Ellison, Stewart (1834-1899)
Stewart Ellison (March 8, 1834-October 24, 1899), building contractor and political leader, was born a slave owned by Abner F. Neal of Beaufort County, North Carolina. He was apprenticed at age thirteen to serve a term of seven years at carpentry trade with Marrs (Marse) Newton, a free mulatto mechanic in Washington, North Carolina, who was the son of an emancipated New Bern carpenter, Thomas Newton. During his free time and evenings, Ellison pursued an education and learned to read and write.
In 1874, when Ellison was one of several men of color serving in the state legislature, journalist Charles N. Hunter published an article about him, along with other articles about other black legislators, based on personal contact with their subjects. According to this account, Ellison traveled to Raleigh in July 1852 to work on several major projects, first buildings on Fayetteville Street, and then for eighteen months the immense North Carolina Hospital for the Insane (now Dorothea Dix Hospital, which was designed by New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis). The project required a huge work force, and it is possible that he was hired by his owner to Conrad and Williams, the carpentry contractors. In December 1854 Ellison returned to Washington and remained there until February 1862; by the fall of 1862 he had returned to Raleigh, which became his permanent residence.
Ellison entered an entrepreneurial career in Raleigh, first as a grocer and merchant but by 1867, as Hunter stated in 1874, “he commenced business at his trade, taking large contracts and erecting many elegant residences in and around Raleigh, and in other sections of the State.” During 1867-1868, he built schools, hospitals and offices for the Freedmen’s Bureau and other agencies, and “gained quite a reputation by the superior workmanship, which his finished contracts always exhibited. Mr. E. has been, and is now, probably the most extensive colored contractor in the state, and has never failed to merit high commendations from all for whom he has worked.” He was listed in the United States census of 1870 and in Raleigh city directories as a carpenter from 1875-1876 to 1899-1900. He also gained government employment as jailer, and in the 1890s as a janitor at the Post Office. He lived for several years at 517 South Person Street and later in Hayti Alley. None of the elegant residences or freedmen’s schools or hospitals he built has been identified as surviving.
Like a number of recently emancipated artisans, Ellison entered political leadership and civic life promptly after the war. He served in the North Carolina Freedmen’s Conventions in Raleigh in 1865 and 1866, which met at the “African Church” whose congregation later became St. Paul’s A. M. E. Church. He was an officer of the North Carolina Equal Rights League formed in 1866. He was one of the first black men elected to Raleigh’s board of commissioners in 1869, and held that office until May 1879. In 1870, he was assistant grand marshal in the city’s January 1 Emancipation Day celebration. Moreover, he also represented Wake County in the state legislature in the sessions of 1870, 1871, 1873, 1879, and 1880—one of the state’s longest serving black legislators of the 19th century—and during 1874-1877 served on the board of directors of the State Penitentiary (see William J. Hicks). He was an early member and a leader in the Widow’s Son Lodge Number 4 in Raleigh (see Gaston Alonzo Edwards) and a grand master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons, as well as being an early member and leader at St. Paul’s A. M. E. Church in Raleigh. He took the lead role in building the large brick church for St. Paul’s (1884-1901), a project that required many years and the savings and labors of its members and other contributors. It burned soon after its completion and was rebuilt on the old walls (see Harry P. S. Keller and Gaston Alonzo Edwards).
Ellison was married twice, first to Mary Davis of Beaufort County, and then to Narcissa Lucas. One of his and Mary’s daughters, Bettie, married African-American political leader James N. Young, and their grandchildren included distinguished ballerina Liz Williamson and law instructor and Illinois legislator James Young Carter. Stewart Ellison was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.
- Charles N. Hunter, “Stewart Ellison,” Daily Examiner, Feb. 19, 1874, copy in Charles N. Hunter Scrapbook, Charles N. Hunter Collection, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
- Elizabeth Reid Murray, “Stewart Ellison,” in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 2 (1986).
- Variant Name(s):
Dorothea Dix HospitalDates:
1850-1852Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
Dorothea Dix Hospital Campus, Western Boulevard, Raleigh, NCStatus:
Health CareImages Published In:
Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Edward T. Davis and John L. Sanders, A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).
1884-1901; 1909-1910 [rebuilt]Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
402 W. Edenton St., Raleigh, NCStatus:
ReligiousImages Published In:
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).Note:
The imposing brick edifice in Gothic Revival style is the home of the city’s oldest independent black congregation, which began when black members of Edenton Street Methodist Church held separate services as early as the 1840s; they moved to this site in 1853, worshiping in a frame church (formerly Christ Church) that was moved to the site. After the Civil War, the church—known as the “African” church”—hosted the 1865 and 1866 state Freedmen’s Conventions, and soon allied with the A. M. E. denomination. The congregation built a large brick church over several years, as funds permitted, only to see it go up in flames in July, 1909, just a few years after it was completed. Raleigh citizens contributed to its rebuilding, from designs by Henry P. S. Keller. (See the Manufacturers’ Record, Sept. 9, 1909, where the congregation was advertising for bids for “edifice plans by H. P. S. Keller.”) The rebuilding evidently incorporated the surviving brick walls.