A veritable icon of Newport craftsmanship, this previously undocumented high chest represents one of the most important discoveries of American furniture to come to light in decades. Signed and dated by John Townsend (1733-1809) in 1756, when he was 23 years old, it stands as his earliest surviving high chest as well as one of the two earliest known works by his hand. It is not only the most highly inscribed piece of John Townsend furniture but most certainly any piece of 18th century Rhode Island furniture. The chest was originally owned by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver (1725-1789) and Mary Arnold (1725-1762) of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, who commissioned it on the occasion of their marriage in 1756. It descended through six generations of female lines of the Arnold-Wightman-Wickes branches of their family to the current owner, Oliver Arnold's great-great-great-great grand-daughter. This chest has survived in their family for over 255 years in remarkably untouched condition and retains its original surface and all of its original parts, most notably including its finial, hardware, Quaker locks, carved shell, and open talons of the claw feet.
John Townsend was born in Newport in 1733, the son of Christopher Townsend (1701-1787), a co-founder of the Quaker family dynasty of cabinetmakers, and his wife Patience (Easton), a direct descendant of the original proprietors of Easton's Point. John apprenticed in his father's shop on Easton's Point, probably between about 1747 and 1754, and established his own business soon after completing his training. His highly accomplished working career spanned nearly fifty years during which time he was elected one of a dozen surveyors of highways in 1765 and 1767 and was briefly imprisoned in 1777 with 61 other Newport citizens for refusing to sign a pledge of allegiance to the King. He later served as Town Treasurer between 1781 and 1784. At age 34, he married Philadelphia Feke (1743-1802) and they had six children, two daughters and four sons. Three of his sons – John, Solomon, and Christopher – worked in the family cabinet shop and carried on the tradition. In 1809, John Townsend died a man of considerable wealth in real estate and possessions. In its beauty and exceptional workmanship, his remarkable body of work reveals a methodical and meticulous master craftsman who favored fully developed forms, precision of execution, and a preference for labor-intensive methods of construction. His signed and labeled work consists of elaborate and costly forms, all of which are carefully inscribed and usually dated. The pieces in the group are of the highest quality and exhibit consistency in design and construction. All document Townsend's legacy as a supreme American artisan.1
Inscribed Made By John Townsend Newport 1756, this high chest is one of only five extant pieces bearing Townsend's signature in graphite. It represents his earliest version of the classic Newport high chest form made soon after he completed an apprenticeship to his father, Christopher. According to Rhode Island Cabinetmaker's Agreements of 1756 and 1757, a "mehgny high Case of Drawers" would have cost £90 and £100 pounds respectively, representing the most expensive items included on each list.2 Elegantly proportioned, this chest is characterized by an architectural design comprised of a closed bonnet-top, a low scroll pediment with large circular moldings and raised scroll board panels, thumbnail edged drawers, an ogival molding separating the cases, and a boldly scalloped skirt with an oversize convex central shell carved with consummate skill, with flowing lobes centering an inverted and stylized fleur-de-lis motif. Typifying his early work, this case piece stands on tall graceful cabriole legs with delicate claw-and-ball feet comprised of fully articulated compressed balls grasped by defined talons. The talons are "open" or undercut, a refinement in American furniture unique to Newport and here their earliest documented use. Consistent with Townsend's shop practice, this high chest is impeccably proportioned and meticulously constructed, with carefully selected highly figured book matched mahogany drawer fronts and scroll board plaques, bold tiger striped mahogany cornice cavetto moldings, and the exquisitely carved tiger striped mahogany shell and open talon ball-and-claw feet. In a 1760 letter to a West Indian client of Nicholas Brown this type of foot was referred to as "an imitation of Eagles' claws." Also found in his early work is the mixture of secondary woods in drawer construction, seen here in the use of aromatic cedar for the middle short drawer of the lower case. The glue blocks for the legs and several of the drawer runners are constructed of mahogany. The use of mahogany as a secondary wood relates to the practice used for the silver-mounted desk-and-bookcase made by his father Christopher Townsend that was sold in these rooms, January 17, 1999, lot 704.3
The large graphite markings on this chest are also characteristic of his work. He used the capital letters A, B, C, D, E, F and M as an identification system for the drawers and as finishing marks.4 A large calligraphic letter M has been used several times as a finishing mark on this chest: once on the back of the upper case, once on the back of the lower case, once on the bottom of the middle long drawer of the upper case, and once in the bottom of the central short drawer of the lower case. These large finishing marks are characteristic of Townsend's work. The letter M appears on other examples of his furniture. A table in a private collection inscribed John on the outer back rail displays an "M" on the swing hinge rail.5 A large A appears in the center of the underside of the bottom board of a chest with Townsend's label in the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.6 A tall-case clock also with Townsend's label currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays both of these large finishing marks: an A superimposed on M on the backboard behind the movement.7
Related Townsend Pieces
John Townsend made an extant mahogany dining table (see figure 1) in 1756 – the same year as this chest – which he inscribed multiple times in graphite John Townsend 1756 / B on the bottom of the fixed top board, John Towns[en]d" on one fixed side rail, John on the adjacent fly rail, and For Israel on the opposite fixed rail.8 That table was sold in these rooms, November 17, 1980, lot 1357 and is currently a promised gift to The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Philip Holzer. The dining table also reflects Townsend's tendency to favor for his early work tall delicate cabriole legs and small claw and ball feet with open talons. For the secondary woods of the table, he used maple for the hinged rails and red oak, rather than maple, for the inner rails and cross-braces – the only instance in which he did so.
