Howe Family (fl. 1850s-1900s)

Variant Name(s):

Valentine Howe (ca. 1842-1904); Pompey Howe (d. by 1869); John Harriss Howe (ca. 1841-1902); Anthony Howe (ca. 1807-after 1870); Anthony Howe (d. 1837); Anthony Howe, Jr. (dates unknown); Alfred Augustus Howe (1817-1892)

Founded:

Wilmington, North Carolina, USA

Residences:

  • Wilmington, North Carolina

Trades:

  • Carpenter/Joiner
  • Builder

Styles & Forms:

Gothic Revival; Italianate; Queen Anne; Second Empire

The Howe Family of Wilmington, North Carolina, encompassed at least four generations of men of color active in the city’s building trades. As traced in Strength Through Struggle, they included Anthony Howe (d. 1837) and his sons Anthony (ca. 1807-after 1870), Pompey (d. by 1869), and Alfred Augustus (1817-1892); Anthony’s sons Anthony Jr. (dates unknown), Washington (b. ca. 1827-after 1870), John Harriss (ca. 1841-1902), and Valentine Howe (ca. 1842-1904); and at least four of John H. Howe’s sons who followed their father and uncles into the building business. Although these men erected many buildings, thus far relatively few have been identified as their work.

According to family tradition, Anthony Walker Howe was born in Africa and was sold into slavery and transported to the Lower Cape Fear area in the 18th century, where he was bought by a man named Walker and then sold by Walker’s widow to Col. Robert Howe. On Howe’s plantation, the family account continues, Anthony employed building skills learned in his native land and was soon involved in plantation construction projects. Family tradition also relates that local Native Americans had left a baby girl known as Tenah at the Howe plantation, and in time she wed Anthony Walker who took the name Howe as did their children. (It is said that Col. Howe freed Anthony, Tenah, and their children, but the first members of the family to appear in census lists of free people of color are Anthony and Tenah’s sons Anthony and Alfred in 1860.) Anthony Walker Howe died in 1837 and Tenah survived him until 1852; they were buried in a family cemetery and their remains were moved subsequently to Pine Forest Cemetery, where many of their family members would be buried as well. Pine Forest Cemetery was formally established for black burials in 1860, though some burials had taken place there earlier. Howe family members served on the board of directors of the company that managed the burial ground.

In 1860, the census listed as free black carpenters two of the Howe brothers, Anthony and Alfred, who were heads of households and next-door neighbors. Anthony Howe, aged 53, was married to Betsy, and they had two small children at home. Alfred Howe, aged 46, was married to Mary, and their children included Mary, Isabella, Alfred, and John, aged from 9 down to 1 year old. Anthony and Alfred each owned personal property valued at $300. Only a few doors away lived carpenter Israel Howe, aged 60, probably a kinsman. John D. Bellamy, Jr., who was a boy during construction of his family Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, recalled that “the Howes” were involved in its construction. Other antebellum Howe projects have yet to be identified, though it is likely that the Howes worked with leading architect-builder James F. Post on more than just the Bellamy Mansion project.

More is known of their postwar activities, for the Howes thrived as leading citizens and builders in an era of strong black community and economic life in Wilmington. Having been free artisans before the war, and having established relationships with men such as James F. Post, they were well situated to practice their trades after the war. The census of 1870 listed Anthony and Alfred again as heads of neighboring households, and next door lived the widow and children of their brother Pompey.

