Fredericksburg, situated on the falls of the Rappahannock River, had become Virginia’s leading industrial center by 1770. From the early eighteenth-century settlement of Germanna, anil the iron furnace established there by Lieutenant- Governor Alexander Spotswood in 1714, the Rappahannock River basin supported this industry.’ Fredericksburg’s prominence in industrial development is also well documented by two manufactories of firearms, which were established there during the Revolution. One of these w as financed by the state while the other, the Rappahannock Forge, was a private venture established by James I lunter.2
A large number of Fredericksburg firearms and clock movements from the eighteenth century have survived, although no signed furniture made there is presently known. Circumstances indicate that isolating Fredericksburg’s colonial cabinetwork will be difficult, requiring an extensive study of both the documents and of the surviving examples. Intense and conclusive studies of surrounding areas will undoubtedly play a key role in this endeavor.
One of the difficulties of isolating the furniture of Fredericksburg is the large number of chairs found there that have Scott-type construction and ornament. Many of these chairs have been attributed to Fredericksburg because of their conglomerate histories there. While some of these may have been produced in the Fredericksburg area by transplanted cabinetmakers, the evidence of a Williamsburg origin for the group is very strong. The probability that a W illiamsburg-trained cabinetmaker worked there is logical in light of the evidence that one prominent Fredericksburg cabinetmaker, James Allen, made repeated purchases of black-grained leather from Alexander Craig, a W illiamsburg harnessmakcr and tanner.3 These purchases may indicate a connection between Allen and W illiamsburg cabinetmaking, though cabinetmakers in other tow ns some distance from Williamsburg also made similar purchases. Such patronage, then, may have no greater significance than Craig’s ability to produce a refined, sophisticated leather that was unavailable from local tanneries. If this association w ith W illiamsburg is taken at face value, it is certainly another demonstration of the leading role that the capital city played in matters of taste, style, and technology.
James Allen is first documented in Fredericksburg in 1740, and in 1759 he made two mahogany candlestands for George Washington.4 He is also known to have employed an indentured servant cabinetmaker who ran aw ay in 1752.5 The practice of employing indentured servants in Fredericksburg —as opposeil to salaried journeymen—makes a significant statement about the level of production
in that city. (An analysis of this topic is discussed in detail, in the introduction to Williamsburg.)
In addition to the problem of identifying chairs produced in Fredericksburg, the cases of clocks with movements signed by Thomas W alker lack a continuity of design and construction that one would expect if they had been produced in a single center. The finest case in this group was probably made in W illiamsburg and has been closely examined in that section (fig. 84). Additional examples would be needed to substantiate this attribution. While other Walker clocks have the same general form, they do not show such a sophisticated understanding of architectural design or such attention to detail. In addition, the Williamsburg desk-and-bookcase (fig. 82) and the Walker clock case (fig. 84) are the lone examples of pieces from eastern Virginia with pediments made in perspective.
The remaining Walker clock cases, like the Williamsburg example, suggests that his clock movements w ere purchased by patrons or tradesmen from a wide geographic area, and had cases made for them in other locales. Owing to their variety in style and construction, the cases have formed the basis of this conclusion. One document survives that corroborates this pattern of patronage. William Cabell, burgess of Amherst County, recorded in his diary on December 8, 1774 that he “sent w atch by P. Rose to W alker in Fredericksburg to be put in good order.” I lis diary entry of May 27 that same year notes that he paid £2.3.7 to Joseph Kidd, a Williamsburg upholsterer, and is testimony of his patronage there as well.8
Since Cabell was dealing with tradesmen in both centers, his choice of W alker rather than a Williamsburg w atchmaker is revealing, especially in light of the evidence that at least five watchmakers are recorded in W illiamsburg in the early 1770s.7 The survival of many clocks signed by Walker and the total absence of any from Williamsburg suggest a more highly developed clockmaking trade in Fredericksburg. I bis conclusion gains further credence if one compares the masterful engraving of Walker (fig. 118) w ith that of W illiam Waddill, a W illiamsburg goldsmith who made and engraved an escutcheon and handles for the coffin of Lord Botetourt.8 Admittedly, it may be unfair to compare Waddill’s angular roman letters and crow n w ith the flowing script and arabesque flourishes by Walker, since the coffin plate was, by necessity, a rush order completed w ithin four days of the governor’s death. But the urgency should not have caused the many small miss-cuts and overruns that characterize the engraving. Despite the pressure for rapid production, the fitting for the Royal Governor’s coffin should certainly have demanded craftsmanship of the highest quality, and, from the description of the coffin, this appears to have been the intent. Made of black walnut, it was constructed by W illiamsburg carpenter Joshua Kendall and had a total of three cases—the innermost lined with lead.9 Considering these conditions, a comparison does have merit.