Only one other bonnet-top high chest of this type with Townsend's signature and date is known – a high chest of drawers at Yale University with a history in the Brixey family (see figure 2).9 Inscribed No. 28 Made By John Townsend Newport 1759, the Yale chest is slightly larger than the present chest and displays the same overall design with the similar details of a (less stylized) fleur-de-lis motif articulated within the shell, the same hardware, tall cabriole legs, and front dainty claw-and-ball feet with open talons. Its signature is undoubtedly by the same hand, with the "M" and "B" rendered in a virtually identical manner. The drawers of the Yale chest also display the lettering system found on this chest and reflect Townsend's tendency in his early years to use a mix of secondary woods in manufacturing the drawers (in this example chestnut, eastern white pine and cottonwood). This chest reflects certain details more common to Townsend's later work such as a skirt centering a concave, rather than convex, shell carved within an undulating incised border, fluted quarter columns flanking the upper drawers, and foliate-carved knees. A virtually identical mahogany high chest to Brixey one attributed to John Townsend and also with slightly larger proportions and a shell centering a fleur-de-lis motif is in the Karolik Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see figure 3).10 This distinctive motif is also found within the shell of a bonnet-top mahogany high chest at the Whitehorne House Museum, Newport Restoration Foundation possibly made by Benjamin Baker (ca. 1735-1822) of Newport.11
A mahogany block-and-shell document cabinet at Chipstone signed by John Townsend with shells centering a fleur-de-lis motif appears to also be part of this early group (see figure 4).12
A labeled block- and shell-carved chest in the collection of the U.S. Department of State has a similar lettering system in graphite as this high chest and also has the earlier shells centering a fleur-de-lis motif (see figure 5).13
A very closely related mahogany high chest attributed to John Townsend in a private collection was included in The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture and illustrated in the accompanying catalogue as originally the property of Governor Wanton of Newport and purchased at auction after his death by Perry Weaver, John Goddard's son-in-law.14 Michael Moses illustrates this high chest in Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards and authenticates it to John Townsend (see figure 6).15 He makes this association on the basis on its "typical Townsend feet and construction techniques, as well as distinctive John Townsend calligraphy on the small top drawers and a finishing mark on the bottom board of the upper case."16
Although significantly larger, the private collection chest follows a remarkably similar overall design to the present chest, in its scroll pediment with a low pitch and circular openings surrounded by raised moldings and a virtually identical lower case on tall cabriole legs with small claw feet. It also displays the same drawer lettering system and "M" finishing marks on the backboard and elsewhere. The shell, which is oversized and convex like this one, is similarly made up of two pieces. The bottom layer is part of the board that forms the skirt; a board placed on top of it forms the raised part of the shell lobes. The center of the shell is plain and not defined by the distinctive stylized fleur-de-lis motif. It also differs in its three finials, slightly different drawer arrangement of the upper case, and fluted quarter columns.
Another early Newport high chest of this type also authenticated to John Townsend features a very similar upper case, tall cabriole legs with plain knees, and claw feet with open talons but differs in the concave shell of the skirt. It was given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1975 by Sarah A. G. Smith, who inherited it through the paternal line of her family possibly originally from Thomas Robinson (1731-1817) and his wife Sarah Richardson Robinson (1733-1817) of Newport.17 It relates very closely to the present high chest, displaying the same style glue-blocks, Quaker locks, dovetails, molding profiles, wooden pin attachment of the cornice moldings and letter inscriptions of the drawers.
