Page, John R. (1840-1881)
Edenton, North Carolina, USA
- Edenton, North Carolina
John R. Page (February 29, 1840-January 8, 1881) was a freedman and house carpenter who became a prominent citizen of postwar Edenton. No specific buildings are attributed to his hand, but he likely built a substantial number of structures in the mid to late 19th century, during a period of extensive building in Edenton; some of them may yet be identified.
The United States Census of 1870 census identified Page as a “mulatto” house carpenter aged 33 and head of a household in Edenton that included his wife Jane, 30; daughter Nelly, 10; plus others, perhaps his brothers or cousins, Elijah, John, Stephen, Thomas, all carpenters’ apprentices aged 18 to 21. Thomas R. Butchko’s study of Edenton reports that before the Civil War, John R. Page was enslaved and belonged to the prominent family of Matthew and Henrietta Collins Page, who resided at the large mansion called Pembroke in Edenton. It is likely that John R. Page attained some local prominence even before freedom came by virtue of his artisan skills and connections with the local white elite. By 1870 John R. Page owned real estate and lived in a racially mixed neighborhood. Like many formerly enslaved couples, records show that John R. Page and Jane Cox legally married shortly after freedom came. They were authorized to wed in November, 1866, and both signed their marriage bond with bold handwriting. In 1880 John R. Page, aged 40 and married to Jane, also 40, was listed as a farmer. He also operated a fishery.
Page was a prominent Mason: the Edenton Fisherman and Farmer of October 10, 1890, noted, that the “John R. Page Lodge” F. & A. Y. Masons, No. 13, had been “established about 20 years ago and has a large membership.” It was named for him during his lifetime: the Wilmington Morning Star cited on Dec. 17, 1877, the John R. Page Lodge, No. 13, in a list of lodges at a Grand Lodge meeting in Tarboro.
John R. Page was among a number of building artisans who were politically active in the first years of freedom. He was the J. R. Page of Chowan active in the statewide Freedmen’s Convention of 1866 in Raleigh. Newspapers of the late 1860s reported Page’s activities in the local Republican Club and other political and social events. He was a featured speaker at “first time that the colored population of this County [Chowan] ever joined in the celebration of the 4th of July,” according to the Raleigh Weekly Standard of July 17, 1867, which reported that his speech was “worthy of especial notice … all men were born free and equal.” It was a one of such many events that July 4 at which Republicans including black speakers expressed great hopes. The same newspaper noted that at Concord, N. C., one of the speakers was “Mr. Schenck, colored of Lincoln County,” who stated that “the interests of the whites and blacks were one and the same.” Schenck was likely John T. Schenck, later a resident of Charlotte, and like Page a house carpenter who had attended the Freedmen’s Convention. Page continued in Republican activities into the 1870s and was elected as a delegate to the 1876 national Republican convention. (Raleigh Observer, March 17, 1877).
Page died in 1881 in Chowan County, and the record for him at Vine Oak Cemetery gives his dates as February 29, 1840-January 8, 1881. The sale of possessions at his death included evidence of a moderately prosperous and genteel life style, including lots of books, some furniture, some pictures, as well as his tool chest and a wood saw, livestock, farm and domestic items. The Jane R. Page house, built for his widow after his death, still stands in Edenton. Shortly after his death, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church was completed for the local black Episcopal congregation; it was built in 1881 with financial aid from Herbert Page, the son of John R. Page’s former owners, and rebuilt after being damaged by a storm. A window behind the altar is dedicated to John and Jane Page.
- Thomas R. Butchko, Edenton, an Architectural Portrait: The Historic Architecture of Edenton, North Carolina (1992).