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Side chair, splat-back

1771-1776
Origin: America, Virginia, Williamsburg
OH: 36½”; SH: 19½” ; OW: 20¼”; SW: 20¼”; SD 17½”
Cherry, oak, linen, deer hair, leather, and iron
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1975-23,2
Appearance: Side chair with smooth, serpentine crest rail with smooth lobed ears; vase shaped splat with three long above two short piercings; splat seated in a molded shoe which is an integral part of the rear seat rail; rear seat rail cut out on lower edge leaving small return brackets on each side; straight, nearly parallel stiles turn out slightly at top and end in slightly back curved marlborough feet at bottom; beaded marlborough front legs; straight, unmolded skirt mortised into legs; unmolded box stretchers mortised into legs; oak slip seat frames with original black leather upholstery intact.

Construction: Seat rails tenoned into legs, with one peg per joint. Side and front rails and front legs rabbeted to form slip seat support; no support in rear. Rear seat rail cut in shallow arch from below; shoe integral to rail. All four stretchers are one-shoulder-tenoned between legs, pegged once per joint. Front legs have beaded chamfer on front outside corners and plain chamfer on inside corner; rear legs have slight chamfer on inside corners and rake back below rails; rear legs rise into stiles, rounded in rear and slightly rake back; at top, stiles curve slightly outward to meet ears of crest. Stiles tenoned to eared yoke crest rail. Pierced splat tenoned between seat rail and crest rail. Sides of slip seat tenoned between front and back.

Upholstery: Both this chair and the matching settee retain their original upholstered seat frames with original webbing, top and bottom linen, deer hair stuffing, and leather. The webbing and bottom linen are tacked to the top faces of the slip seat, while the top linen and leather are tacked to the bottom faces. When the upholsterer secured the leather at the corners of the slip seat, he manipulated it in an unusual way. In order to pull the leather tightly and reduce its bulk, he created tabs by mitering the corners. Forged tacks secure the leather, including the tabs, to the bottom of the slip seat frame.

Materials: Cherry chair frame; oak slip-seat frame; webbing, tacks, foundation linen, deer hair stuffing, top linen, leather.
Label:In 1775, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, Virginia's last royal governor, fled Williamsburg as Revolutionary pressures mounted. Dunmore abandoned most of his personal possessions at the Governor's Palace, where they were sold at public auction the following year. This settee (acc. 1975-23, 1), seven matching chairs (accs. 1975-23, 2-8), and a related smoking chair (acc. 1980-184) all have histories of purchase at the sale. According to family tradition, they were acquired by Thomas Lewis of Augusta County and subsequently given as a wedding gift to his sister, Agatha Frogg Lewis, and her husband, John Stuart of Stuart Manor, a house in Greenbriar County (now West Virginia). That Thomas Lewis was actually present at the Dunmore sale is substantiated by the survival of a copy of Shakespeare's works bearing the governor's bookplate that descended with the furniture in the Lewis and Stuart families.

Roman numerals on the chairs reveal that the set originally encompassed at least thirteen chairs--and probably more--since side chairs were most often made in multiples of six. At least one matching settee exists, and repair evidence suggests additional settees were originally part of the set as well.

The relatively plain design and unrefined execution of the set suggests that it was intended for somewhat utilitarian use at the Palace. So, too, does the choice of durable leather for the seats, which survive intact on the settee and all of the chairs. Given the large size of the suite, the furniture may well have been used in the Palace ballroom where enormous entertainments were held seasonally. As Governor Botetourt noted in 1769, "52 dined with me Yesterday and I expect at least that number to-day."

The set was once attributed to Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott based on the fact that a few of its structural elements were similar to those on other chairs attributed to Scott. It is now known that the other seating furniture actually was made by Robert Walker of King George County, Virginia, on the Rappahannock River. The Dunmore suite was certainly made in Williamsburg, but cannot presently be firmly attributed to a specific artisan.

The unusual leather tabs securing the leather upholstery on the slip seats further document the attribution of these chairs to Williamsburg. A fragment of a seat frame with evidence of this same corner treatment was discovered during archaeological excavations at the site of the cabinet shop successively occupied by Anthony Hay, Benjamin Bucktrout, and Edmund Dickinson. While the presence of the archeologically recovered seat frame is not conclusive evidence of that technique having been utilized by one or any of the Hay shop masters, when combined with the chairs having been owned by Lord Dunmore, it is suggestive of the technique being done in Williamsburg. The seat frame could have been disposed of by someone in the shop who was repairing a chair made or upholstered by one of the Hay shop masters or another local artisan.
Provenance:According to family tradition, the settee and matching chairs were purchased by Thomas Lewis of Augusta Co., Va., at the 1776 Williamsburg auction of Lord Dunmore's personal property. The furniture was a wedding gift to Lewis's sister, Agatha Frogg Lewis, and John Stuart of Greenbriar Co., Va. (now W. Va). The Stuarts later lived at Stuart Manor near present-day Lewisburg. Both the settee and the matching side chairs were purchased by CWF in 1975 from members of the family still living at the estate.
Mark(s):Chair frames and slip seats bear various Roman numerals, the highest XIII.

.2 - "I" inside rear rail and on slip seat
.3 - "II" inside rear rail and on rear of slip seat
.4 - "III" inside rear rail and on rear of slip seat
.5 - "XI" inside rear rail; "VII" on front rail; "XIII" on rear of slip seat
.6 - "XII" on rear rail and on slip seat
.7 - no number on chair; "VII" on slip seat
.8 - no number on chair; "VI" on rear of slip seat
Inscription(s):None