Joe Welcome: Artisan of African Descent
Joe Welcome, like many in his time, was born into slavery. However, through hard work and dedication, he rose above the discrimination and preconceived ideas people had of slaves. He became so skilled at his work that he was commissioned for major building projects in Edenton and the surrounding areas that to this day are still marveled at. Life for slaves was brutal, one would think it would have worn them down, day after day of back breaking work, but their determination for freedom or just a better life caused so many slaves to become extraordinarily strong people. Joe Welcome was one of those people.
Welcome belonged to Josiah Collins who was a wealthy merchant and planter. Collins hired Joe out to learn and practice his trade, but it was only when he was sent as part of a group of slaves to work on constructing the new Edenton Academy that his talent was truly discovered. During this project he worked as a brick layer, stone mason, and plasterer; he was noticed for his exceptional work in all of the tasks. He was an all around highly-skilled worker, which is what made him so appealing to people who were in need of a builder. Ebenezer Pettigrew was one of the first private individuals who commissioned Welcome to work on their building projects.
Pettigrew employed Welcome for a building project on Lake Phelps Plantation which was near to the Collins Plantation. From 1803 to around 1818 Josiah Collins received payment from Pettigrew for many days of Welcome’s work. In between Joe’s work for private individuals he also worked for his owner and on many big building projects around Edenton. In 1806 he worked for months on a project to restore and renovate the colonial St. Paul’s Episcopal church under the supervision of architect William Nichols. He worked again with Nichol’s designs when building James C. Johnson’s Hayes Plantation House just outside Edenton.
To this day the Hayes Plantation House and many other structures built by Joe Welcome and enslaved artisans like him still stand. People come from all over to marvel at the beautiful buildings and imagine what they are and what it would have been like to live in them, but we do not think of what it must have been like for the laborers to build them. Most of the time slaves and workers who spent day after day toiling away to build such structures are forgotten in history, but in certain circumstances they are written into it and remembered. In the case of Joe Welcome, years of research and piecing information together by dedicated historians has brought his story to light. He is a reminder of the life of a slave, and it is our duty as keepers of history to remember him and others like him.