In the fall of 1805, John Alcock, a Fredericksburg, Virginia, cabinetmaker, relocated to Richmond and opened a cabinetmaking shop. By 1807 he had expanded his business to include the making of Windsor chairs. In that same year, Alcock purchased James Harris, a “mulatto” chair painter, from Alexander Walker, also a Fredericksburg cabinetmaker, for $450. Alcock would later attest that Harris was agreeable to the sale because he could be nearer his mother, who lived in Richmond and from whom he had been separated at some previous time.
Very soon Alcock became dissatisfied with Harris’ work and described him as “idle,” a “thief,” and a “drunkard.” By 1808 the situation had worsened, and Alcock, who had business in Georgia, took Harris with him in the hopes of selling him. Unable to accomplish a sale in Georgia, Alcock sold Harris in Charleston for $375. He claimed he spent $90 to $100 in trying to sell Harris. Alcock, believing Alexander Walker had knowingly deceived him, demanded restitution. In an attempt to get to the truth, depositions were taken from the men who worked for Alcock and Walker. The information from the depositions, part of Henrico County Chancery Cause 1811-001, John Alcock vs. John Brockenbrough, provide a detailed description of Walker’s shop, who worked there, and Harris’ role in the shop.
James Harris, born circa 1790, had been … read more »