The Sadgwar family of Wilmington, N. C., including David Elias Sadgwar (1819-1889) and his sons, Frederick Cutlar (Cutler) Sadgwar, Sr.(1843-1925), James Sampson Sadgwar (1850-1922), and others, as well as some of David’s grandsons, were house carpenters active in the city for many years. Although only a few of their building projects have been identified, as freed people after the Civil War they were prominent in the community’s civic and social life, especially in the period from 1865 to 1898 when Wilmington’s African-American citizens made notable strides in economic and political affairs. The following account is taken primarily from William M. Reaves, Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865 (1998), which features recollections of long-lived Sadgwar family members and numerous newspaper articles.
As related by family accounts, David Elias Sadgwar was the child of a white woman who was reared by an enslaved woman into whose care he was placed at a very young age. Sources vary as to his date of birth, from 1811 to 1819, and neither of his parents has been identified. One account reports that he was the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and a prominent local white woman. According to his granddaughter, Caroline Sadgwar Manly, “Grandpa told me he did not know his parents.” He had a faint memory of a white mother but remembered that “a black woman called mammy took care of him until he was about 13 or 14 years of age” and told him as she was dying that she was not his mother. “A strange old man,” recalled Caroline Manly, “He was neither slave nor free.” Because he married an enslaved woman, Fannie Merrick, the children born to them, including Caroline’s father, Frederick, were born into slavery. The (possibly French?) origin of the surname Sadgwar is not clear. (See Note below.)
No information is available as to how David Elias Sadgwar gained his training as a house carpenter, but he would have been one of the many enslaved Wilmington artisans skilled in the building trades. The fact that David Sadgwar named one of his sons James Sampson Sadgwar (1850-1922) suggests that David had an association with the noted free black Wilmington house carpenter James Sampson (August 7, 1806-April 4, 1861). Sampson, born into slavery, was manumitted as a young man, attained substantial wealth, owned several slaves, and reportedly trained several young men of color in his trade.
Only one reference has been found to possible antebellum carpentry work by David Sadgwar. In a much later recollection published in 1934, John D. Bellamy, Jr., cited his parents’ home, the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, as noteworthy for having been executed by black artisans, and he listed the names of the artisans he recalled as working on it: “Howes, Artises, Prices, Sadgwars, and Kelloggs” (See Price Family.) (Bellamy might have mentioned these names because they were families who had stayed in Wilmington and were familiar to him. Only the role of the free black carpentry contractor Elvin Artis has been documented.)
After the Civil War, David Elias Sadgwar and his family appeared regularly in public records and newspaper articles. David and Fannie Sadgwar placed great emphasis on supporting family ties and on training and education for their children. David trained his sons in the carpentry trade both before and after freedom came, enabling them to assist him in projects he undertook and to establish themselves as tradesmen. Once freedom came, the Sadgwar daughters were educated at local schools, and were notable for becoming teachers and marrying men of stature. These patterns continued into future generations of the family.
In 1866 David Elias Sadgwar and his wife, Fannie J. Merrick (1816-1872) were authorized by the county clerk to be legally married, a status forbidden during their lives in slavery. The couple stated that they had been living as man and wife since about 1843. In 1870, the United States Census recorded David Sadgwar, a “mulatto” house carpenter aged 51 (born about 1819) with personal property valued at $2,000. His wife, Fannie Sadgwar, aged 53, was “keeping house” and identified as black. Their oldest son, Frederick (see below) had come of age by 1870 and had established his own household next door. Still at home with their parents were five younger children: Sophie (Sophia), 24, “at home; Fannie, 20, a schoolteacher; and three sons, all apprentice carpenters: David (Jr.), 18; James, 16; and George, 14. Fannie J. Sadgwar died in 1872, leaving David a widower. In 1880, the census recorded David Sadgwar as widowed carpenter aged 63, living with three of his grown children—James, George, and Fanny—in the household of his daughter Sophia Price and her husband, George W. Price, Jr., who had married in 1873. George W. Price, Jr. (see Price Family ) was a formerly enslaved plasterer who had become politically prominent and was at that time a clerk at the customs house. During Reconstruction and afterwards, men of color occupied some government positions, especially those in federal offices.
