Unquestionably the most important cabinet shop in Williamsburg, and one of the most important in America, the Anthony I lay Shop on Nicholson Street was in use for over twenty years and was operated by at least four masters. From this shop came the most extraordinary group of ceremonial chairs produced in colonial America.1
It appears as though Anthony I lay founded the shop and served as its first master. I le, in turn, w as followed by Benjamin Bucktrout, William Kennedy, and Kdmund Dickinson. Two professional carvers, James Wilson and George I lamilton, were also employed there, and numerous appeals for journeymen cabinetmakers, chairmakers, and apprentices indicate that there were many others whose names are unrecorded. Only in several instances has the record of an apprentice survived, and the extent to which black cabinetmakers were employed is even more obscure. It is known that Hay owned one black cabinetmaker, but that lone reference comes from his inactive period in the trade.2
While documented evidence indicates that I lay was the founder of this shop, it should be noted that details of Williamsburg furniture dating from the 1730s and 1740s show a close relationship to his work. These suggest that Hay may have been apprenticed in Williamsburg, or that such details appear on his products as a result of the employment of locally-trained workmen. Interestingly enough, long after 1 lay had left his Nicholson Street location it continued to be known as “the Shop formerly occupied by Mr. Anthony Hay” and “the shop formerly kept by Mr. Hay.”3 This, together with archcaological evidence that dates portions of the building to the time of Hay’s ownership of the property, is strong evidence that he was its founder and is the reason for treating this group of furniture under his name.
Before discussing and examining the large production attributed to the I lay shop, it is important to study documentary evidence pertaining to its various masters, as well as the series of events and circumstances that affected them. This study, chronologically arranged, is followed by a parallel study of the furniture.