The records show a James Allanach living in Frederiksburg Virginia in the 1740s and 1750s who worked as a cabinetmaker/ shopkeeper and provided a chair ‘The Allanach chair’ to the famous masonic lodge nr4, which is well-known in America as George Washington’s lodge.
A James Allanach is recorded in Frederiksburg Virginia in the 1740s/1750s and is likely to be the same Allanach who fought in the 1745 rebellion, and likely fled Scotland afterwards for a period of time. It certainly ties in with the merchant status of the ‘John’ Allanach who fought at Culloden ( Find out more about John Allanach here).
The ‘James’ Allanach recorded in Virginia even made the Grand Master’s chair for Lodge Number 4 in the town, where George Washington was an inaugural member and who would have sat on the ‘Allanach’ chair.
Given there was a John James Allanach in the parish records in Scotland of similar age, it is a strong possibility that John/ James Allanach are the same person and raises the further possibility that John/ James Allanach met both Bonnie Prince Charlie and George Washington in the same lifetime!
An article by Tara Gleason Chicirda in American Furniture gives further detail :
Tara Gleason Chicirda
The Furniture of Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1740–1820
As this issue of American Furniture attests, much progress has been made in identifying the work of joiners, cabinetmakers, and allied tradesmen active in eastern Virginia. Recent research indicates that the towns and ports of the Northern Neck (fig. 1) were more important style centers than scholars formerly recognized. Indeed, many significant pieces of furniture once attributed to Williamsburg can now be assigned to Fredericksburg makers based on
documentary sources, family histories, style, and construction. This article will explore the work of newly identified craftsmen and use objects with Fredericksburg histories to illuminate the cultural, social, and economic contexts of furniture production in that town.
Located at the highest navigable point along the banks of the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg, Virginia, was well situated to serve as a regional market center during the eighteenth century. The earliest settlers to the region came to mine the rich iron ore discovered in Spotsylvania County. Iron, tobacco, and later wheat were the foundation of the town’s prosperity. Merchants, artisans, speculators, and entrepreneurs arrived in Fredericksburg with the establishment of the official tobacco warehouses in 1730.
Oceangoing ships sailed up the river to be loaded with tobacco and other products from Spotsylvania and the surrounding counties for shipment to Europe. Merchants saw great potential for the region and set out to develop businesses and trade networks. In 1732
William Byrd explained, “the inhabitants [of Fredericksburg] are very few. Besides Colonel
Willis, who is the top man of the place, there are only one merchant, a tailor, a smith, and an ordinary keeper.” Twenty-seven years later, Reverend Andrew Burnaby described Fredericksburg as “by far the most flourishing [town] in these parts.” Between 1732 and 1759
Fredericksburg had grown from a frontier town to a prosperous city with numerous artisans and merchants.
With the official tobacco warehouses and inspection station for Spotsylvania County located in Fredericksburg, the town became a central locale for all the tobacco planters in the region.
During the mid-eighteenth century, the inspectors’ salaries, which were based on the volume
of tobacco they processed, were among the highest in Virginia, highlighting both the region’s
importance within the colonial economy and the resulting affluence of the tobacco plantations
and merchants. The wealth of the northern Virginia landowners and their credit arrangements
with British mercantile firms allowed them to purchase furniture directly from Britain as well
as from local artisans.
One of the earliest recorded cabinetmakers in Fredericksburg was James Allan (1716–1789),
who emigrated from Hamilton, Scotland, in 1739. James’s father was a merchant and landowner who also served as Hamilton’s bailie and councillor. His brother John (1712–
1750), who had arrived in Fredericksburg about five years earlier, probably began his career in the colonies working as a factor, or agent, for a Glasgow mercantile firm. Young Scotsmen often came to America for practical training in the mercantile business, especially those
involved with the tobacco trade. Many returned home after a few years, but others remained,
working either for Scottish firms or as independent merchants. A number of Fredericksburg
and Falmouth merchants began their careers as resident factors, purchasing tobacco for
shipment to Glasgow, where it was exchanged for British and West Indian goods. Much of
the tobacco sent to Scotland was intended for the French market.