Alfred Augustus Howe, the fourth son of Anthony Walker Howe and Tenah Howe, attained the greatest prominence of the three carpenter brothers. He served on the board of alderman and in other civic offices, and in 1869-1871 he superintended several small civic construction jobs at the courthouse and jail. His best documented surviving work is the prominent and handsomely finished Mary Jane Langdon House of 1870. Located on a prestigious site on Market Street, the 2-story Italianate residence was designed by one E. W. Brown, architect, but according to historian Tony P. Wrenn, the 26-page contract, including detailed specifications, was drawn up and signed by Alfred Howe. Another elaborate and prominent house built by Howe was the eclectic Queen Anne-Stick style William B. McKoy House in 1887, for which James F. Post was the architect; here Post adapted the design from a published plan to suit the site, flipping the façade and making other minor changes. Alfred Howe was a leading member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where he served as vestryman and senior warden, and he is believed to have been involved in the 1871 construction of the stylish Gothic Revival church from designs by Boston architects Emerson and Fehmer. Alfred Howe probably designed and built the family’s small but stylish Second Empire style residence, the Alfred Howe House, which stands at the NE corner of S. 3rd and Queen streets. By 1870, Alfred and Anthony and their households were living at this site as next door neighbors, and next door lived the widow and children of their deceased brother Pompey. By the 1880s and perhaps earlier, Alfred and other family members owned an entire city block north and east of this corner, where they had their homes and workshops.

At Alfred Howe’s death, the Wilmington Messenger of October, 7, 1892, marked his passing and identified him as “a well known colored citizen of Wilmington, who has amassed a fortune of some $25,000 or $30,000.” The account stated, “He and his two brothers, Anthony and Pompey, were carpenters, but purchased their liberty when young men. He and his brothers all accrued property and gave their children good educations.” His funeral was held at St. Mark’s. After the deaths of Alfred and Mary Howe in 1892, family members continued to live in the home Alfred had built until 1984.

Alfred’s older brother, Anthony Howe (b. 1807), a carpenter who had his workshop on Queen Street between 3rd and 4th streets, served as a city alderman, a justice of the peace, and in other offices. He was also a member of St. Luke’s A. M. E. Zion Church and chairman of the building committee in 1878; he may have been involved in construction of the congregation’s church in that year, which was located at 419 S. 2nd Street and replaced in 1944. Another brother, Pompey, was likewise a carpenter, but little of his work has been identified; he was dead by 1869, when his son John P. Howe–”also a carpenter”–filled out a Freedmen’s Bank application.

In the next generation, Anthony Howe’s sons followed in the family tradition in construction trades, including Valentine and John Harriss Howe. Valentine Howe (ca. 1842-1904) was like other family members active in civic and political affairs; in 1887 he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, defeating white Wilmingtonian Alfred Moore Waddell, a former Congressman. He was a longtime leader in the city’s volunteer fire department and became president of the North Carolina Colored Firemen’s Association. Among his building projects were the design and construction of the Cape Fear Steam Fire Engine Company Fire Station in 1896 and probably additions in 1897 to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where he was a vestry member. At the time of his death in 1904 he and his employees were engaged in building a “Colored Annex” designed by architect Charles McMillen as an addition to the James Walker Memorial Hospital (see James Walker Memorial Hospital Colored Annex).

John Harriss Howe (ca. 1841-1902), Valentine’s brother, was especially prolific as a builder. He constructed a variety of building types, including residences, railroad structures, and government buildings, over a long period of time. In 1895 he prepared and sent to Atlanta a presentation on his architectural work for the Negro Department of the Atlanta Exposition, which featured photographs of twelve buildings in Wilmington and a lodge on the New River in Onslow County (see Building List, below). His work also encompassed repairs to cottages and the Carolina Yacht Club at Wrightsville Beach after hurricane damage. At the time of his death in 1902 he had just completed interior renovations to the First Presbyterian Church, which was said to represent well “the beautiful and substantial manner in which he did his work.” He married Jane Waddell in 1866. Among their children were sons who became carpenters: James C. Howe; Richard W. Howe; William W. Howe; and Henry L. Howe. Further research may reveal works by them and additional buildings by their family members.

  • Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
  • 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).
  • Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).
  • Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
Sort Building List by:
  • Alfred Howe House

    Dates:
    Ca. 1870; 1880s
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    NE corner of 3rd St. and Queen St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    The 1 1/2-story Second Empire style house was built by Alfred Howe for his own family, and his family members continued to live there until 1984. The family was probably living at this location before the war; it is not certain when he built the present residence, which may reflect more than one period of construction. The Howes were living at that location by 1866-1867, according to the city directory of that year. In 1873 Howe's daughter Isabella, a schoolteacher, filled out a Freedmen's Bank application and noted that she was residing there with her family. The house occupies a prominent corner site that is part of an entire block—bounded by Castle, Queen, 3rd, and 4th streets—that was owned by Alfred and his brothers Anthony and Pompey by 1887.

  • Bellamy Mansion

    Contributors:
    Elvin Artis, carpentry contractor; Rufus Bunnell, draftsman and assistant architect; William B. Gould I, plasterer; Howe Family, attributed carpenters; James F. Post, architect; Price Family, plasterers; Henry Taylor, attributed carpenter
    Dates:
    1859-1861
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    503 Market St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Images 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).
    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.

  • Brink-Goodman House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    Ca. 1871
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    120 Castle St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential

  • Cape Fear Steam Fire Engine Company Fire Station

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; Valentine Howe, builder
    Dates:
    1895-1896
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    6th St. at Castle St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Public

  • Col. Roger Moore House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    Corner of Red Cross St. and 5th St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • D. McEachern House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    S. 7th St. between Dock St. and Orange St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve building included in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • Gabriel Holmes House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    N. 3rd St. between Chestnut St. and Mulberry St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • H. A. Burr House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    NE corner of Nun St. and 3rd St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • Hall and Pearsall Warehouse

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Commercial
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • James W. Jackson House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    S. 4th St. between Ann St. and Nun St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • James Walker Memorial Hospital Colored Annex

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; Valentine Howe, builder; Charles McMillen, architect
    Dates:
    1904
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    10th St. at Rankin St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Health Care

  • John H. Howe House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    Castle St. between Front St. and 2nd St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • Mary Jane Langdon House

    Dates:
    1870
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    408 Market St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Images Puslished In:
    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
    Note:
    As quoted by Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984), the specifications by Howe explained that the porch, for example, was to be "of neat and handsome appearance, with proper shaped roof, with gutter formed in the cornice and supported by four tasteful & ornamental pillars or columns in frant, and half antae in the rear; to have neat siderails with turned balusters, and to have entrance steps in front of easy ascent, supported or flanked by neat side buttresses."

  • Rankin-Orrell House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    318 Orange St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve building included (and listed as "N.B. Rankin House") in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. Built for Napoleon Brown Rankin, it is a very elaborate Queen Anne style house.

  • St. Mark's Episcopal Church

    Contributors:
    Emerson and Fehmer, architects (1871-1875); Alfred Howe, probable builder (1871-1875); Howe Family, probable builders (1871-1875); Valentine Howe, probable builder (1897)
    Dates:
    1871-1875; 1897 [additions]
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    220 N. 6th St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Images Puslished In:
    Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).

  • W. A. Riach House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    S. 3rd St. between Church St. and Castle St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • W. H. Chadbourn House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    By 1895
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    Market St. between 3rd St. and 4th St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve building included in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

  • William B. McKoy House

    Dates:
    1887
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    SW corner of 3rd St. and Nun St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Images Puslished In:
    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. Evidently both Alfred and John Howe were involved in its construction. Architect Jams F. Post had designed it, based on a design published in Carpentry and Building, October 1886, and some of his drawings dated March, 1887, survive.

  • Williams-MacMillan House

    Contributors:
    Howe Family, builders; John Harriss Howe, builder
    Dates:
    Ca. 1889
    Location:
    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:
    118 S 4th St., Wilmington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Images Puslished In:
    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
    Note:
    This was one of the twelve Wilmington buildings illustrated (and listed as W.A. Williams House) in John Harriss Howe's presentation of his work at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. It is evidently the large Queen Anne style house built for William Arthur Williams.

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