Frederick C. Sadgwar, Sr. (1843-1925) left Wilmington shortly after the war to study at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, a college for black students. He returned to Wilmington and soon established himself in the community as well as heading a large and accomplished family. Initially he founded a freedmen’s school in nearby Whiteville, N. C., and he also taught local freedmen in a carpenter’s shop located on the grounds of his residence in Wilmington. In 1867 Frederick, Sr., married Caroline Huggins of New Hanover County, and the couple eventually had twelve children. The United States Census of 1870 counted Frederick, a house carpenter aged 27, heading a household that included his wife, Caroline, and young children Charles, 2, and David, a baby. The young family, as noted, lived next door to his parents and younger siblings.
Like his parents, Frederick and Caroline Sadgwar placed emphasis on education and craft training. In 1880, their household on 8th Street included seven children aged from one year to twelve years of age, with the older children at school. In 1900 their household included eight children, the eldest being Caroline (Carrie), born in 1872, and the youngest Felice, born in 1893. Frederick was identified as a carpenter and contractor, daughter Carrie as a teacher and musician, and other children as a teacher, carpenters, and at school. When the United States Census was taken in 1910, Frederick and Caroline Sadgwar’s household comprised only three daughters and one son who was an invalid. Gravestone records indicate that although some of Frederick and Caroline’s children left North Carolina permanently, including Caroline Sadgwar Manly, who moved to Washington, D. C. by 1901 (see below), others remained in Wilmington or returned there after absences and were interred, as were their parents, in Pine Forest Cemetery.
As house carpenters, David Elias Sadgwar and his sons including Frederick found that in post-Civil War era Wilmington, building projects were numerous, and there were many opportunities for black as well as white building artisans. During the 1870s and 1880s, especially, local newspapers carried a variety of reports giving favorable attention to the accomplishments and activities of leading artisans of color, including the members of the Sadgwar family. A few of the projects undertaken by David Sadgwar and his sons have been identified.
According to Strength Through Struggle, at some time in the 1870s or early 1880s, David E. Sadgwar built a home for his family at the northeast corner of N. 5th and Brunswick Streets; it was destroyed by fire in 1885 and soon rebuilt. Family accounts relate that David Sadgwar also assisted his son Frederick in building a family home, the Frederick and Caroline Sadgwar House, evidently in the 1870s. The Wilmington Daily Journal (July 2, 1872) reported that David Sadgwar had been granted permission to erect “a frame building” on 8th Street between Market and Princess Streets. He had acquired the property as a site for his son’s home. Family tradition reports that David and Frederick worked together to construct the house. The United States Census of 1880 listed Frederick Sadgwar and his family as residing on 8th between Market and Princess Streets. Begun as a fairly small house, the house was later expanded for Frederick and his family, and it continued in the family until the deaths of Frederick’s youngest children in the late 20th century.
A major project for David E. Sadgwar was the 1881 construction of the framing for a guano (fertilizer) factory and an acid chamber for the Chesapeake Guano Company of Baltimore. In this complex undertaking, the structure was assembled in Wilmington at the lumber mill of Taylor and Colville on North Water Street, and it was shipped in sections to Baltimore. In a period when Wilmington’s black artisans were frequently cited favorably in the local newspapers, the Wilmington Morning Star of January 4, 1881, headlined a story, “Evidence of Wilmington Enterprise,” which reported that two ships had sailed for Baltimore carrying about 250,000 feet of lumber sawed for the purpose and noted that the framing was “all done, to the minutest detail, by David Sadgwar, one of our colored carpenters,” while the ironwork was cast at the foundry of the (white) Hart, Bailey, and Company of Wilmington. The project was cited as “proof of what our mechanics are capable of doing,” and “pleasant evidence of the spirit of enterprise in our midst.”