John Allan arrived in Fredericksburg just as the town was beginning to grow and the Glasgow mercantile firms were becoming involved in the Virginia tobacco trade. He quickly immersed himself in the tobacco business and began participating in local government. In
1743 he and a Stafford County merchant, Nathaniel Campbell, purchased two tobacco
warehouses in Fredericksburg. John also owned a tavern, served in local government, and speculated in real estate. In 1745 he purchased ten acres on the edge of Fredericksburg and laid out town lots to form a subdivision known as Allan Town. In his 1750 will, John left his
brother James lot 62 in Fredericksburg, his household furniture, watch, wearing apparel, land in Scotland inherited from their father, and “all the Merchant Goods lying in . . . [his] Lower warehouse.” Despite this legacy, there is no evidence that James ever worked as a merchant
or that he was in partnership with his brother.
Often referred to as a “joiner” or “cabinetmaker,” James probably trained in Hamilton or Glasgow and may have worked briefly as a journeyman in Britain before following his brother to Virginia at the age of twenty-three. The social and political connections that John
had forged in the interim gave James an advantage over other recent émigrés. A year after
James’s arrival, the Spotsylvania County Court paid him three hundred pounds of tobacco for
making “a Square Black Walnut Table for the Justices Room.” No other records of furniture
produced by Allan before 1755 are known, but the number of indentured servants associated
with him suggests that he had a flourishing shop.
In 1747 Allan’s “servant man” Robert Green testified against a convict servant man
belonging to his master’s brother. The following year, Scottish parson Robert Rose noted that
he had paid twenty-eight pounds for “a joiner from Mr. James Allan who has six years to
serve.” This unnamed joiner may have worked in the cabinetmaker’s shop or simply been
brought over by Allan in a speculative venture. A more specific reference can be found in the
October 20, 1752, issue of the Virginia Gazette, where Allan reported the flight of a “Cabinet
maker and Joiner” named Thomas Gray, who had been “imported by Indenture from
London.” Court records pertaining to Gray and Allan indicate that the former countersued the
latter for his “Sundry Joyners tools &c.” Allan also had a “Cabinett maker slave by name of
Glasgow.” In his will, Allan left Glasgow and the slave’s “working tools” to his son, James.
Only a handful of objects can now be associated with Allan’s shop, the most important of
which are a pair of mahogany stands that belonged to George Washington (figs. 2-4).
Washington’s patronage can be traced to 1756, when he commissioned Allan to make a
bedstead and a military chest, possibly for use during the French and Indian War. In December 1759 Washington paid Allan £3.10 for “Mahogany stands.” Although the pair of stands represented by the example shown in figure 2 were once considered British and
subsequently attributed to Williamsburg, evidence suggests that they are the ones Washington
purchased from Allan. Washington’s records are meticulous in detail and contain no other
reference to stands, torchères, or other forms that could match the surviving examples.
Contemporary Virginia inventories indicate that basic stands cost about eight shillings each,
or less than one pound per pair. In comparison, as noted, Washington paid £3.10 for his pair.
Although that figure suggests that Washington’s stands were more elaborate than most, it
seems insufficient to account for the stylish form, complex joinery, and exceptional carving
of his examples. It is possible that Allan also received goods or services not recorded in
According to Washington’s 1799 inventory, the stands stood near a pair of fire screens in the
“New Room.” The latter objects were probably the “2 Neat Mah[og]a[n]y Pillar & claw fire
Screens India Paper on both Sides” that George received from London cabinetmaker Philip
Bell in the fall of 1759 (fig. 5). Washington appears to have made a concerted effort to
acquire furniture in the latest London style near the time of his marriage to Martha Custis.
