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Backstool (side chair)

Origin: England, Hull (possibly)
OH: 37 1/2" OW(SEAT): 22" OD:20"
Mahogany with beech
Museum Purchase, The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund
Acc. No. 2007-121
Appearance: Backstool with canted rectangular back with rounded upper corners fully upholstered; trapezoidal seat upholstered over the rails and originally without brass nail trim; cabriole rear legs with pad feet and shaped knee blocks; cabriole front legs with ball and claw feet and acanthus carved knees and knee blocks.

Construction: The stiles in the back frame are secured to the slanted upper surfaces of the rear legs with a single large screw and several nails each. The mortise-and-tenon joints in the seat frame are fastened with beech pins. All four corners of the seat frame were originally fitted with open braces let into the rails. A red woolen textile was the original outer upholstery; it was not trimmed with brass nails.

Materials: Mahogany legs; beech seat rails, back rail, crest rail, and stiles.
Label:Chairs with fully upholstered seats and backs, often termed "back stools" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were generally used in parlors and drawing rooms. This one has a history of ownership by the wealthy planter Robert Beverley (1740-1800), who resided at Blandfield plantation in Essex County, Virginia. In typical period fashion, Beverley's back stool was part of a suite that included at least half a dozen chairs and two small matching stools. With acanthus-carved knees, ball-and-claw feet, cabriole legs on all sides, and crimson wool upholstery, these objects must have given Blandfield an air of elegance and affluence, certainly one of the owner's goals. Upholstery was quite costly in the eighteenth century, so the presence of eight or more fully upholstered pieces in one room must have seemed lavish, even by Virginia gentry standards.

Because of their high cost, back stools seldom appear in early Chesapeake documents, and few examples with histories in the region have come to light. In addition to the Beverley chairs, only two other back stools originally owned in the Chesapeake are known: a cabriole-legged example from the Byrd family of Westover plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, and a slightly later "Marlborough" back stool that descended in the Cheston and Thomas families of Anne Arundel County, Maryland (CWF acc. 1980-186). Notably, the Beverley, Byrd, and Cheston-Thomas back stools are all British imports. Although Chesapeake cabinetmakers and upholsterers were clearly capable of producing the form, Chesapeake-attributed back stools with firm local histories are unknown.

In 2006, research by Christopher Jones revealed that Robert Beverley's father, William, journeyed with his family to England to visit relatives in 1750. William's diary notes that while there he bespoke a set of chairs from an artisan in the port of Hull. The present chair may represent that suite. Since it predates Robert Beverley's house at Blandfield (finished ca. 1771), the chair and its mates were likely used in William's well furnished and earlier residence, which was located elsewhere on the Blandfield property.
Provenance:The back stool is part of a suite that descended in the Beverley family of Essex County, VA, and was used at their estate, Blandfield plantation (erected ca. 1771), until 1983. This object is probably among the "85 Chairs throughout the house" listed in Robert Beverley's estate inventory of July 21, 1800. The suite may be the "12 chairs" bespoken at Hull, England, by William Beverley (d. 1756) on September 18, 1750.
Inscription(s):Modern pencil inscriptions associated with repairs to the frame are found on the inner surfaces of the seat rails.