Polly and Wigs
Townsend also inscribed the name Polly alongside a calligraphic M on a drawer bottom of the upper case. A common eighteenth century nickname for the given name Mary, this likely refers to Mary Arnold, the original owner of this chest. He also inscribed £ 14 Wigg on one drawer bottom, a reference to the cost of a wig, for this amount corresponds to the price of a wig in Newport in the 1750s, when it was common practice to spell wig with two g's. The ledger of Job Townsend, Jr. (1726-1778), John Townsend's uncle, includes a notation in his account with Benjamin Dunham for the date December 22, 1752 "By a Cut Wigg £12 10" shillings and "By Making a foretop to Wigg £1 10" shillings. An entry in Job Townsend's ledger for the account of Seth Harvey dated November 24th, 1752, reads "To a Wigg Box 16" shillings.18
Four Men on a Wednesday
As likely one of his first important commissions and early masterpieces, John Townsend's pride in this high chest is well deserved and clearly evident from the inscriptions he placed upon it. In addition to his name and date, which he prominently placed on the inside of the top drawer of the lower case, he signed his name a second time on the top of a drawer divider, and further inscribed the high chest with his maker's mark, a large calligraphic M no fewer than five times in various areas throughout the chest. This chest is also inscribed elsewhere with inscriptions of a more personal nature. On the underside of the top left facing drawer of the upper case, he wrote in graphite W. Richardson / J. Robinson / E. Wanton / J. Townsend / To Ride Out Next Wednesday. William Richardson, Joseph Robinson, Edward Wanton and John Townsend were very close friends and were either related through marriage or were business associates. This inscription most likely refers to the day the high chest was to be delivered.
W. Richardson (1736-1769) was the son of Thomas Richardson (1680-1761), a Newport merchant, colony treasurer, and Presiding Clerk of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends from 1729 to 1760, and his wife Mary (Wanton) (1700-1777), sister of Governor Gideon Wanton (1693-1767). William was born on December 10, 1736 and died on December 22, 1769 at 33 years, 23 days.19 He worked as a merchant for Thomas Robinson & Co. of Newport, one of the leading merchant firms and manufacturers of sperm oil and candles, along with his brother-in-law Quaker Thomas Robinson (1731-1817), son of Governor William Robinson (1693-1751) and husband of Sarah (Richardson) (1733-1817). Joseph Robinson was also a partner in the firm. On November 5, 1761, William Richardson, Thomas Robinson and Joseph Robinson, on behalf of Thos Robinson & Co., entered into a Spermaceti candle agreement with Obadiah Brown & Co., Richard Cranch & Co., Naph Hart & Co., Isaac Stelle & Co., Aaron Lopez & Co., Collins & Rivera, and Edward Langdon & Son.20
In 1761, William Bordon of North Carolina's account with William Richardson, merchant, itemized a cash advance on cargo and outstanding debts while Dr. Henry Stanton's account of 1761 itemized Sundrys, Sugar, Goods, and an advance on Sundrys.21 Captain Samuel Tillinghast's diary notes that William Richardson's cow was killed in Newport in August of 1763.22 A 1764 Newport court case records payment to William Richardson, et al, for sums ranging from £300-500 at the bottom of an insurance policy dated 12 May 1761 for the Sloop Sarah.23 In November of 1764, a case was put before the Court of Common Pleas regarding property seized in Newport bordering the land of William Richardson.24
On September 4, 1759, he advertised "William Richardson At his store next the General Treasurers" in the Newport Mercury. In the July 25, 1763 edition, he advertised "To Be Sold William Richardson A lot of Land at the Point, opposite to Col. Joseph Wanton's, one hundred feet square. For further particulars inquire of William Richardson or Thomas Robinson." On December 10, 1764, he advertised in the Mercury, "Richardson's William Store, in Thames Street. A few Barrels of best Philadelphia Beer at prime cost."
