as soon as it is ready.

Albert and Osborne (fl. 1820s-1850s)

Trades:
  • Brickmason;
  • Plasterer
NC Work Locations:
  • Chapel Hill, Orange County
  • Orange
  • Raleigh, Wake County
  • Wake
Building Types:
  • Educational;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Greek Revival;
  • Italianate

Old East [Chapel Hill]

View larger image and credits

Old East [Chapel Hill]

Biography

Albert (fl. 1820s, 1830s, 1840s), and Osborne (fl. 1840s, 1850s), brothers, were enslaved bricklayers and plasterers of notable skill. The two men belonged to the prolific brick builder Dabney Cosby, and their high quality work, especially in the plastering technique called "roughcasting," was an important component of Cosby's building business. Cosby worked extensively in Virginia from 1800 until 1839, when he moved to Raleigh. There, he operated a large workshop and undertook many construction projects until his death in 1862. He shared a work force of nearly twenty slaves with his son Dabney Cosby, Jr. (Dabney Minor Cosby). Others of Cosby's slaves mentioned in building accounts included Henry, George, Ab, Mat, William (a bricklayer), Nelson, Ben, and Clayton.

Although nothing is known of the early lives of Albert and Osborne, they evidently worked for Cosby for several years. Like many slaves, they appear in records only by their first names; they may have had surnames as well, but those have not been identified. The first known record of Albert occurs in 1826 when Cosby noted in his account book Albert's work on the Sussex County Courthouse in Virginia. Possibly Osborne was working with Cosby by that time as well, though there is no record of it. Both men were probably engaged in some of Cosby's numerous building projects in Virginia and North Carolina (see Dabney Cosby building list). Many of these were built of brick, and some featured handsome ornamental plaster work possibly executed by Albert and Osborne.

The two men appear more often in building records of the 1840s. Soon after moving to Raleigh, Cosby undertook construction (1840-1841) of a large brick house called Wills Forest Plantation House, designed by Cosby's sometime partner, Thomas A. Waitt, a carpenter-builder, for a member of the locally prominent Mordecai family. In the final payment on the house in December, 1841, George W. Mordecai paid Cosby "$11.70 for Osburn [sic] for plaistering."

In January, 1845, Cosby wrote to his son Dabney, Jr., to inform him that he was taking Albert to Smithfield, Virginia, "to set him to building Vernon's Church," referring to a Presbyterian congregation where another Cosby son, J. Vernon Cosby, was pastor. The letter indicates that Cosby, like other builders who owned slave artisans, "set" the workman at the job, then left him to complete the work. The church was a brick, temple-form structure roughcast in imitation of granite. Roughcasting was a popular technique of applying a coat of stucco to a brick wall, giving it a texture akin to stone, and incising the surface to imitate blocks of stone. Cosby's shop was especially well known for such work, with Albert and Osborne particularly skilled in the technique. Albert's work on the church gained favorable attention. Cosby wrote in April, 1846, from Smithfield, "I came here this winter to roughcast a church, and the people has [sic] been so much pleased with my method of doing it that I could not get away and have been r c [roughcasting] ever since and might continue to the bal[ance] of the year."

Also in 1845, Cosby subcontracted to accomplish the masonry work of the additions to the ends of Old East and Old West at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, which were designed by New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Cosby assigned Osborne and other slaves to the job, writing in February to the main contractors in a letter carried by Osborne, "Osbourne will have his mortar made up and then when John [Cosby, another son of Dabney] gets there the west work may be begun." He ordered supplies of meal and bacon for Osborne and noted, "what he says you may rely on."

In May, 1846, Cosby sent Albert from Smithfield to Chapel Hill, where Osborne was already at work on the additions at Old East and Old West. Cosby indicated his confidence in the two men in his letter of May 11, 1846, carried by Albert to the university president, David L. Swain: "The bearer Albert comes up to help his Bro. do the Plaistering [sic] in the halls. I have told him to Examine the sand to be used, not knowing whether the work is begun or not and to produce such as in the Judgment of him and Osborne will make the best work. You may rely on what he tells you, and If I mistake not they will show you firstrate work his plaistering [sic] and roughcasting here has preference to any done in this part of the State."

Albert did not appear in Cosby's accounts after the mid-1840s, nor was he among the slaves listed in Cosby's estate inventory. Whether he had been sold, had died, or was with Dabney Cosby, Jr., is unknown. Osborne's name appeared occasionally after this in Cosby's account books, such as in reference to the carpenter Thomas H. Briggs, Sr. making "2 Plum Rules per Osburn" in June, 1852. In an inventory of Cosby's property, Osborne was listed among his slaves along with William, George, Matt, and others.

Author: J. Marshall Bullock.

Published 2009

Building List

Wills Forest Plantation House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1840

Variant Name(s):
  • Devereux House
Contributors:
Dates: 1840-1841
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Wills Forest St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
Note:

A rare example of a temple-form residence constructed in brick and featuring an Ionic columned portico, it was razed about 1900. Also known as the Devereux House.

Old West (Chapel Hill, Orange County)

Orange Chapel Hill

1822

Contributors:
Dates: 1822-1823; 1844-1848 [addition]; 1924 [renovation]; 1991-1992 [extensive renovation]
Location: Chapel Hill, Orange County
Street Address: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Educational
Images Published In:
  • John V. Allcott, The Campus at Chapel Hill: Two Hundred Years of Architecture (1986).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Edward T. Davis and John L. Sanders, A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).
  • M. Ruth Little, The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (2006).
  • William S. Powell, The First State University: A Pictorial History of the University of North Carolina (1992).
Note:

Alexander Jackson Davis enlarged and remade the north fa├žades of Old East and Old West with Tuscan end bays to face Franklin Street. Builder Dabney Cosby questioned his design. As documented in extensive correspondence, Thomas Day planned and produced the interior woodwork, seating, etc. for the library and debating hall in Old West. Nothing is known to survive of his work there. See J. Marshall Bullock, "The Enterprising Contractor, Mr. Cosby," for a detailed account of Cosby's involvement in the Old East and Old West projects. The photograph shows Old West on the right.

Old West

Old East (Chapel Hill, Orange County)

Orange Chapel Hill

1793

Contributors:
Dates: 1793-1795; 1822 [addition]; 1844-1848 [addition]; 1924 [internally reconstructed]; 1991-1992 [extensive renovation]
Location: Chapel Hill, Orange County
Street Address: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Educational
Images Published In:
  • John V. Allcott, The Campus at Chapel Hill: Two Hundred Years of Architecture (1986).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Edward T. Davis and John L. Sanders, A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).
  • M. Ruth Little, The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (2006).
  • William S. Powell, The First State University: A Pictorial History of the University of North Carolina (1992).
Note:

Old East is the oldest building on UNC campus. It was enlarged and given the Tuscan end bay by Alexander Jackson Davis. See North Carolina Architecture and Architects and Builders in North Carolina for details and J. Marshall Bullock, "The Enterprising Contractor, Mr. Cosby," for a detailed account of Dabney Cosby's involvement in the Old East and Old West projects. As documented in extensive correspondence, Thomas Day planned and produced the interior woodwork, seating, etc. for the library and debating hall in Old East. Nothing is known to survive of his work there. The building was gutted and rebuilt within the old walls in 1924.

Old East

Albert and Osborne's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
  • Dabney Cosby Account Book, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond.
  • Dabney Cosby Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  • University Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Text Only

Brought to you by The NCSU Libraries and The NCSU Libraries Copyright & Digital Scholarship Center.

Please contact us with any additions, corrections, or updates.

Giving to the Libraries