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The oldest, American-made dated chair: Michael Metcalf's 1652 white oak great chair

March 22, 2018

 

Pictured: a detail of Michael Metcalf's 1652 great chair, Dedham Historical Society, Dedham, Massachusetts.

 

Continuing in the theme of historic chairs, I am delighted to write this time about an "ancestral chair." Through one of the most recent publications of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, "The Metcalf and Small Families ...," a beautifully written and profusely illustrated volume by Maureen A. Taylor and Peter M. Small with Carol P. McCoy, I became aware of  the great chair belonging to Michael Metcalf (b. abt. 1590-d. 1664), the earliest American-made chair with a date, a treasure of the collections of the Dedham Historical Society, Dedham, Massachusetts. The chair, made in 1652, also features Metcalf's initials, "MM." I am especially interested in this artifact, because I, too, am a descendant of its original owner. I hope to see it in person soon.

 

Michael Metcalf, a weaver of dorix, a damask fabric, came to America in 1637 from Norwich, England, to escape arrest as a Puritan. His story as an an early settler of Dedham, and as its schoolmaster, is well recounted by Taylor and Small, as is an account of his great chair:

 

"His beautiful chair (more like a throne) built in 1652 was probably by furniture maker John Houghton, a craftsman in Dedham from 1645 to 1665. Made of white oak in the English Suffolk style featuring scrolling vines and a diamond pattern, it is known as a 'joined great chair' or a 'wainscot chair.' Engraved with the initials 'MM' and the year 1652, it is the oldest A,metrican-made chair inscribed with a date ... It was passed down in the family and later displayed at the Old South Meeting House in Boston in 1885. Almost twenty years later, Metcalf descendant Louisa Harris left the chair to the Dedham Historical Society." 

 

To order a copy of "The Metcalf and Small Families," please visit: https://shop.americanancestors.org/products/metcalf-and-small-families?pass-through=true

 

 

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