One public construction project has been cited to Frederick C. Sadgwar, Sr.: in 1881 he contracted with the United States government to make repairs to the United States Marine Hospital in Wilmington. In this period, black political representation from North Carolina was sufficiently strong that occasional Federal government projects were awarded to men of color. Sadgwar also gained an appointment as mail carrier in 1883, a sought-after patronage position.
Soon after the Civil War, both David Elias Sadgwar and Frederick C. Sadgwar emerged as leaders in civic affairs. The Wilmington Post of January 3, 1869 carried a report of the “Proceedings of the Colored Men’s Convention held at the Theatre Friday Last.” Marking Emancipation Day, the meeting and its officers involved several of the city’s leading black citizens. President of the convention was the famed abolitionist Abraham H. Galloway, and secretaries were David Sadgwar and William Price. Following a reading of the Declaration of Independence by one G. P. Rourke, Frederick C. Sadgwar read the Emancipation Proclamation. George W. Price, the politically prominent local plasterer and Frederick’s brother-in-law, delivered an oration. The group adopted a series of resolutions including thanks to Congress for the continuation of the Freedmen’s Bureau and to Wilmington merchants “for their kind consideration in allowing the laborers a holiday on this eventful anniversary of their independence.”
Frederick C. Sadgwar made his mark as a community leader in religious, business, and civic affairs. He was a member of Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church and a member and officer of Rising Sun Lodge No. 114. In 1870, he helped organize a Mechanics’ Association formed by “a number of the colored people of our city, representing the various trades of masons, carpenters and painters,” with its stated purpose the “mutual protection of skilled workmen . . . against encroachment on the part of those who have not served a regular apprenticeship, and who are consequently not proficient in the business which they attempt to follow.” The account in the Wilmington Morning Star of October 7, 1870, took an approving tone, noting that such groups were common in northern cities and tended to encourage proficiency in trades. “Many of the most respectable colored people of this city” had “identified themselves with this movement.” Officers comprised several leading artisans of color including F. C. Sadgwar. In a widely celebrated event of the era, the first black industrial fair in North Carolina, held at Giblem Lodge (Wilmington’s recently completed Masonic lodge) in December, 1875, Sadgwar participated along with most of the city’s leading black residents, winning awards for his collection of native North Carolina minerals and woods.
Several years later, in 1894 F. C. Sadgwar was an organizer and an officer of a black business league formed for “the promotion and protection of black business men.” The story in the Wilmington Messenger of September 3, 1894 was headlined simply, “The Colored Business Men Organize a Business League,” but the headline of the account in the Wilmington Morning Star of September 2, 1894—“Business more essential that politics”—suggests that these individuals were seeking to avoid (or the newspaper was encouraging them to avoid) the racially charged political controversies then mounting in Wilmington and elsewhere. In the tense and eventually violent racial-political climate of the decade, citizens of color, especially those prominent in their communities, often walked a narrow line to maintain their status and their businesses.
Newspapers in newspapers.com do not depict F. C. Sadgwar’s activities during the mounting racial and political tensions of the mid and late 1890s, which culminated in the Wilmington coup of November 10, 1898, but he was evidently considered a leading member of the black community. On that day, white Democratic leader Alfred Moore Waddell called upon a group of “colored citizens” to meet with his “committee” of white citizens to discuss “a matter of grave consequence to the negroes of Wilmington.” The list of more than thirty “colored citizens” included Fred Sadgwar. Waddell set a deadline for the group to respond to demands made by the white committee. As events unfolded, the response was not delivered in time, and within a short time the white leaders initiated the violent overthrow of the duly elected city government, burned the newspaper office of black publisher Alex Manly, killed an unknown number of black citizens, and banished many black and white people from the city. After the 1898 coup and the subsequent disfranchisement of black men and imposition of Jim Crow segregation rules, newspaper coverage of the activities of black Wilmingtonians, including the Sadgwars, dropped off dramatically, with only occasional references to property transfers and similar matters.
