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Furniture: Chairs
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Carver Chair
Material: Fraxinus Americana (American white ash) and maple
Made in Plymouth Colony, 1630-1670
Ownership attributed (at one time) to John Carver

It is highly unlikely that this chair actually belonged to John Carver, the first Governor of Plymouth Colony. Although the chair was long thought to have been brought on the Mayflower by Carver, a recent wood analysis determined that the chair was actually made in America. American white ash does not grow in England.

Governor Carver died in the spring of 1621, and it is not probable that people in the fledgling colony had time to build such a chair during that first devastating winter when half the Pilgrims died. The name of Plymouth’s first governor, however, has been firmly attached to this type of Early American chair; chairs with turned spindles in the back only are known generically today as "Carver chairs."

They differ from Brewster Chairs, which have spindles under the seat and arms as well. The chair is related to other chairs made by craftsman Ephraim Tinkham (1649-1713), who worked in Plymouth and Middleboro.

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Brewster Chair
Material: Fraxinus Americana (American white ash)
Made in Plymouth Colony, 1630-1670
Descended in the Brewster family

Pilgrim Hall has had this chair since the early 1830s when it was donated by the Brewster family of Duxbury.

It is believed to have belonged to William Brewster (c1566-1643), who was the spiritual leader of the colony and one of its most educated members.

At the time of his death, Elder Brewster had one chair worth 4 shillings, and another worth 1 shilling.

While the inventory does not describe the most expensive chair, the value of 4 shillings is comparable to the value of the two "great wooden chairs" mentioned in William Bradford’s inventory, worth an average of 4 shillings.

Along with the very similar Bradford chair, this chair is one of the earliest chairs made in America. We know the Brewster chair was made here rather than in England because the species of ash is native to America.

The Brewster Chair and the Bradford Chair are related to other turned chairs with board seats found in Boston and Charlestown. As chairs are seldom signed, researchers have to make an educated guess as to who made them. Researchers examine documents, including probate inventories, to see who was a woodworker. Then they match the woodworkers and where they lived to the chairs and where they were found. Researchers identified a craftsman named John Eddy (1595-1684) who came to Plymouth from Kent in 1630 and soon moved to Watertown, west of Boston. The places Eddy worked correspond to the location of this group of chairs.

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Bradford Chair
Material: Fraxinus nigra (Black ash)
Made in Plymouth Colony, 1630-1670
Descended in the Bradford and Hedge families

The list of Governor Bradford’s possessions made at the time of his death in 1657 lists two "great wooden chairs" in the parlor, worth a total of 8 shillings. "Wooden" referred to the seat material so it is very possible that this is one of the two chairs mentioned in the inventory. The chair descended in the Bradford family to the Hedge family, who donated it to the museum in 1953.

The chair was referred to as William Bradford’s chair as early as 1769, when it was used at ceremonies of the Old Colony Club, a social club of Plymouth men.
President Harding sat in the chair at the 1921 Tercentenary Pageant celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ Landing, investing himself with historical significance. The chair is still used to validate historic occasions. In 1995, Supreme Court Justice David Souter sat in Pilgrim Hall’s reproduction of the chair at the 375th anniversary celebration in which 175 new American citizens were naturalized.

The chair has been restored and has lost about three inches in height. The hand grips are missing. The top crest rail and board seat have been replaced, and several spindles are not original. While the chair has been coated with brown varnish, faint traces of black paint can be seen under the seat rails. View Bradford Chair with Cushion.


Thomas Prence Chair
Material: Maple and ash
Made in Plymouth Colony, late 17th century
Descended in the Prence family

Thomas Prence was elected governor of Plymouth Colony in 1634 and was elected an Assistant in 1635. From then on, he served either as an Assistant or as governor every year until his death in 1673. Prence was one of the most important and influential men in the colony in the mid 1600s.

Note that the back spindles on the Prence chair are flat for comfort.


