On New Year’s Day of 1776, Virginia’s largest town, Norfolk, was burned to the ground. Unfortunately, most of that area’s colonial furniture was destroyed in that fire, but court records for the county of Norfolk that survive from the period are testimony to the existence of a strong community of tradesmen. The lack of notices bv these artisans in the Virginia Gazette is puzzling, but it may indicate that their market w as strong enough to eliminate any need to advertise. With a population of 6,000, this shipping, mercantile, and manufacturing center w as the eighth largest urban area in colonial America, and a major focal point of business activity for Virginians south of the James River.1
Two signed pieces shown here present a major step in the identification anil study of Norfolk furniture: a chest of drawers bearing the chalk signature “John Selden” (fig. 106) and a clothespress inscribed “J. S.” and dated “1775" (fig. 105). T hese are original furnishings of Shirley plantation in Charles City County.
Little is known of John Selden, but he purchased a lot in Norfolk on August 9, 1769, and there are occasional subsequent references to him in the county records. His only newspaper advertisement was placed in July of 1776, after the British had destroyed the city. It was written from Blandford, near Petersburg, where he had moved for refuge:
PRINCE GEORGE, July 15, 1776 ТІ IE subscriber, having been one of the unfortunate suffers at Norfolk, has removed to the place lately occupied by nir. John Baird near Blandford where he carries on the CABINET-MAKING business, as formerly, in all its branches. 11c has also by him, ready made, several dozen of neat mohogany, cherry, and walnut chairs, tables, desks, tea boards, &c. which he will sell on the most reasonable terms, for ready money, and will take in exchange for work some mohogany or seasoned walnut. Those ladies and gentlemen who are pleased to favour him with their custom may depend on being faithfully served, with the greatest despatch and punctuality.