The extent to which Waddill and Walker represent the state of the art within their competitive realms is dif ficult to know, although further observation illuminates the question considerably. Waddill w as one of the very few artisans in Williamsburg to advertise specifically that he did engraving. This would normally indicate that engraving w as a specialty, and the fact that his silver furniture was chosen for Lord Botetourt’s coffin over the ". . .Sett of Best Japand Coffin furniture with white Shield Brestplate. . .” supplied by Benjamin Bucktrout, indicates his work was held in higher regard.10 Considering his receipt of the commission and his newspaper advertisement, Waddill’s engraving would appear to represent good, if not the best, quality work available in Williamsburg.
The work of Thomas Walker compares favorably with other American engravers. In fact, his production of bracket clocks ranks him in the highest order of American clockmaking. That he produced the highest quality metalwork in colonial Virginia is unquestionable at present, for no other examples begin to approach the excellence of his products.
Further evidence for the superior quality of Fredericksburg metalwork is also found in gun – smithing. Again, the material from Williamsburg is meager, and the surviving objects encompass only unfinished parts excavated at the Geddy site on Palace Green in Williamsburg—the same site at which Waddill once worked. (The Geddy Family had operated a shop there from the 1730s to the 1780s. Three members of the family practiced gunsmithing and foundry work, while a fourth was a silversmith.) Of these fragments, few have engraving, and of those that do, the best work is found on a portion of a trigger guard that is naive and poorly executed when compared to intact examples that survive on firearms from Fredericksburg.11 The excavation did prove that the Geddys produced some elaborate castings, but the most artistic of these w ere derived from models of finished products that were most often British in origin, leaving unanswered the question of their ability to design elegant examples. The engraved trigger guard previously mentioned, a brandy warmer by James Geddy, a large quantity of spoons, and the engraved escutcheon by William Waddill all have a quality well below that achieved in Fredericksburg.12
III. Tall Case Clock, Fredericksburg, circa 1115; movement by Thomas Walker of Fredericksburg.
Walnut primary; chestnut, yellow pine secondary.
Height 95 W, width 21 depth! IV*".
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (acc. no. 1951-518).
The preceding analysis, though based on only a few surviving examples, suggests a convincing pattern. Colonial Fredericksburg appears to have excelled in technological development and produced metalwork far superior to that of Williamsburg.
The first two clocks to be studied (fig. 117 and 118) have Thomas W alker movements. The tall case clock has an eight-day movement with a well – engraved face, cast spandrels of average quality, and a moon dial. The case is made of black w alnut w ith yellow pine and chestnut secondary woods. It has original carved flame finials and ogee bracket feet, although the plinth has lost the raised panel that w as originally glued to the front.
The overall style of the case and the workmanship are quite reminiscent of Philadelphia and Delaware Valley clocks, w hich exhibit a heavy baroque character. Their heaviness is not confined to style, however, since each element is made of thick pieces of wood anti results in cases of great weight. This approach contrasts with the example attributed to Williamsburg (fig. 84) and w ith several others having Walker movements that are pictured in the files of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, rhese eastern Virginia clocks are formed from very thin pieces of wood and, in this respect, are much closer to English examples than those of the Delaware Valley. The Williamsburg example is thinly constructed and, in addition, the elements of its architectural design are proportionately scaled. The effect is one of refined elegance and balance—in contrast to the Delaware Valley type, which relies on boldness achieved principally from oversized and out-of-scale elements best exemplified by overpowering broken-scroll pediments. I his approach, how ever, is also characteristic of provincial production and the question of the origin of this case’s design (fig. 117) is thereby difficult to determine. In this instance, the task is complicated by the fact that some influence front Delaware Valley furniture is present in Virginia Piedmont examples. This being the case, it would not be surprising to encounter it in Fredericksburg, which is situated on the eastern portion of this area and had strong economic and social ties with the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley.