In 1771, a deed transfer is recorded in Newport Land Records for dwellings and property in Middleton from William Richardson, with James Keith, John Collins, and John Malbone acting as assignees, to Thomas Robinson. William inherited the land from his father, Thomas Richardson.25 At an unspecified date, William Richardson of Newport, with James Keith, John Collins and John Malbone acting as assigners, transferred a deed to Franklin Walter of New York, merchant.26
J. Robinson was undoubtedly a relative of Quaker Thomas Robinson, whose grandfather, Rowland Robinson (1664-1716), was a settler of Narragansett and owner of extensive land in the Pettaquamscutt and Point Judith areas. This inscription could refer to Joseph Robinson, who was in partnership with William Richardson and Thomas Robinson in Thomas Robinson & Co. His name appears on the Spermaceti candle agreement of November 5, 1761 mentioned above.27 James Robinson (b. December 31, 1738) was also a son of Governor William Robinson and brother of Quaker Thomas Robinson.28 He married Anna Rodman (b. 1740) on September 4, 1762.
John Robinson (1743-1805) was the youngest son of Governor William Robinson and his wife, Abigail Gardiner (c. 1697-1772/3). He constructed the old (North) Pier in Narragansett and was also a landowner.29 He married Sarah Peckham on January 13, 1761. Captain Samuel Tillinghast records going to Newport on May 23, 1764 to "move Mr. Robinson" and notes having coffee with John Robinson on August 21, 1765.30 John Robinson, Custom-House Collector was referenced in the Newport Mercury for September 17, 1764. In November of 1764, John Robinson of Newport, Esquire, was accused of obstructing David Anthony of Portsmouth, Esquire, in execution of his office, concerning laws respecting the small pox. The defendant was ill and unable to attend; the case was not prosecuted.31 John Robinson became a member of St. Johns Lodge in Newport on January 3, 1765.32
E. Wanton likely refers to Captain Edward Wanton (1734-1773), son of Governor Gideon Wanton (1693-1767) and Mary Cadman (d. 1780) as well as a cousin of William Richardson. Edward's brother Gideon Wanton Jr. (b. 1724) married Mary Townsend (1735-1783), John Townsend's sister.33 Born on April 12, 1734, Edward worked as a merchant in Newport and is listed as such in several eighteenth- century court cases.34 In 1771, Edward Wanton, merchant of Newport, is listed as the administrator of the estate of John Channing. That same year, Edward Wanton, merchant of Newport, is mentioned in a court case concerning his land in Tiverton. In 1782, two court cases refer to Edward Wanton of Newport, deceased. Between 1754 and 1759, Edward Wanton received six letter regarding general matters from Thomas Richardson.35
The J. Townsend inscription likely refers to John Townsend (1733-1809), whose family achieved considerable prominence in Newport. His father, Christopher Townsend (1701-1787), was a successful cabinetmaker and left a large estate at his death. His mother Patience (Easton) Townsend (1703-1789) was a descendant of the original proprietors of Easton's Point and the Townsend family owned extensive real estate there.
The inscription Woman Is By Nature False & Inconstan(t) W...full W. Richardson found on this high chest appears to be a playful commentary on marriage for an object commissioned to commemorate the marriage of Oliver (1725-1789) and Mary Arnold (1725-1762) in 1756. The somewhat hidden location on the interior of the upper proper right drawer bottom begs the question of whether or not they wanted this to be discovered by the owners. The name "W. Richardson" written below presumably refers to William Richardson, who appears to have been in the room at the time and was responsible for the quotation. As discussed above, John Townsend inscribed "W. Richardson" in identical hand a second time, on the underside of this same drawer.
This inscription appears to have been inspired by a quote in the famous play, The Orphan; or, the Unhappy Marriage, written by Thomas Otway (1652-1685) in England in 1680. Based on the novel English Adventurers, this play was one of the most influential domestic tragedies of the seventeenth century and extremely popular on the English and American stage well into the nineteenth century.36 In 1750, The Orphan was performed at a coffee house on State Street in Boston by local amateurs assisted by two professional actors recently arrived from England. The affair was such a novelty and the curiosity of the Boston public to see the play so great, that the doors of the coffee house were stormed and a riot occurred. This disturbance caused such a scandal that the General Court immediately enacted a law not only forbidding acting within the Commonwealth, but also fining the spectators of the play.37
The Orphan tells a story of unrequited love, in which twin brothers Castalio and Polydore use trickery to woo in marriage, Monimia, a beautiful young ward of their father's. In response to Monimia, her brother Chamont states:
Oh then, Monimia, art thou dearer to me Than all the comforts ever yet bless'd man. But let not marriage bait thee to they ruin. Trust not a man; we are by nature false, Dissembling, subtle, cruel and unconstant: When a man talks of love, with caution trust him; But if he swears, he'll certainly deceive thee, I charge thee, let no more Castalio sooth thee; Avoid it, as thou wouldst preserve the peace Of a poor brother, to whose soul thou'rt precious.
