North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Trotter, Thomas (fl. 1790s-1810s)

  • Beaufort County, North Carolina
  • Tyrrell County, North Carolina
  • Builder;
  • Carpenter/Joiner;
  • Engineer
NC Work Locations:
  • Chowan County
  • Chowan
  • Tyrrell County
  • Tyrrell
Building Types:
  • Agricultural;
  • Industrial


Thomas Trotter (fl. 1790s-1810s) was a mechanic, millwright, builder and engineer of great versatility who was active in the Albemarle and Pamlico regions of eastern North Carolina in the early 19th century. His background and training remain unknown, but he was obviously a man of many skills and an adaptable character suited to the planters and other entrepreneurs of the area.

Trotter lived for a time in Beaufort County, where he took an apprentice to the carpenter's trade in 1811, and he wrote several letters to clients from his headquarters "near Washington." He served as chief "engineer" for the Lake Company, the ambitious undertaking of merchant-planter Josiah Collins, Jr., and others to develop the land around Lake Scuppernong in Tyrrell County. Trotter took part in a variety of pursuits for the Lake Company and for other planters interested in developing the area. The censuses of 1800-1820 show a man by this name variously in Beaufort and Tyrrell counties. He apparently left that area by 1830 and could be any of several Thomas Trotters noted in the censuses of 1830 and later. An open question is his relationship (if any) to the noted silversmith of the same name (a native of Virginia) who was listed in Charlotte in 1830 and thereafter.

Over several years, Thomas Trotter put up mills, managed the saw mills of the Lake Company, cast iron parts for mills, and advised on selection of men and materials. In 1815 he made out a detailed bill of timber for the 3-story windmill that planter James C. Johnston planned to build at his Hayes Plantation. Trotter owned several skilled slaves—"my blacksmiths" and "my carpenters"— and sometimes hired them out to local planters for their projects. Trotter was always on the lookout for a new opportunity, as he indicated in a letter of 1810 to planter Ebenezer Pettigrew after a return to Washington from New Bern:

"I am as the old saying is up to my B. side in bussness, I cannot have sawing done to go about my house &c and have engaded to finish the Iron work of a new Ship and also expects to do the Cabbin work &c., these things are all new to me, but I must be doing something, it is as the saying is a Cash Job, my Negroe men will clear me one dollar pr. Day, Mr. Davison and myself has join'd in the store line, and I am in hopes we will do well, I have cut 3600 lb of Nails and they begin to be saleable this is a sketch of my very bussey business."

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2010

Thomas Trotter's Work Locations


  • James H. Craig, The Arts and Crafts in North Carolina, 1699-1840 (1965).
  • Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, The Pettigrew Papers, Vol. 1 (1971).
  • Bennett Harrison Wall, "Ebenezer Pettigrew, An Economic Study of an Ante-Bellum Planter," Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1946).
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