The bracket clock (fig. 118) has a movement of good quality housed between brass face and back plates that are decorated w ith bold, tine engraving. The shading is cut w ith a three dimensional effect, which is achieved by the simulaton of a light source coming from the left. This sophisticated engraving is seldom seen on American-made objects and is testimony to the high level of the engraver’s artistic – training.
IIS. Bracket Clock, Fredericksburg, circa 1775; movement
by Thomas Walker of Fredericksburg.
Mahogany primary; yellow pine secondary.
Height 19V*", width 10i:,lis", depth 8".’
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (acc. no. 1951-197).
Phis engraving has, in fact, raised some questions as to the origin of the Walker clocks. Did he import movements and apply his name to them, or did he order them from England with his name and city already engraved on the dial? A study of the engravings on the three clocks illustrated here results in the conclusion that they were executed by the same hand. The engraving on this bracket clock appears to be the earliest; it is composed essentially of arabesques with only two small rococo shells and C-scrolls. The movement of the tall clock in the Williamsburg section (fig. 84) appears to be the latest, w ith an abundance of rococo features and a floridness typical of that style. While the change in style is strong, the technique of the engraving and
the small design elements show the same approaeh. The latest example shows some degeneration in the quality of the engraving.
The dominant feature of the bracket clock back is a classical mask having an unusual extended hair style w ith a large needle thrust through it (tig. 118b). Perhaps this feature is only meant as decoration, but the possibility exists that the needle is an allusion to the textile industry since the term “walker” was synonymous w ith “fuller” and referred to a trade within the textile industry.
Since no other colonial period bracket clocks are known from eastern Virginia, it is impossible to determine where this case was produced. It appears to be eastern Virginia and, of necessity, is presumed to be from Fredericksburg because of Walker’s signature on the movement. As pointed out in the foregoing discussion, the diversity of Walker tall case clocks emphasize the hazards of such a presumption. This case is very plain and thus is somewhat incongruous with the fine movement.
While fine metalwork is often marked, this seldom occurs in furniture. I’he problem of Scott chairs with histories in the Fredericksburg region has spurred considerable discussion and study. I Iow – ever, there are other examples from that area that reveal a different approach to design and construction. This includes a w alnut side chair from a set of six (fig. 119) that was bought in Alexandria in the 1930s and may be of Fredericksburg origin. No further information concerning the set’s history has survived. Several other chairs with Fredericksburg histories have similar, although not identical, splats. Like chairs in the Scott group, they have parallel stiles and crests w ith somew hat bulbous ears. But the similarity ends here, since the shoe is a separate element and the very deep seat rails are unlike Scott’s and others from W illiamsburg. The simplified rosettes carved on the splat may be compared with those that terminate the scrolls of the tall clock (fig. 117a). Vet these similarities are very basic and cannot be accepted without further supporting evidence— evidence that is not forthcoming at present.
Upholstered furniture from eastern V irginia is very rare. Thus examples such as the easy chair (fig. 120) are of extreme importance. This piece, w hich descended in the Lew is family of Fredericksburg, is unusual in having a frame made entirely of black walnut. A Fredericksburg origin seems plausible because of the Lew is history, and its legs and feet are quite different from those of Williamsburg and the “Norfolk” group. The unusual form of the thin claw feet and high “shod” rear feet on this chair could be the key to further identification of related examples and could prove or disprove the Fredericksburg
119. Side Chair (one of six), Fredericksburg, circa 1770. Walnut primary.
Height 38Ух", width 20", depth 16".
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (acc. no. 1930-23).
120. Easy Chair, Fredericksburg, circa 1770. Walnut primary; walnut secondary.
Height 44", width 36", depth 30Vi".
The Henry Francis duPont Wintherthur Museum (acc. no. M51.72.1).
attribution. The lack of such examples is disturbing, although the exploration of carved furniture from Virginia is only now beginning. As an aw areness of it increases, more Virginia pieces w ill undoubtedly be recognized in public and private collections throughout the country. It is hoped that further examples from Fredericksburg w ill be among them.
1. Richard I.. Morton, Colonial Virginia (Chapel Mill: The University of North Carolina Press, I960), vol. 2, pp. 445-446.
2. I larold 1.. Peterson, Arms and Armor in Colonial America, IS26-I7SI (I larrishurg. Pennsylvania: The Stackpole Company, 1956), p. 187.
