Bragg, Thomas, Sr. (1778-1851)
North Carolina, USA
- Jackson, North Carolina
- Warrenton, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Federal; Greek Revival
Thomas Bragg, Sr. (1778-1851), was a prominent house carpenter whose work in the plantation counties along the Virginia border included houses, churches, and other buildings in Federal and Greek Revival styles. He was born in Craven County, son of Hannah Tolson Bragg (b. 1742) and John Bragg (1741-1816), a pilot and native of Carteret County. Little is known of Thomas Bragg’s early life and training, though New Bern memoirist John D. Whitford later praised his skill at his trade. Around 1800, Bragg moved to Warrenton, where he took apprentice James Perry to the carpenter’s trade in 1802 and married Margaret Crossland of the county in 1803.
Bragg soon established himself as a builder and property owner with a large shop of free and slave workers. He bought several slaves between 1811 and 1821, valued at $200 to $1,000 each. They included Charles, Harry, Kingston, John, Claiborn, Wilson, Will, and Ned. By 1838 his slaves included Dick, Solomon, Moses, Sam, John, and Rhody in Warren County, plus others in Craven County and Alabama. Unusual for its early date, his shop produced ready-made building components for sale: in 1827 Bragg advertised “1000 lights of Sash, different sizes made of best yellow heart pine, Venetian blinds, Pannel Doors, together with all other kinds of shop work. . . kept constantly for sale in my shop in Warrenton.”
According to Warrenton memoirist Lizzie Wilson Montgomery, Bragg was a “well-to-do contractor and builder,” who with his wife, Margaret Crossland Bragg—”a woman of extraordinary intelligence and energy”—raised a family of twelve children and worked hard to educate them. The most distinguished were North Carolina governor Thomas Bragg, Jr.; Gen. Braxton Bragg; Alabama Congressman John Bragg; and carpenter-builder Alexander Bragg.
Although he probably constructed a large number of buildings, relatively few have been documented as Thomas Bragg’s work. Several more are attributed to him. Known works include a Methodist Church in Warrenton (ca. 1812); Emmanuel Episcopal Church I in Warrenton (mid-1820s and greatly remodeled, though still retaining a few early 19th century elements); Franklin County Jail (1822); and repairs to the Warren County Courthouse (1826).
New Bern memoirist Whitford credited Bragg with two elaborate Federal style mansions—the William Polk House in Raleigh, and the grand, tripartite house Little Manor near Littleton—but no documentation is known. Bragg briefly owned and may have built the pediment-front plantation house Dalkeith, one of a group of distinctive Federal period houses in Warren and Halifax counties. This and other Federal period houses of the “Montmorenci school” have been associated with a “Mr. Burgess” (probably James Burgess) but may also have involved work by Bragg, a connection discussed by Kenneth McFarland in Warren County. There are also some stylistic links, such as the use of “spool” moldings, between this school of building and the works of Warren County carpenter-builder Albert Gamaliel Jones, but these associations remain undocumented.
Indicative of his local stature, Bragg was invited to assist on various public projects. In 1830, “Major Thomas Bragg an eminent architect and undertaker” was asked to advise on the design of a clerk’s office in Northampton County, which was built by Abraham Spencer of Oxford. In 1831, Bragg was hired to make repairs to the State House in Raleigh. As his workmen were soldering the new fireproof roof, they set the building afire, and it burned to the ground. All were absolved of blame. During construction of the North Carolina State Capitol to replace the burned edifice, Bragg was employed briefly as superintendent of construction in 1834.
In 1833, Bragg was also involved in correspondence with James Bruce of Virginia about building a store and possibly other structures for Bruce at the town of Weldon beside the Roanoke River. That March, Bruce noted that he had had “several letters … on the subject of building a house on … Weldon lott #11.” Bragg had supplied an estimate for the project. Bruce commented that he himself was a “novice in building,” and was giving Bragg free rein provided his prices did not “exceed the rates of the most respectable mechanicks in Richmond.” The work was to be done in a “good plain Mechanic Stile,” with perfectly burnt bricks. Other details would wait until “we can draw a contract more specific.” A plan for the L-shaped, 2-story building was appended. But events intervened, and in August, 1833, Bragg and Bruce terminated the agreement.
At one point, Bragg considered moving to Alabama to join family members who had gone there, but he eventually relocated to Jackson, North Carolina, to reside with his son Thomas, Jr., and continue to practice his trade. He built a house for his son in 1841, finished the interior of planter Henry K. Burgwyn’s house nearby, and probably constructed St. Frances Methodist Church in Bertie County—all in Greek Revival style. A few miles west, near Littleton, the Skinner family who built the Greek Revival style Linden Hall made reference in 1843 in their correspondence to “Mr. Bragg,” surely Thomas Bragg. The Skinners also mentioned “Jones”—possibly Albert Gamaliel Jones—and “Boon”, perhaps James Boon—as construction proceeded. These men’s specific roles are not known.