It is difficult to reconcile the advanced rococo style of the Washington stands with Allan’s
training during the 1730s. Although cabinetmakers typically modified their work to
accommodate new tastes and occasionally copied imported furniture, the Washington stands
are clearly the product of a maker who trained at the height of the rococo style, probably in a
large London shop. The design appeared in Genteel Household Furniture, published by the
London Society of Upholsterers circa 1760 (fig. 6), shortly after Washington purchased his
stands from Allan. Most design books included engravings of furniture already in production,
and some designs were plagiarized from other publications. It is possible that stands identical
to the one shown in Genteel Household Furniture were being made in London by the mid1750s. Thomas Chippendale illustrated similar stands in the first edition of the Gentleman
and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754) (fig. 7).
If Washington’s stands were made in Allan’s shop, they probably represent the work of
indentured servants or journeymen who had worked in London during the mid- to late 1750s.
The design and ornament of the stands suggest that they are the products of a joiner
accustomed to producing similar forms and a professional carver (see figs. 2–4), either of
whom could have been responsible for the design. Another possibility is that the stands are
London objects retailed by Allan, but there is no evidence that he sold imported furniture.
Moreover, when Washington wanted London-made furniture, he ordered it directly from
Accounts pertaining to James Allan’s work are scarce, but they demonstrate that his shop was
capable of producing a variety of furniture forms. In 1774 Falmouth merchant William
Allason sold twelve walnut chairs made by Allan to William Pyke of Berkeley County,
Virginia. In addition to the cost of the seating, Pyke paid the “ferriage of James Allans men
with [his] Chairs,” presumably across the Rappahannock River to Falmouth. County records
and receipts submitted to members of the Lewis family between 1778 and 1799 reveal that
Allan also made coffins and repaired furniture. His shop probably continued to produce
furniture during this period, but no relevant documents have been discovered to date.
A group of chairs with family or recovery histories in Falmouth, Spotsylvania County,
Washington, D.C., and Maryland may represent the work of Allan’s shop. The earliest
examples have unusual interlaced splats, often decorated with carved rosettes. Virtually
identical splats are on a chair that reputedly descended in the Barrett family of Falmouth (fig.
8), a square-back example that descended in the Magruder family of Prince George County,
Maryland, and the side chair illustrated in figure 9. A set of six chairs with a twentiethcentury provenance in the Washington, D.C., area (fig. 10) has rosettes carved by a different
hand and slightly different construction features, but all of the seating in this group has
separate splat shoes that extend beyond the face of the rear rail and strips of wood that fill the
void (fig. 8). While this feature is also found in seating from other regions, other traits
common to chairs in this Virginia group are steeply coved shoes; rear stretchers positioned
slightly higher than the side stretchers; medial stretchers dovetailed to the bottom of the side
stretchers with a V-shaped joint exposed at the top; pierced brackets at the corners of the rails
and front legs; and carved rosettes used in identical contexts. A chair that descended in the
Spotswood family of Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties (fig. 11) has a replaced splat and is
missing its shoe, but it retains enough original structure to attribute it to the same shop. Of all
the chairs in this group, an example that reputedly belonged to Robert Thomas (1756–1823)
of Spotsylvania County is the most stylistically divergent (fig. 12). The ears of the crest are
notched and rounded, the splat has lobate, vertical piercings, and the front legs are molded,
but the chair’s construction is consistent with other examples from this shop. The molding
along the top of the seat rail matches that on the Spotswood chair, and the Thomas example
has glue blocks and cross braces in the seat corners. The maker of the Barrett and Magruder
chairs used glue blocks in the rear corners.