3. Alexander Craig Account lit и. к. Manuscripts Division, Karl Circgg Swcm Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Information courtesy of Harold li. Gill, Jr.
4. Allen’s 1740 date courtesy of I larold B. Gill, Jr.; George Washington Ledger A, Folio 62, courtesy of Ms. Christine Meadows, curator. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
5. Che Virginia Gazette, cd. John Dixon, October 20, 1752, p. 2.
6. Manuscript Diary of William Cabell, 1751-1795, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia. Reference courtesy of I larold B. Gill, Jr.
7. From a list of Williamsburg craftsmen of the eighteenth century, compiled by I larold B. Gill, Jr., historian. Colonial W illiamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia.
8. John D. Davis, “Williamsburg: The Silver,” The Magazine Antiques 95 (January 1969): 137.
9. Mills Brown, “Cabinctmaking in the Eighteenth Century" (unpublished research report. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1959), p. 142; The Virginia Gazette, cd. Alexander Purdic and John Dixon, October 18, 1770, supplement, p. I.
10. Brown, "Cabinctmaking,” p. 142.
11. Ivor Noel llumc, James Geddy and Sons, Colonial Craftsmen (Williamsburg. Virginia; Colonial W illiamsburg Foundation, 1970), p. 23, tig. 17; Nathan L. Swayzc, t he Rappahannock Forge (American Society of Arms. Collcctors publication no. 2, 1976). pp. 21-23, tigs. 18a, 18b, 18c.
12. Davis, “The Silver," p. 137.
The three examples shown here—a tea table, a candlestand, and a slab-top table (figs. 121, 122, 123)—have Virginia provenances. Although their precise origins are unknown, they are included w ith the hope that further examples may be found and thereby that their identity might be established. I lundreds of objects fall into this uncertain classification, although few have the refinements of carving or outstanding form seen in these examples. In addition, two of them are related to other examples with Virginia histories, and, therefore, present a greater possibility of future identification.
The tea table and the candlestand (figs. 121, 122), both made of mahogany, have the same history in the Boyd family of New Bern, North Carolina. They descended from Virginia families that migrated in the eighteenth century from southeast Virginia to the Edenton, North Carolina area. Initially these two tables appear to have little in common; only after close inspection of their bird cage pillars does their affinity to each other become apparent. The unusual pillars are identical on both tables and are visible in the illustration of the candlestand. Their form, which is constricted at the middle with a fine central ring, appears to be a degenerate development of a bold double-balustrade type on a stand w ith an Alexandria, Virginia history. T his stand and its companion tea table are pictured in the files of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (ace. nos. S-6979 and S-6980). On the tea table, the carving of the ball-and-daw feet and the knees are quite similar to those of figure 121. The knee carving has a double-overlapped acanthus issuing from beneath an eight-petaled rosette. The entire concept is so similar to that of figure 121 that they may be by the same hand. A similarity to the Scott overlapping acanthus and ball-and-claw feet is suggested by these two carved tea tables, although the quality of design and execution is far below that of the poorest Scott examples. Perhaps they are related, having possibly been made by a cabinetmaker (or cabinetmakers) influenced by the Scott group or who represented the second or third generations of training from his shop. All four tables share interrelated details and their survival in pairs with histories so geographically separated is intriguing, although extremely difficult to interpret. They are undoubtedly V irginia products. Perhaps in time the exact location of production will be determined. It is worth pointing out that the general heaviness of design of figure 121, particularly in the upper legs, is conceptually similar to the tea table illustrated in the Norfolk section (fig. 108).
Slab-top tables from Virginia are very rare, and the example shown here (fig. 123) stands out among
them. Little is know n of its background, but it w as purchased in Alexandria, Virginia in 1930. Although it was long thought to be of provincial English origin, its primary wood is black walnut w ith corner braces and a central batten of yellow pine, thus proving its American production. The knee brackets are replacements, but the leg and the pad feet have a distinctive design that is appreciably different from others examined in this work. The white-grey marble is original and shows better workmanship than the 1 lay shop example (fig. 43).
123. Side Table, origin unknown, circa 1135.
Walnut primary; yellow pine secondary.
Height 34", width 54V»", depth 26V»".
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (acc. no. 1930-9).