This quote appears excerpted from the play in English and American literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the English essayist, poet, and playwright, included this quote in an essay he wrote on marriage for The Spectator magazine, a daily publication he founded with the intent of "enlivening morality with wit, and tempering wit with morality." The Spectator was issued to a wide readership in 1711-12, and 1714 and later reissued in eight volumes in 1747.
Appearing in the October 17, 1711 edition, Addison's essay implores females "made of flesh and blood, and finding themselves subject to human frailties --- to avoid as much as possible what religion calls temptations, and the world opportunities --- and in the language of Chamont in the "Orphan:" Trust not a man: we are by nature false, Dissembling, subtile, cruel, and inconstant ...".38 Addison goes on to tell a story of a Castilian and his wife who were taken captive by an Algerine pirate and became acquainted with a French renegado during their captivity. This renegado helped the Castilian escape back to Naples to obtain money for ransom and during the "husband's absence, insinuated himself into the good graces of his young wife." When the Castilian returned with the money, the French renegado and the young wife stole the money and escaped, leaving the Castilian in captivity. Addison states in his essay that men are not trustworthy, while clearly implying that women are not trustworthy either.
Addison's eight-volume set of The Spectator was available for circulation at The Redwood Library, which was founded in Newport in 1747 and counted the Townsends, Wantons, Robinsons, and Richardsons among its members.39 Solomon Townsend was a member as were Joseph, Gideon, Philip and Captain George Wanton; all would have had direct access to Addison's publications. The set of volumes is still on the shelves of the Redwood Library today. (See illustration).
Possibly unique and not comparable to anything else found in his work, these inscriptions distinguish this high chest as one-of-a-kind within Townsend's oeuvre.
Passage through Time
This chest was originally owned by Oliver (1725-1789) and Mary Arnold (1725-1762) of East Greenwich, Kent, Rhode Island, who commissioned it from John Townsend on the occasion of their marriage in 1756. It descended through six generations of female lines of the Arnold / Wightman / Wickes branches of their family to the current owner, Oliver Arnold's great-great-great-great granddaughter.
Oliver Arnold was born in 1725 to William Arnold (1681-1759) and Deliverance (Whipple) (1679-1765) of Warwick, who married in circa 1705. His great-great grandfather, William Arnold (1587-1676), was an early settler of the Providence area and owner of 10,000 acres of land in Pawtuxet as well as a member of the General Assembly in 1661 and member of the First Baptist Church.40 Stephen Arnold (1622- 1699), his son and Oliver Arnold's great grandfather, was Deputy Governor of Rhode Island and owner of extensive land.41 He left his son, Israel (1649-1716), all of his land on the south side of the Pawtuxet River including large parcels in Warwick and surrounding areas. On April 16, 1677, Israel married Mary Smith, a widow and daughter of Governor James and Barbara Barker of Newport.42 Israel was a Freeman of Warwick in 1681 and lived there on family land for his entire life. William Arnold (1681-1759) was his son and Oliver Arnold was his grandson.43
A member of the Six Principle Baptist Church of East Greenwich, Oliver is listed as a Freeman in Warwick in 1755 and married Mary the following year.44 Their daughter, Lucy, was born on July 24, 1757.45 After his wife's death, he remarried to Almy Greene (1727-1789) in Warwick on March 11, 1762.46 He served as Lieutenant with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the Pawtuxet Rangers or Second Independent Company for the County of Kent, a militia responsible for protecting the village and seaport of Pawtuxet as well as the building and manning of a fort on Pawtuxet Neck, thereby protecting 400 miles of the Rhode Island coastline from incursions by the Royal Navy. A petition dated October 4, 1761 was put before the General Assembly of South Kings Town noting "A Return of the Pawtuxet Company of Ranger commanded by Oliver Arnold Lieutenant Col. Of Sd. Company."47
The Pawtuxet Rangers were chartered under the command of Captain Benjamin Arnold by the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations on October 29, 1774.48 During the Revolutionary War when the British had possession of Newport (circa 1777-1779), the Pawtuxet Rangers were on duty most of the time, while also participating in the military actions of the Battles of Rhode Island and Saratoga and the Siege of Boston. On October 7, 1777, Oliver Arnold received orders from Col. Richard Frye, directing him "to take the men under your command at dusk and go forward ... and land and conceal your men and if any Boat attempts to land if you think you are able to encounter them you are to let them land before you start them you are to continue there until the rows pass and then return."49 Joseph Joslyn, Surgeon, certified in a document dated August 15, 1778 that "Col. Oliver Arnold in Col. Fryes Regiment is sick with feavour and is not fit for duty."50