Given the fact that James Allan produced furniture for clients as far away as Berkeley
County, Virginia, it is reasonable to speculate that his patronage network extended from
Falmouth to Culpeper County, Virginia, to southern Maryland. Although no direct link
between Allan and the chairs illustrated in figures 8–12 is known, he is the most likely
candidate for their production. The design and construction of this seating differ significantly
from pieces attributed to Thomas Miller of Fredericksburg, William Walker of Falmouth, and
Robert Walker of King George County. These were the only shop masters in the area known
to have made high-quality furniture during the 1760s and 1770s. The fact that the rosettes on
the Barrett and Magruder chairs and on the six chairs of the set represented by figure 10 are
by different carvers strongly suggests that all of the examples in this group are urban
products. Only a handful of carvers have been documented in the Falmouth-Fredericksburg
area during this period. A list of indentured servants leaving England for Virginia in 1774
included Thomas Ford, a carver and gilder from London. It is possible that a craftsman like
Ford began working for Allan during the 1770s and carved rosettes and other motifs that
were already part of the shop’s vocabulary.
James Allan may have trained his son and namesake. In 1789 Allan left James Jr. his shop,
his slave cabinetmaker Glasgow, and the latter’s tools. Little more is known about James Jr.
or his work. On May 24, 1799, the Virginia Herald reported: “Yesterday afternoon a violent
Gust, from the westward, attended with rain and lightning, passed over this town, and blew
down the workshop of Mr. James Allan….Several persons were in Mr. Allan’s shop, none of
whom, tho’ buried in the ruins, were much hurt.” The phrase “several persons” suggests that
Allan had apprentices and journeymen at the time. James Jr. died six years later, at which
point Glasgow and most of Allan’s furniture were sold at auction.
James Allanach may have been James Allan Sr.’s only competitor during the 1740s and
1750s. In 1753 the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge paid Allanach three pounds for a chair.
Given its considerable price, the chair was probably intended for the master of the lodge and
either carved or painted with Masonic symbols. Very few American Masonic chairs from the
mid-eighteenth century survive, but those that do show respect to the distinguished position
of the sitter either through size, ornament, or symbolic design (figs. 13, 14). Presumably
Allanach was trained as a cabinetmaker or chair maker, but no other records document his
profession. He appeared before the Spotsylvania County Court sporadically between 1742
and 1752 and witnessed John Allan’s will in 1750. Allanach does not appear in local records
after 1753, suggesting that he may have returned to Britain. Based on his name and social
associations with other Scots in Fredericksburg, Allanach was most likely an immigrant,
possibly from Aberdeen.
The records of the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge No. 4, which was founded in 1752, are
important in understanding local patronage and furniture production. Members included the
landed elite, wealthy merchants from Fredericksburg and nearby Falmouth, and prominent
tradesmen, several of Scottish descent. An armchair made for the master of the lodge during
the mid-1770s (fig. 15) is one of the most ornate and historically significant seating forms
surviving from eastern Virginia. Although oral tradition maintained that the chair was
imported from Scotland, furniture historian Bradford L. Rauschenberg argued in a 1976
article that it and a less ornate Masonic armchair (fig. 16) were made in the FredericksburgFalmouth area. Since that time, debate has centered on whether the two chairs were made in
the vicinity of these northern Virginia towns or in Williamsburg, as furniture scholar Wallace
Gusler asserted in 1979 in Furniture of Williamsburg and Eastern Virginia, 1710–1790.
When researchers for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts recorded the armchair
illustrated in figure 15, local Masons reported that it had been made for the Falmouth lodge,
located just across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Founded by Masons who
considered it “inconvenient for them to attend . . . [the Fredericksburg] Lodge,” the Falmouth
lodge was in existence from 1768 until circa 1800. Evidence suggests, however, that the
armchair was commissioned by Masonic Lodge No. 4 and made in Fredericksburg. Since the
Fredericksburg lodge was the more prominent of the two organizations throughout this
period, it would have been the likely home for this important seating form.