Several Sadgwar family members left the community, while others stayed and continued to practice their trades and serve as schoolteachers. The 1902 Wilmington city directory listed Frederick C. Sadgwar as one of fourteen men under the business heading of carpenters; of these only Sadgwar and one other man were people of color. He and his children and other family members, chiefly carpenters and teachers, appeared regularly in censuses and city business directories of the twentieth century.
Reflecting their parents’ emphasis upon education and the postwar establishment of the Gregory Normal School for black students in Wilmington, Frederick and Caroline Sadgwar’s children had become accomplished in several fields. Probably the best known is Caroline (Carrie) Sadgwar (1871/1872-1965/1966). While she was enrolled at the Gregory Normal School, her teacher recognized her exceptional singing voice and encouraged her parents to send her to Fisk University. She became a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the famed group that toured widely in the United States and Great Britain. Upon graduating from Fisk in 1894 she returned to Wilmington and became a teacher known for her musical abilities. She formed an attachment with the young newspaper publisher, Alex Manly, whose editorial in his Wilmington Daily Record was a factor in the Wilmington Coup of 1898 and his forced escape from the city. Carrie was still living in her parents’ household in Wilmington in June, 1900, but she soon left the city as well. She and Alex Manly were married in Washington, D. C. in 1901, and lived thereafter in Washington and in the Philadelphia area.
The two youngest daughters of Frederick and Caroline Sadgwar, Felice Louise and Mabel Sadgwar Manly, likewise gained educations in Wilmington and beyond and had long careers that included teaching in local schools. Both lived into old age as residents of the house their father had built at 15 North 8th Street and served as bearers of their family’s history into the 1980s.
Note: In a letter of November 19, 1953, Caroline (Carrie) Sadgwar Manly wrote to her sons Milo and Lewin, providing information about her grandfather, David Elias Sadgwar, based on her conversations with him in his old age. He owned extensive property in the countryside and in the city. She recalled his account that he was born to a white woman but raised by an enslaved woman. She explained that David’s son, Caroline’s father, Frederick Sadgwar, and his siblings were born into slavery because their mother was enslaved. She recalled her father telling her and her siblings that he learned to read and write from his master (unnamed) in the carpenter’s shop and later went to Lincoln University. A typed transcript of the letter made by Caroline’s son, Milo A. Manly, is part of the Alex L. Manly Papers, Manuscript Collection #65, East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina. This collection contains additional letters from Caroline Sadgwar Manly and other information about this family. https://digital.lib.ecu.edu/39010#?#details&cv=3&xywh=-768%2C-289%2C5624%2C5774
Alex L. Manly Papers, Manuscript Collection #65, East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina.
John D. Bellamy, Jr., “Interesting Houses,” Wilmington Star-News, July 16, 1934, clipping in Bellamy Mansion file, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.
William M. Reaves, Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865 (1998).
- Contributors:Sadgwar Family, house carpentersDates:
ca. 1877, ca. 1910Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:
15 N. 8th St.Status:
Family tradition states that David E. Sadgwar assisted his son Frederick in the original construction of this family home on property David had acquired for the purpose. In 1872 David Sadgwar received permission to build a frame structure on 8th Street between Market and Princess. A construction date of 1877 is mentioned in family accounts. The United States Census of 1880 listed Frederick Sadgwar and his large family residing on 8th Street between Market and Princess streets. This was a one-story house. Family accounts say that about 1910 Frederick Sadgwar expanded the house to its present two-story form, creating a substantial gable-fronted house with neoclassical details and a broad porch. This account accords with evidence of Sanborn Insurance Maps. The earliest Sanborn map to cover this block, that of 1893, shows a one-story frame house at 15 N. 8th St.; a two-story house is there by 1915. Family members continued to live in the house until the late 20th century. The Sadgwar family affiliated with the Baha’i faith and for many years this house was home to a Baha’i congregation.