Oliver Arnold appears listed in the 1774 Rhode Island Census living in a household in Warwick with 2 females over 16, 1 male over 16, 5 females under 16 and 4 blacks.51 He is also listed in the 1777 Military Census for Rhode Island and the 1782 Tax List for the township of East Greenwich. He died in East Greenwich on December 6, 1789. The sermon given by Elder John Gorton of the Six Principle Baptist Church at his burial the following day was Ecclesestes 9:21.52 His estate was valued at £155 4s. 7d. and included two slaves.53 After his wife Almy's death in 1789, this chest descended to their daughter, Sarah "Sally" Arnold (1770-1826), who married Orthneil Gorton Wightman (1763-1806) of Warwick on November 4, 1790. At Sally's death on December 1, 1826, this chest was among the part of her estate bequeathed to her daughter Almy Maria Wightman (1793-1879), who married Stukley Wickes (1788-1873), a tailor and town clerk of East Greenwich, on February 24, 1817.54
Their daughter, Sarah Arnold Wickes (June 1, 1824- January 1911) of Warwick, was the next to own the chest. As a great granddaughter of Lieutenant Oliver Arnold, she was accepted as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.55 She never married and died without issue, leaving her possessions to her nieces, Almy "Allie" Wickes (1858-1914) and Mary "Minnie" LeMoine Wickes (1860-1916), daughters of her brother Oliver Arnold Wickes (1820-1905) and his wife, Harriet Elizabeth Mawney (1820-1875).56 Allie and Minnie, who never married, lived at the "Stone House," the family homestead built by their father in 1855 on Major Potter Road in East Greenwich (now Warwick), and the high chest stood in the southeast bedroom upstairs. Known today as the Oliver A. Wickes House, the house is included on the National Register of Historic Places. At the death of Oliver Wickes in 1905, the ownership of the Stone House passed to his son, Edward Stukley Wickes (May 20, 1866-July 22, 1944), a farmer, although Allie and Minnie, continued to live there until their deaths in 1914 and 1916, respectively.57 One appears pictured in front of the Stone House in a late nineteenth century photograph (see illustration).
When Edward S. Wickes died in 1944, he specified in his will that the Stone House be left to his nephew, Edward Irving Wickes (1910-1972), with "requests that it stay in the Wickes family".58 He went on to note "If the highboy now in my house should be there at my decease the same is the property of my niece Harriet and was given to her several years ago." He is referring to his niece, Harriet Almy Wickes (1908-1996), daughter of William Sands Wickes (1863-1944) and sister of Edward I. Wickes, who had inherited the chest from her Aunt Minnie. She never married and resided at the Stone House with her brother and his family. This chest continued to stand in the southeast bedroom of the house until 1976, when she gave it to her niece, the current owner.
This sale represents a rare opportunity to purchase one of the most extraordinary and historically significant pieces of Newport furniture signed and dated by John Townsend to ever come on the marketplace. This chest is all the more important due to its masterful execution and extremely fine state of preservation. Additionally, it carries a direct history of descent from its original owners Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold and his wife Mary through successive generations of their family until the present time. Sotheby's is honored to have the privilege to offer it for sale.
Sotheby's would like to thank Amy Coes, an independent researcher, Bertram Lippincott III, Reference Librarian & Genealogist, Newport Historical Society, Robert E. Kelly, Collections Librarian, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Whitney Pape, Ezra C. Stiles Special Collections Librarian, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Patricia Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, Yale University Art Gallery, Dennis Carr, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Alexandra Kirtley, Assistant Curator, American Decorative Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, for their assistance with the research for this lot.
1 Morrison Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), pp. 48-70.
2 Agreement between Gershom Carpenter, Grindall Rawson, Benjamin Hunt, John Power, Phillip Potter & Joseph Sweeting, February 19, 1756 and Revised Agreement of March 24, 1757, Carpenter Papers, Rhode Island Historical Society, MSS9001.C, Misc. Manuscripts, Box 3.