The designs of the two Masonic armchairs (figs. 15, 16) also suggest that they were made for
different lodges. Although there are noticeable variations in the quality of the carved
ornaments (figs. 17-19), both chairs are embellished with symbols representing the master,
senior and junior wardens, the treasurer, the chaplain, and the secretary. The sundial on the
Lodge No. 4 armchair is associated with Scottish Freemasonry, and the splats of both
examples (figs. 18, 19) display images of the three great lights—the compass, square, and
Bible—and the three lesser lights—the sun, moon, and worshipful master—represented by
the candles atop the columns. The columns symbolize wisdom, strength, and beauty—the
supports of the lodge. Even though Masonic iconography was not as standardized in the
eighteenth century as it would become in the nineteenth century, it is unlikely that two
armchairs with nearly identical symbols would have been considered appropriate for unequal
positions within one lodge. In addition, no other colonial Masonic suites are known that
include a master’s chair and a warden’s chair with identical iconography.
The armchair illustrated in figure 16 was probably commissioned for the master of the
Falmouth lodge. This theory would explain later confusion regarding the history of the more
elaborate armchair (fig. 15) and offer a plausible explanation for the derivative design of the
less ornate example. The Masons of Falmouth may have instructed the maker of their
master’s armchair to incorporate features of its Lodge No. 4 equivalent to acknowledge the
shared lineage of the two organizations.
Documents pertaining to Lodge No. 4 record the purchase of two chairs, one from James
Allanach in 1753 and another from Scottish immigrant Thomas Miller in 1773 or 1774 (figs.
20, 21). The armchair illustrated in figure 15 cannot be the Allanach chair since it has
neoclassical motifs that did not appear in Virginia until the late 1760s or early 1770s. In fact,
neoclassical decoration is rare on American decorative arts made before the Revolution.
During the first decade of the Fredericksburg lodge’s existence, members held their meetings
in local taverns. In 1763 private citizens, including a number of Masons, constructed a
building in the center of the town, first known as the Town House and later as the Market
House. Although the building was used for multiple purposes, including assemblies, balls,
theatrical performances, and Masonic meetings, it also provided the members of Lodge No. 4
with a dedicated space to house ceremonial furnishings, records, books, and equipment.
Lodge accounts refer to locks being put on the lodge room door, a level of security not
available in public taverns. Having control of their own room allowed the Masons to
purchase other ritualistic items, including two painted and gilded floorcloths from
The members of Lodge No. 4 appear to have replaced and upgraded various accoutrements in
the 1760s and 1770s. In addition to the Glasgow floorcloths, the Masons purchased jewels,
gloves, aprons, and a silver square and compasses for the master of the lodge and hired James
Allan to paint and gild the officers’ rods (fig. 21). The credit to Allan immediately preceded
the entry for Miller’s chair, which probably replaced the one made by James Allanach. By
1773 the earlier chair had seen twenty years of use, and its design had most likely become
The style and construction of the Lodge No. 4 armchair (fig. 15) supports the theory that it is
the one Miller made in 1773 or 1774. The armchair’s hairy paw feet, naturalistic foliage, bold
gadrooned molding, and angular arms are consistent with British styles of the 1750s and
1760s. Indeed, many of the construction features are similar to those found on chairs made
during the 1740s and 1750s by Robert Walker, a Scottish immigrant who worked in nearby
King George County, Virginia (fig. 22). Details in common include knee blocks and
gadrooning attached to the face of the seat rails rather than to the undersides; a one-piece rear
rail and shoe; arms joined to the stiles with a large dovetail (fig. 23); large two-part, quarterround vertical glue blocks inside the corners of the seat (fig. 24); and chamfering of the splat
(fig. 25). Similar features also occur on mid-eighteenth-century British chairs. Perhaps the
most idiosyncratic feature of the Lodge No. 4 armchair is its carved front seat rail (fig. 26),
which may have been based on a frieze design in Abraham Swan’s The British Architect
(1745) (fig. 27). Several cabinetmakers and builders in eighteenth-century Virginia owned
copies of this publication.
