The house was built for George Blair (1738-1772) and his wife Jean Duncan (Johnston) Blair (1730-1789). George Blair was a Scottish merchant who arrived in Edenton about 1756. Along with Joseph Hewes and Charles Worth Blount he was a member of the mercantile firm Blount, Hewes, and Blair. Jean Blair was among the women who attended the Edenton Tea Party and signed the non-importation agreement in 1774.
The Blairs bought the lot on Eden Street in 1763 and probably started construction soon thereafter. The house was notable for its mid-18th century architectural embellishments, especially the carving on its staircase. This carving has been related to carving found on Edenton-made furniture.
George Blair died in 1772. Jean Blair sold the property to Stephen Cabarrus in 1783. In 1788 it passed to Cullen Pollock. The Pollock family retained the house until 1821. It was then sold to Dr. James Norcom (1778-1850).
Norcom features prominently in the story of Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897). As a young women Harriet lived in the house from which this woodwork came. Her account of life as a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, was published in Boston in 1861 and presented readers with a frank depiction of the evils faced by enslaved women, including sexual abuse at the hands of Dr. Norcom. Sometimes called “the female Frederick Douglas,” her story, published under a pseudonym to protect her identity, helped to galvanize the abolitionist cause in the Civil War.
The painted floor in the parlor is not original to the Blair house. It was copied in the 1960s from a surviving example at the Gilbert Leigh House in Edenton.
In 2009 paint analysis performed by Susan Buck determined that the room was originally painted a lighter shade of Prussian blue than what was chosen for it in the 1960s when first installed at MESDA. We worked with Erika Sanchez-Goodwillie to mix handmade linseed oil paint based on Susan’s analysis. The closest commercial color match is Benjamin Moore HC-156 “Van Deusen Blue.”
RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA also has the passage and staircase from this house (MESDA acc. 0000.10). The MESDA collection also contains several pieces of carved furniture thought to be related to the carving found in the house including an armchair (MESDA acc. 2418), a pair of card tables (MESDA acc. 2720 and 5818), and a dressing table (MESDA acc. 3273). The museum also has a copy of the print “A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina”, an irreverent depiction of the Edenton Tea Party (MESDA acc. 5635). The Thomas A. Gray Rare Book and Manuscript Collection includes a first-edition copy of “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs (MESDA acc. 5831.5).