Robards, Washington (fl. 1850s)
Washington Robards (fl. 1850s) was an enslaved carpenter and joiner in the part of Granville County that later became Vance County. He may have been literate as well as skilled in his trade, as indicated by penciled inscriptions inside the 1854 pulpit or rostrum at the 18th century St. John’s Episcopal Church in the village of Williamsborough, N. C. (see John Lynch). It is also likely that another man such as Dr. Henry Robards, his owner, wrote some or all of the notations, especially because of the inclusion of the committee members’ names. Presumably the inscriptions were written before the pulpit was assembled. The inscription was transcribed by church historian Charles H. Brewer. The transcription does not indicate whether the handwriting is all of one hand.
The transcriptions read in part:
Inside Back Panel, Left:
“This pulpit was/built by Washington a man/belonging to Dr. Henry J. Robards/ of /Williamsborough/Granville County/ N. C. /April, 1854”
Inside Back Panel, Right:
“This pulpit was built by/ Washington Robards/ of/ Williamsborough /Granville County/ N. Carolina /April 1854”
Support to Top:
“Washington Robards/ Williamsborough/ Granville Cty/ N. Carolina/ April 3 1 st /1854/ He was the best workman of Granville County”
Inside Front Panel, Left: “St. John’s Church was repaired April 1854 by the contributions of the friends of the church in the vicinity of Williamsborough/Col. S. S. Royster/Col. C. E. Hamilton/Dr. P. B. Hawkins/ Dr. H. J. Robards/R. A. Hamilton/James Turner/John T. Thomas—Committee”
Inside Front Panel, Right:
“List of Workmen/Carpenters/Washington & Damon, servants of H. J. Robards/Willis & Moses, servants of Rev. W. H. Jordan/Painters/Aleck servant of W. B. Hamilton/Albert servant of S. S. Royster/Plasterers/ LaFayette servant of Mrs. Mary Williams/Cambridge servant of Dr. P. B. Hawkins”
The pulpit or rostrum, as photographed in 1980, had been restored. It was a stout, rectilinear rostrum with a heavy cornice and squared corner pilasters.
Of Washington Robards little further has been gleaned. Most notable is the will of planter William Robards (1842), in which William left to his son Henry Jones Robards two tracts of land, his house in Williamsboro, and nineteen “negroes,” listed by first names. These enslaved people included Washington and Damon—who were named as carpenters in the inscriptions in the pulpit. In 1850, the slave schedule of the United States Census recorded that Henry Robards, an unmarried physician, owned seven slaves, including three adult males aged 55 to 70. In 1860 he held thirteen slaves, including six adult males aged 32-80. The other enslaved (“servant”) artisans, cited in the inscriptions only by their first names and owners, have not been identified. Further research might discover more about them, especially if they took the surnames of their owners in freedom. Thus far, only the inscriptions in the pulpit record that they practiced their trades.
- Dates:1771-1774; 1854 (renovations)Location:Williamsboro, Vance CountyStreet Address:SR 1329, 0.1 mi. west of NC 39, Williamsboro, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).Note:The old colonial church was in deteriorated condition by the early 19th century. It was renovated for new use in 1821 and given the name St. John's Episcopal Church, and changes were made to it over the years. In 1952 it was restored to replicate its colonial character and is maintained as a historic homecoming church and for special events.