3 Sotheby's New York, Important Americana, January 17, 1999, sale 7253, lot 704 sold for $8,252,500.
4 John Townsend used a capital letters written in graphite in script as an identification system for the drawers of this chest. On the upper case drawers, the letters "A" "B" "C" "D" "E" and "F" are centered on the back of each drawer, with the "A" appearing on the top left short drawer, the "B" on the top center drawer, the "C" on the top right short drawer, and "D" "E" and "F" on the long drawers. Townsend inscribed several "E's" and "F's" on their respective drawers while also adding several "E's" to the drawer designated with a "D." For the lower case, he inscribed an "A" and "B' on the backs and sides of the flanking short drawers, an "A" on the back of the long drawer and a "B" on the back of the center short drawer. Letters also appear inscribed on several drawer dividers.
5 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 3, p. 84.
6 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 20, pp. 118-9.
7 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 21, pp. 1203.
8 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 1, pp. 76-9.
9 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 8, pp. 90-2.
10 See Edwin Hipkiss, The M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth Century American Arts, (Boston, MA: 1941), no. 32, pp. 56-7.
11 See Dennis Carr, "The Account Book of Benjamin Baker," American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, WI: The Chipstone Foundation, 2004), figure 1, p. 46.
12 Heckscher, John Townsend, no. 16, pp. 106-7.
13 Heckscher, John Townsend, nos. 16-7, pp. 106-11.
14 The Rhode Island Historical Society, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture, Providence, RI: 1965, no. 61, p. 94.
15 See Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards, (Tenafly, NJ: MMI Americana Press, 1984).
16 Moses, Master Craftsmen, p. 145.
17 Accession #1975-61-1.
18 See Martha H. Willoughby, "The Accounts of Job Townsend, Jr., " American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, WI: The Chipstone Foundation, 1999), p. 126.
19 Rhode Island Friends Record – Births and Deaths.
20 Commerce of Rhode Island, 1726-1800, Vol. I: 1726-1774, published in Boston, collection of Newport Historical Society.
21 The Robinson Papers, dr 8, b2, f3, collection of Newport Historical Society.
22 Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, The Diary of Captain Samuel Tillinghast of Warwick, RI, 1757-1766, (Greenville, RI: Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 2000), p. 302.
23 Jane Fletcher Fiske, Gleanings from Newport Court Files, 1659-1783, (Boxford, 1998), p. 1013.
24 Fiske, Gleanings, p. 983.
25 Newport Land Records, LE XIII 121, collection of Newport Historical Society. In Thomas Richardson's will proved on July 6, 1761, his son William inherited his 1st dwelling house.
26 Ibid, LE, XIII 122.
27 Commerce of Rhode Island, 1726-1800.
28 Paul J.Bunnell, The House of Robinson: The Robinsons of Rhode Island, Heritage Books, p. 5.
29 Recollections of Olden Times: Genealogies of the Robinson, Hazard & Sweet families of RI, reprinted by Willis P. Hazard, (Newport, RI: John Sanborn, 1879).
30 Bamberg, p. 327 and 386.
31 Fiske, p. 982 and 597.
32 Members of St. Johns Lodge, Newport, 88: John Robinson, January 3, 1765.
33 John Russell Bartlett, History of Wanton Family of Newport, RI, (Providence, RI: Sidneys Rider, 1878).
34 Fiske, p. 770, 1116, 1129, 1166, 1167.
35 Thomas Richardson Letter Book, 1751-1761, Collection of Newport Historical Society.
36 Mrs. Hannah Webster Foster includes this quote in her novel, The Coquette: or, the Life and Letters of Eliza Wharton – A Novel: founded on fact, which was published in Philadelphia by T. B. Peterson & Brothers in 1866. She includes this quote on page 174 of her narrative.
37 Arthur Hornblow, A History of the Theatre in America, Volume I, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1919), pp. 21-40.
38 The information on this essay is taken from a later reprint of The Spectator, 4 volumes, Volume II, (London: 1854), also in the collection of The Redwood Library.
39 Aside from The Spectator mentioned above and the 1747 edition of 8 volumes, the Redwood Library also has Addison's Works of 1722-23 and 1761 and The Guardian of 1745.
40 Elisha Stephen Arnold, The Arnold Memorial: William Arnold of Providence and Pawtuxet, 1587-1675, Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Publishing Co., 1935.
41 Arnold, pp. 57-9.
42 Arnold, pp. 78-9.
43 Arnold, p. 92. William Arnold's will dated January 16, 1759 and proved July 3, 1759 leaves his estate to his wife Deliverance, daughter Rebecca Stafford and to sons William, John, Caleb, Oliver and Josiah.
