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Early American Colonial Furniture

For over 800 years Guild craftsmen have made the finest carved period furniture in the style known in the Americas as Early American Colonial Furniture.

In the year 1208 our forefathers Woodcarvers of London England renowned for their high quality carved furniture and carved architectural fitting formed a guild to maintain the high standard of quality in their work.

Furniture history in the United States begins, not with Captain John Smith’s company of gentlemen adventurers in Virginia or with the Hollanders who swapped nineteen dollars worth of beads, hatchets and rum for Manhattan Island, but rather with the austere, nonconforming Englishmen who settled New England. It was they who brought the trade of furniture making from old England and in these new environs were, by 1675, making tables, chairs and chests of distinctly American design. In fact, furniture making in New England can with certainty be said to date from that bleak December day in 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers with their families, numbering one-hundred persons all told- forsook the Mayflower and scrambled onto Plymouth Rock and dry land. Their ship was only of 120 tons burden and had to carry their provisions and supplies for the colonizing expedition as well as for two trips across the uncharted Atlantic. The Mayflower was 82 feet long, 22 feet beam, and 14 feet from keel to main deck. Into her told Christopher Jones, master of the ship, had to stow the casks of provisions, the supplies and the Pilgrim Father’s chests of household gear.

To comply so that they may sail from Southampton the Pilgrims added John Alden a a Guild trained furniture maker who for the voyage was to work has a cooper John of  “Speak for Yourself, John” fame to their number. He was a cooper of twenty-one years. This is how Governor William Bradford in 1650, in his History of the Plymouth Settlement listed him “John Alden, Mr Alden was hired at Southampton as a cooper. Being a likely young man he was desired a settler; but it was left to his own choice to stay or return to England; he stayed and married Pricilla Mullins.”

Thus it happened that the first trained Guild woodcarver  came to an English speaking colony on the American Continent. Moreover, Alden prospered and seems to have devoted the 67 years before his death to office holding, farming, trading with the Indians and making furniture making, Occasionally he is referred to in colonial records as a “joyner/carver”.

Four years after the founding of Plymouth, Alden moved to Duxbury, eight miles for Plymouth. This was America’s first suburban development. Here he cleared a farm of 169 acres and in 1653 built the house that is still standing. By 1665 Alden, after many years of membership in the colonial council, was appointed Deputy Governor. Not bad for a man whose only reason for sailing on the Mayflower was to care for the casks of salt meat, beer and water. When he died he left 33 shillings worth of furniture to wit, one table, one form (i.e. bench), one cupboard, tow chairs, bedsteads, chests and boxes. Probably most of these pieces were of his own make but unfortunately none of them has survived that can be identified as genuine John Alden furniture. On the other hand, It is fairly safe to consider that what he did make was just about like the pieces of American furniture made prior to 1687, the year of his death.

John Alden was not the sole citizen of Plymouth trained to furniture making, about 1629 there arrived from the Old Country Kenelm Winslow, brother of Governor. So it went the beginning of the making of  Early American Colonial Furniture. In the years following the records are full of the arrival of furniture makers of this sort. Sometimes, like Sergeant Stephen Jacques, the man who built the meeting house at Newburyport, these men are described as builders as well as makers of furniture. Unfortunately what pieces they made out of the oak, maple, pine,chairs, stools, benches, settles, chests big and little, as well as writing boxes and Bible boxes.

Early American Colonial Furniture is not consistent in style  each colony  was settled by distinctive types recruited from different social classes

The Dates are  identical but are separated in 3 different styles of  Early American Colonial Furniture

  1. Early Colonial, the era of Settlement up to 1725
  2. Late Colonial, the period of consolidation of importation and development up to 1790
  3. The Federal period 1790-1825

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