Cary, John R. (fl. 1810s)




  • Carpenter/Joiner

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John R. Cary (fl. 1810s) was one of many mobile house carpenters active in eastern North Carolina, including Edgecombe and Cumberland counties, during the Federal period. Nothing is known of his life and work besides his tenure in the region during the 1810s, but he may have executed some of the abundant and thus far anonymous Federal style architecture in the region. Like many such artisans, he left only a few documented traces of his activities, but these suggest that he was a craftsman of skill and substance.

In 1815 Cary was sufficiently established in Edgecombe County to take an apprentice, Jeremiah Lawrence, to the carpenter’s trade. He also evidently trained enslaved artisans: in 1816-1817 planter Isaac Hilliard of Halifax County advertised for his runaway slave carpenter, Joe, who had “served his time with Mr. John R. Cary” and had worked in Raleigh with house carpenter William Jones. (The description of carpenter Joe’s experience reflects the mobility of enslaved as well as free artisans and provides insight into the stylistic continuity from county to county.)

The only building project linked to John R. Cary is the First Presbyterian Church I in Fayetteville, a prestigious commission in a growing town dominated by Scots Presbyterian. In 1818 he advertised in the Fayetteville Carolina Observer of April 30 that he wished to hire ten carpenters to work on that project. Doubtless he was involved in other building projects as yet unidentified.

  • James H. Craig, The Arts and Crafts in North Carolina, 1699-1840 (1965).
  • Fayetteville Carolina Observer, April 30, 1818.
  • Ruth Little-Stokes, “First Presbyterian Church, Fayetteville,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (1975).
  • New Bern Carolina Federal Republican, May 2, 1817.
  • Raleigh Register, May 21, 1816.
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  • First Presbyterian Church I

    John R. Cary, carpenter


    Fayetteville, Cumberland County
    Street Address:

    Bow St., Fayetteville, NC


    No longer standing




    The church was built in brick for a congregation formed in 1800. The cornerstone was laid in 1816. A drawing made in 1822 shows a 2-story brick building of Federal style with two round-arched entrances and a steeple. The church burned in the city’s “great fire” of 1831, and it was rebuilt on the old walls from plans donated by Alexander Jackson Davis including a Town Truss roof. Several further remodelings have been accomplished over the years (see Hobart Upjohn). See Ruth Little-Stokes, First Presbyterian Church National Register nomination at

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