Nash, Solomon Waddell, Sr. (1779-1846)
Solomon Waddell Nash, Sr. (1779-June 25, 1846) was an African-American carpenter in antebellum Wilmington before and after he was emancipated in 1827. During his career as a builder, especially in the 1830s, Nash worked and spent time in both Wilmington and Fayetteville, port cities linked by trade along the Cape Fear River, both known for their many free people of color.
Born a slave in 1779, Nash worked as an enslaved artisan during much of his life and gained his freedom in middle age. On July 26, 1827, members of the prominent white Waddell family (John, Francis, and John, Jr.) posted a bond for the emancipation of “a certain negro slave named Solomon Nash.” Nash’s surname recalled another leading white family in the state with ties to the Waddells. His parents’ names are not known. At the time of his emancipation, Nash must have had his business well established, for in March 1828 he took three orphaned boys of color—Robert Bryan, James Jacobs, and James Allen—as apprentices to the carpenter’s trade in New Hanover County. In Cumberland County he took William Revels, aged 16 in 1832, and Robert Wesley, aged 11 in 1834, as carpenter’s apprentices, and in New Hanover County in 1838 he apprenticed Joshua Jacobs and Charles Cochran, both 16. Nash also acquired real estate in Wilmington, owning lots with a total purchase price of about $3,200. His carpenter’s shop was located on his lot on Front Street between Chestnut Street and Mulberry (Grace) Streets. He also owned at least five slaves at his death and may have owned others.
Like other emancipated individuals, Nash worked to gain the freedom of his family members. His first wife was an enslaved woman, and thus his children with her were also enslaved. In 1835-1836, as a resident of Fayetteville, he obtained a special act of the legislature to emancipate his children, Lucy, Ann, Emiline, and Priscilla. In the meantime, Nash had remarried in 1833, his second wife being a free woman, Celia A. Bryant. According to family accounts, the couple had two sons, Solomon Nash, Jr., and John Nash, born in about 1836 and 1841.
Despite Nash’s long career in his trade, little is known of specific buildings he constructed. According to Nicholas Schenck’s memoir of antebellum Wilmington, the “Jas. Anderson” house (the Hogg-Anderson House) was “built by Solomon Nash.” This is a 2 1/2-story, Federal style frame dwelling with side-passage plan and transitional Federal-Greek Revival finish. Indicative of his trade practices, after Nash’s death, the Wilmington Commercial newspaper advertised for sale “a part of a House Frame on the lot of S. W. Nash’s late residence, 1 Lot of Window Blinds, 1 Lot about 3,000 ft. Lumber opposite Mrs. Owen’s residence, and about 10,000 ft. seasoned 1 1/4 inch boards.” The advertisement indicates that Nash had his workshop and his residence at the same address.
In 1846, Nash was working on a project for brick contractor Robert B. Wood (see Wood Brothers). Wood’s son, Thomas F. Wood, remembered that when Wood was “putting up a building on Front Street between Market and Dock, “a mulatto carpenter by the name of Solomon Nash fell from the scaffolding and was killed.” The Wilmington Chronicle of July 1, 1846, reported that the scaffolding had collapsed, sending three white workers, two slaves, and the free carpenter Nash tumbling to the ground. All survived but Nash. The slaves, identified as Ben Berry and Ephraim Bettencourt, may have belonged to Nash. A few months later, the Chronicle of September 23, 1846, carried an advertisement offering for hire for the rest of the year “two carpenters, one woman, and two children, belonging to the estate of Solomon Nash, deceased.”
At his death, Nash left to his wife Celia a house and lot on Winslow Street in Fayetteville. He also left a female slave, Venice, to his daughters, with the condition that she be freed ten years after his death. His executor was Matthew N. Leary, one of Fayetteville’s leading free men of color. By 1850, the two Nash sons, Solomon, Jr., and John, were living in Fayetteville in the household of Nelson and Elizabeth Henderson. Solomon, Jr., also entered the carpentry business in Wilmington and for a time had his shop at his father’s old location on Front Street. After the Civil War he became active in political and civic affairs, serving as county jailer, a founder of Pine Forest Cemetery (ca. 1869), and in leadership positions at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Giblem Masonic Lodge. Several years after his death, the senior Nash’s remains were moved to the Pine Forest Cemetery, where handsome carved stone markers were erected, probably by Solomon Nash, Jr., to mark the graves of Solomon, Sr., and Priscilla Nash Burney (d. 1855).
- Nancy N. Beeler, “Solomon Nash,” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Bulletin (May 1994).
- Nancy N. Beeler, “Solomon Nash,” typescript biographical sketch (1989).
- Catherine W. Bishir, “Black Builders in Antebellum North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, 61.4 (Oct. 1984), 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).
- New Hanover County Records (Deeds, Wills and Taxes), North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- William Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, North Carolina.
- William M. Reaves and Beverly Tetterton, “Strength Through Struggle”: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1900 (1998).
- Nicholas W. Schenck Diary, ca. 1905, Special Collections, Randell Library, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina, transcript at http://library.uncw.edu/web/collections/Schenck/schenckintro.html.
- Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
- Contributors:Solomon Nash, attributed builderDates:Ca. 1820s; 1840sLocation:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:110 Orange St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:The elegant, frame residence has been assigned various dates in the 1820s, and its interior details feature late-Federal/early Greek Revival style with symmetrical moldings and corner blocks typical for 1820s. According to Wrenn, Wilmington, it was built for merchant John Hogg about 1825 and transferred in 1829 to Alexander Anderson, whose son James "seems to have moved into this house almost immediately and remained at least until the 1870s." Wilmington memoirist Nicholas Schenck (1830-1916) noted the house as that of "Jas. Anderson, built by Sol. Nash." Schenck's account (ca. 1905) recalled his youth in antebellum Wilmington, when James Anderson was living in the house, so his information seems credible. It is possible that Nash built this house (and others) while he was still a slave, or he might have built it ca. 1829 (after Nash was freed in 1827) for James Anderson. The house is one of the very few for which Schenck noted the name of the artisan who built it.