Oliver, John M. (ca. 1769-1840)
John M. Oliver (ca. 1769-1840), was a carpenter and house joiner active in New Bern during the city’s Federal period construction boom, from the 1790s into the 1820s. According to his obituary, he was a native of New Jersey who lived for many years in New Bern and then moved to South Carolina, where he died near Greenville, South Carolina in 1840, in his 71st year, a “quiet, orderly citizen.” The date of his arrival in New Bern is not known, but he was working at his trade by 1799 and by 1803 was a member of New Bern’s St. John’s Masonic Lodge. He is probably the John M. Oliver who married Sallie Clark in Craven County in 1798.
Oliver, like other New Bern artisans, took apprentices on a regular basis. His apprentices included the following: John Clark (age 15, orphan of William Clark), apprenticed to the House carpenter’s and joiner’s trade in 1799; John Good (aged 16, orphan of Joseph Good), apprenticed to the carpenter’s and house joiner’s trade in 1803; and William Cheney (aged 16), apprenticed to the house carpenter’s trade in 1805. In 1807, Oliver and his former apprentice, John Clark, jointly took Giles Shute, an orphan aged 18, as a carpenter’s and joiner’s apprentice in 1807.
John M. Oliver was involved in constructing the New Bern Academy (1806-1809), a brick edifice in Palladian format and Federal style. In a letter dated September 21, 1809, Hardy Sanders wrote from New Bern that J. M. Oliver had fallen from a “stage” (or scaffolding) at the “Academe” and had sustained a broken right knee, injured wrist, and lacerated face. According to New Bern Baptist memoirist John D. Whitford, John Oliver also worked on building the Baptist Meeting House. Whitford also recalled that New Bern joiner and chairmaker Robert Hay had resided for a time with John Oliver at the Olivers’ residence and was associated with him in house building.
Oliver, like many leading New Bern artisans, owned slave workmen. In an advertisement in the New Bern Carolina Centinel of June 2, 1821, Oliver offered for sale three Negro house carpenters, “equal perhaps to any in Newbern”; their names are not known. Also like other New Bern artisans, Oliver collaborated with fellow artisans in various local projects. He worked along with New Bern brickmasons Joshua Mitchell and Donum Montford to build the Craven County Jail in 1821-1824. He doubtless worked on other New Bern projects during the city’s Federal period heyday of construction, but none of these have been identified as yet. According to his obituary, he moved to South Carolina fifteen to eighteen years before his death in 1840, dating the move to the period ca. 1822-1825.
- Catherine W. Bishir, “Philadelphia Bricks and the New Bern Jail,” APT, 9.4 (1977), reprinted in Catherine W. Bishir, Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice (2006).
- James H. Craig, The Arts and Crafts in North Carolina, 1699-1840 (1965).
- Lynda Vestal Herzog, “The Early Architecture of New Bern, 1750-1850,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California (1977).
- New Bern Herald, Sept. 9, 1809.
- New Bern Spectator, Oct. 3, 1840.
- Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).
- Hardy Sanders to Gen. Samuel Simpson, Sept. 22, 1809, Fort Barnwell, Biddle Letters, Duke University Manuscript Collection, Duke University, Durham, 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.
- Contributors:John M. Oliver, carpenterDates:1811Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:613 Queen St., New Bern, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).
- Dates:1821-1825Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:Craven St., New Bern, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, "Philadelphia Bricks and the New Bern Jail," APT, 9.4 (1977), reprinted in Catherine W. Bishir, Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice (2006).
Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).
- Dates:Ca. 1806-1810Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:514 New St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
C. Ford Peatross, William Nichols, Architect (1979).
Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:Although no documentation links Nichols with the New Bern Academy, similarities of detail with his Hayes in Edenton suggest his hand, including the half-round portico and the use of paired modillions.