44 See Bruce C. Macgunnigle, Rhode Island Freemen, 1747-1755: A Census of Registered Voters, p. 12.
45 Warwick Births, p. 141.
46 The Greene Family – 5th Generation, p. 177.
47 Rhode Island Historical Society, MSS9001.A, Box 14
48 Oliver Arnold's name appears listed on the petition presented to the General Assembly to establish the Pawtuxet Rangers, dated October 29, 1774.
49 Rhode Island Historical Society, MSS9001.A, Box 14.
51 Census was taken on June 1, 1774. See John R. Bartlett, Census of the Inhabitants of the Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations for 1774, Providence, Knowles, Anthony & Co., 1858, Warwick, p. 59.
52 Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, Elder John Gorton & the Six Principle Baptist Church of East Greenwich, RI, Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 2001, p. 153.
53 East Greenwich Probate records, 3:156-9.
54 Warwick Will Book 8, p. 261 and 313, City of Warwick. Her inventory dated January 8, 1827 records property valued at $214.55. Half of this was bequeathed to her daughters, Almy Wickes and (Ann) Catherine Wightman (1806-1885). The other half was sold at auction and the proceeds divided among 6 of her heirs.
55 See Louise Pearsons Dolliver, Lineage Book of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume XVIII, 1897, (Washington, D.C.: 1904), no. 17279, p. 109.
56 Sarah Arnold Wickes Will, Dated September 25, 1910, recorded February 23, 1911, Warwick Will Book 23, p. 285, City of Warwick.
57 Almy Wickes wrote her will on October 22, 1908 and it was recorded on September 11, 1914. In it she left her entire estate to her sister Mary. Warwick Will Book 24, p. 272, City of Warwick. Mary Wickes died without a will but left an inventory of an estate valued at $21,788.53. Her estate included notes secured on mortgage on real estate and deposits in trust companies and banks. Warwick Will Book 24, p. 565, City of Warwick.
58 Edward S. Wickes Will, Warwick Probate Records Book 39, p. 58. City of Warwick.
Height 88 1/2 in. by Width 40 1/4 in. by Depth 21 1/8 in.
According to family history, this high chest descended along the following female lines of the family to the present owner:
Originally owned by Oliver (1725- December 6, 1789) and Mary (1725-1762) Arnold of East Greenwich, Kent, Rhode Island, who married in 1756. Their daughter, Lucy, was born on July 24, 1757 and married Joseph Chase (b. 1757) on December 16, 1781.a After Mary's death in 1762, Oliver married Almy Greene (September 8, 1727-1789) on March 11, 1762 in Warwick;
To his daughter with Almy, Sarah "Sally" Arnold (1768- December 1, 1826), who married Orthneil Gorton Wightman (1764-1806), son of Philip Wightman (1737-1788) and Mary Gorton (b. 1741), of Warwick on November 4, 1790b;
To their daughter Almy Maria Wightman (1793-1879), who married Stukley Wickes (1788-1873) on February 24, 1817, a tailor and town clerk of East Greenwich;
To their daughter, Sarah Arnold Wickes (June 1, 1824- January 1911) of Warwick, who never married and at her death left her estate to her nieces listed below;
To her niece, Almy "Allie" Wightman Wickes (May 11, 1858-1914), daughter of Oliver Arnold Wickesc (November 17, 1820- January 14, 1905), and Harriet Elizabeth Mawney (April 29, 1820- October 13, 1875), who never married and lived at the Stone House, her parents homestead (built 1855) on Major Potter Road in East Greenwich (now Warwick), RI.
To her sister Mary "Minnie" LeMoine Wickes (July 15, 1860-1916), who never married and also lived at the Stone House in East Greenwich;
To her niece, Harriet Almy Wickes (1908-1996), daughter of William Sands Wickes (July 22, 1863- July 28, 1944) and Anne Rachel Spencer (d. January 21, 1956), who never married and lived at the Stone House in East Greenwich;
To her niece, the current owner, in 1976
a They had four children: Matilda (b. 1782), David (b. 1785), Mary (b. 1788), and Arnold (b. 1793), all in Warwick.
b Orthneil and Sally Wightman are buried in the West Warwick Historic Cemetery.
c Oliver Arnold Wickes (1820-1905) is buried in the Wickes Family Cemetery in East Greenwich, Kent County, Rhode Island.