In 1850 the 72-year-old house carpenter Bragg was living in his son’s household and still working, for he advertised in that year for “three or four good carpenters. Blacks preferred.” At his death, unpaid bills for his work included a few otherwise unidentified projects: a portico for Samuel Calvert and an addition to a house for B. F. Lockhart.
- Samuel A. Ashe, et al., Biographical History of North Carolina (1907).
- James Bruce to Thomas Bragg, Bruce Family Papers, University of Virginia Special Collections, accession # 2692 A, Box 1, Folder dates 29 June 1833, Letter Book, courtesy of Clifton Ellis.
- Emmanuel Church Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Franklin County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
- Lizzie Wilson Montgomery, Sketches of Old Warrenton, North Carolina (1984).
- Warren County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- John D. Whitford, “The Home Story of a Walking Stick—The Early History of the Biblical Recorder and Baptist Church…” (1899-1900), John D. Whitford Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Dates:1830sLocation:Warrenton, Warren CountyStreet Address:Main St., Warrenton, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).Note:There is no documentation of the builder(s) of the handsome brick store that stands just south of the courthouse. It was called the Brick Store because it was for many years the only brick store in town, and is said to have been the first brick building in the community as well. The second story, which retains transitional Federal-Greek Revival woodwork, may have served as a residence. In his study of Warren County architecture, Kenneth McFarland compares the building with the clerks' offices built by Spencer, notes the connection of Warrenton builder Thomas Bragg with the Northampton County Clerk's Office, and suggests that Spencer and Bragg might well have built the Brick Store as well.
- Dates:1820s; 1850s [remodeled]Location:Warrenton, Warren CountyStreet Address:143 N. Main St., Warrenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, "Jacob W. Holt, An American Builder," Winterthur Portfolio (Spring, 1980), reprinted in Catherine W. Bishir, Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice (2006).Note:Because of its multi-phased history and distinctively different architectural character in different periods, there are two building entries for this church: Emmanuel Episcopal Church I (1820s, 1850s) and Emmanuel Episcopal Church II (1820s, 1850s, 1920s). The building began as a frame structure erected by Warrenton builder Thomas Bragg, Sr., likely in simple Federal style. Vestiges of that initial building are believed to survive, including some interior elements. In the 1850s Warrenton builder Jacob W. Holt remodeled the early 19th century church into a more ornate building adapted from a published design by Samuel Sloan. The postcard illustration from the early 20th century depicts that building. See William Lawrence Bottomley for Emmanuel Episcopal Church II, showing the present appearance of the church.
- Dates:1820s; 1850s [remodeled]; 1927 [remodeled]Location:Warrenton, Warren CountyStreet Address:143 N. Main St., Warrenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).Note:The church as it now stands incorporates elements from the 1820s and the 1850s, but its exterior appearance reflects the thorough remodeling by architect Bottomley in the 1920s. Although the congregation initially sought a design for a new church, in light of their limited budget, Bottomley planned a "restoration" that transformed it into a felicitous new version of the Gothic Revival, veneered in brick in Flemish bond that harmonizes with the earlier architecture of the community. The interior retains some vestiges of the 19th century building.
- Dates:Ca. 1810; ca. 1850Location:Warrenton, Warren CountyStreet Address:301 Bragg St., Warrenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).Note:The 2-story frame house reflects two building phases, one in Federal style, one in Greek Revival style. According to local tradition, Thomas Bragg, Sr. built the initial, Federal style house in the early 19th century as payment to an attorney for defending his wife; the expansion and remodeling in Greek Revival style is attributed to Albert Gamaliel Jones.
- Dates:1841-1844Location:Littleton, Warren CountyStreet Address:SR 1528, Littleton vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
- Dates:Ca. 1810sLocation:Littleton, Warren CountyStreet Address:Littleton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).
Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
- Contributors:William W. Birth, superindendent, masonry department (1833-1834); Thomas Bragg, Sr., supervisor (1830s); John J. Briggs, carpenter (1830s); Thomas H. Briggs, Sr., carpenter (1830s); Alexander Jackson Davis, architect (1830s); William Drummond, supervisor (1830s); Robert Findlater, stonecutter (1830s); Asa King, carpenter (1830s); William Murdoch, stonecutter (1830s); William Nichols, architect (1830s); William Nichols, Jr., architect (1830s); David Paton, architect and supervisor (1830s); Henry J. Patterson, brickmaker (1830s); William Percival, architect (1858); James Puttick, stonecutter (1830s); William Strickland, consulting architect (1830s); William Stronach, stonecutter (1830s); Town and Davis, architects (1830s); Ithiel Town, architect (1830s)Dates:1833-1840Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Union Square, Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In: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).Note:Although sometimes credited solely to Town and Davis, the design of the capitol was the result of a sequence of work by William Nichols, Sr. and Jr., Town and Davis, and David Paton, with advice from William Strickland. For a fuller explanation of the chronology and contributions of architects involved in the State Capitol, see Bishir, North Carolina Architecture and other sources cited herein.
- Dates:1831Location:Jackson, Northampton CountyStreet Address:Courthouse Square, Jackson, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).
- Dates:Ca. 1815Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:North end Blount St., Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).