Gould, William B. I (1837-1923)
William B. Gould I (1837-1923), was an enslaved plasterer in Wilmington, North Carolina, until he escaped by sea in 1862. His only known project in North Carolina is the elaborate plasterwork at the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington. The identification in 2002 of his initials, WBG, inscribed on the back of a section of decorative plasterwork in the house revealed his previously unknown role at the mansion. Although he surely worked on other antebellum buildings, they have not been identified.
Gould, who belonged to the local Nixon family, was the son of Alexander Gould, an Englishman, and Elizabeth Moore, a Wilmington slave. As well as gaining the skills of his trade like a number of Wilmington slaves, he defied state laws and learned to read and write. He was one of several enslaved plasterers in Wilmington, including George W. Price, Sr. and Jr. (see Price Family).
During the Civil War, on the night of September 21, 1862, Gould and George W. Price, Jr. joined other slaves in an escape by water. They found a boat and rowed it down the Cape Fear River. On September 22 they boarded a Union vessel, the U. S. S. Cambridge, whose officer recorded picking up “a boat with eight contrabands from Wilmington” and listed their names and masters. Gould and the others joined the Union navy, and Gould kept a diary of his experiences. After the war, he established himself as a plasterer and bricklayer in Debnam, Massachusetts. He married Cornelia Read, a freedwoman from Wilmington, and the couple became prominent members of the community. They raised a large family including sons who also served in the military.
Their descendant William B. Gould IV, a professor of law at Stanford University, produced a book about his ancestor. Its publication was instrumental in the identification of Gould’s initials at the Bellamy Mansion. Beverly Tetterton, who was then head of the local history room at the New Hanover County Library, recalls the discovery: “It all came together with Strength Through Struggle. I had been working with Professor Gould for years and asked if we could put the WBG story in Strength Through Struggle (we didn’t know as much then as now). The library gave complimentary copies to all the history related groups in town including the Bellamy Mansion. The day of the big book party . . . I was setting up in the Thalian Hall Ballroom and a breathless Jonathan [Noffke, then director of the Bellamy Mansion Museum] ran into the room holding up his copy of the book and screaming ‘I have to speak to this man!’ He had put two and two together and realized that the initials matched the ones on the plaster at the Bellamy Mansion. Eureka! The handwriting in the diary and on the plaster was a match. The rest is history.” (Beverly Tetterton, email to author, 2006)
- Catherine W. Bishir, The Bellamy Mansion, Wilmington North Carolina: An Antebellum Architectural Treasure and Its People (2004).
- Catherine W. Bishir, “Urban Slavery at Work: The Bellamy Mansion, Wilmington, North Carolina,” Buildings and Landscapes, the Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum (Autumn 2010).
- William B. Gould IV, Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor (2002).
1859-1861Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:
503 Market St., Wilmington, NCStatus:
ResidentialImages Published 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).
Catherine W. Bishir, The Bellamy Mansion, Wilmington North Carolina: An Antebellum Architectural Treasure and Its People (2004).
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:
Post’s ledger records “Plans and Specifications” and “Commission [on] $21,000 for Dr. John D. Bellamy for $100 and $1,050,” respectively; a note at the end of the Bellamy entry states “To amount agreed upon as being due in June 1866,” so apparently Post’s bill was not settled until after the war. Rufus Bunnell’s recollections of his time in Wilmington describes the progress of the construction in detail.