Winslow Joined Chair
Material: American red oak
Made in Plymouth Colony, 1650-1700
Descended in the Winslow family, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Chairs made of joined panels, such as this one, were more expensive than turned chairs. Construction details on this chair link it to other furniture made in the Marshfield area.

Furniture: Chests

Brewster Chest
Material: Norway pine, iron
30" high, 50 1/2" wide, 19" deep
Probably made in Holland, early 17th century
Descended in the Brewster family

It is believed that Elder Brewster brought this chest from Holland to England on the Speedwell and to America on the Mayflower in 1620.

At the time the Pilgrims lived in Holland, pine from Norway was plentiful, as a result of extensive trade between the two countries. A chest was the single most important piece of furniture a colonist could bring. It could be used not only for storage, but also as a table surface, seat, or even bed.

The dark reddish-brown paint is probably original. Iron straps reinforce the chest and it has inside hinges, typical of the era. The six-board form dates from the 16th century.

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Alden Joined Cupboard
Material: Oak
Made in Plymouth Colony, 1650-1700
Descended in the Alden family

Cupboards such as these were usually kept in the parlor. Ceramics and larger pewter plates were displayed on the top, usually set on a cloth.
The applied decorative turnings are typical of furniture made in the Plymouth area.


Morton Chest with Drawer
Material: Red and white oak
Probably made in Plymouth, 1650-1700
Descended in the Morton family of Plymouth

Chests of drawers as we know them today became popular almost 300 years ago.
Before that, people in England and America had chests with one drawer at the bottom, like this one, or without drawers.

This chest has remains of the original decoration: a bright red tulip with green leaves, painted in vermilion and verdigris. When the chest was new, the wood was pale and the decoration would have been very dramatic.Click for front view of Morton Chest.


Standish Chest
Material: Oak
Made in Scituate, Mass., 1650-1700
Descended in the Standish Family

The applied turnings which decorate this chest are typical of 17th century Plymouth area furniture. The saw-tooth carving at the top is also characteristic. Click for angled view of Standish Chest.


Cushman Chest of Drawers
Material: Walnut, chestnut, pine and brass
Made in Massachusetts, possibly in the Taunton River area, 1680-1700
Descended in the family of Desire Cushman

This chest shows clearly the evolution of a furniture style. Unlike earlier chests that had drawers only in the bottom and were constructed of panels set in a joined framed, this chest is made of solid wood and the drawers occupy the entire case. Also unlike earlier chests with painted decorations, the maple grain is highlighted to serve as the chest’s adornment.

Furniture: Cradles

Peregrine White Cradle
Material : Wicker (willow), oak rockers, maple strut
Probably made in Holland, c1620. Descended in the Winslow family

According to tradition, Susanna and William White brought this cradle from Holland in anticipation of the birth of their child. Their son, named Peregrine, meaning "traveler" or "Pilgrim," was born on board the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor in November of 1620.

He was the first child born to the Pilgrims in America (Oceanus Hopkins was born on board the Mayflower during the Atlantic crossing). The hooded wicker cradle is typical of those made in Holland. Similar cradles can be seen in period paintings by Vermeer and other Dutch artists. Willow osiers, or shoots, that form the cradle were woven into a checker pattern. The osiers range in size from 1/4" on the sides to 3/4" on the floor.

Scholars have found evidence that such cradles were also imported into Plymouth later in the century. Whether this cradle came with the White family or was purchased later, it is a symbol of the Pilgrims’ commitment to staying in America and raising their families, in contrast to other Europeans in New England at that time.

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Fuller Cradle
Material: Maple and white pine
Probably made in Duxbury, MA, 1680-1720
Descended in the family of Samuel Fuller

The open work at the front of this cradle made it possible for the mother to see a sleeping baby from almost any position. The construction of this cradle is interesting. It looks like joined work. Actually, it is made of solid pine boards with strips of wood nailed on to imitate joined panels. The cradle may have been made by a carpenter, rather than a joiner.

The shape of the turnings on the tops of the rear posts is similar to turnings seen on furniture found in Duxbury.

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