The small husks on the arm supports, the flute and rosette repeats on the shoe, and the
molded stiles are neoclassical details (figs. 28, 29) that stand in contrast to the earlier features
found on the Lodge No. 4 armchair. Neoclassical elements such as these first appeared in
British furniture during the 1760s, but the “antique” or “palymarian” taste did not arrive in
Virginia until the end of the decade. The royal governor, Lord Botetourt, imported some of
the earliest known neoclassical objects in Virginia. In 1768 he purchased for the Governor’s
Palace a set of early neoclassical side chairs from London cabinetmaker William Fenton (fig.
30). Two years later, Botetourt ordered for the Capitol a three-tier cast-iron stove with
neoclassical imagery from Abraham Buzaglo of London (fig. 31).
If Miller received his training shortly before emigrating from Scotland, that would explain the
broad range of details manifest on the Lodge No. 4 chair. By the late 1760s George II,
rococo, and Palladian classical styles had given way to the archaeologically based
neoclassical conventions introduced by such prominent tastemakers as the Adam brothers.
The construction of the armchair and its astonishingly close relationship to seating attributed
to Robert Walker is more difficult to explain. While the cabinetmaker’s Scottish training
could explain the number of corresponding details, another possibility is that Miller
employed a journeyman who had worked in Walker’s shop.
Although the composition of Miller’s shop may never be known, the ornament on the Lodge
No. 4 armchair is obviously the work of a professional carver. Given the level of
specialization in eighteenth-century trades, it is unlikely that Miller trained both as a chair
maker and as a carver. The carver of the Lodge No. 4 armchair may have worked for Miller
full time or on a commission basis, as was the case with most colonial specialists. Miller’s
probate inventory listed “63 Chiezels & Gouges,” but it is impossible to determine whether
these were conventional tools used by multiple joiners and chair makers or specialized
carving tools. If the carver of the Lodge No. 4 armchair was responsible for the design of its
ornament, he was as familiar with neoclassical tastes as the chair maker.
Thomas Miller was born in 1748 in Stirling, Scotland, an ancient city located about halfway
between Glasgow and Edinburgh. His father, Thomas (1720–1788), and older brother, John
(1746–1808), were merchants. John first appears in Fredericksburg records in 1765, when he
joined the Masonic lodge at the age of nineteen. Thomas joined the lodge three years later at
the age of twenty.
If Miller trained in Stirling, he may have become familiar with late rococo and early
neoclassical details through architectural projects under way at that time. Architectural
historians have suggested that William and John Adam, the father and elder brother of Robert
Adam, designed the south front of the Touch House, located just outside that town. Under
construction from 1757 to 1762, the interior spaces have delicate rococo ornaments furnished
by Edinburgh plasterer Thomas Clayton. The involvement of urban craftsmen in this project
shows how avant-garde rococo and neoclassical designs moved from style centers like
Edinburgh to distant towns like Stirling. While serving his apprenticeship, Miller may have
worked on furniture for buildings like the Touch House. Given the fact that patrons often
commissioned furniture designed to resonate with specific interior spaces, it is no surprise
that cabinetmakers and chair makers were influenced by architectural styles and motifs (fig.
32). The triglyphs and rosettes on the shoe of the Lodge No. 4 armchair, for example, have
generic antecedents in the drawing room cornice molding in Touch House.
Miller may have immigrated with his brother in 1765, but the first documentary reference to
Thomas is in the accounts of Falmouth merchant William Allason. In May or June 1768
Thomas purchased goods pertaining to the cabinet trade under an account listing both him
and his brother. Thomas was only twenty at the time, which may explain why John’s name
was on the entry. The following September, Thomas placed two advertisements in the
Virginia Gazette, one for a runaway convict servant “named George Eaton, born in London”
who was “by trade a cabinet-maker,” and the other for “Journeymen Cabinet-Makers, well
recommended.” A notice published four years later documents Miller’s continued use of
convict laborers. Little is known about tradesmen who came to the colonies to escape
punishment in Britain, but some were obviously highly skilled. If Eaton had trained or
worked in London, he could have introduced styles current in that city.
In 1769 the Fredericksburg lodge credited Miller for making “new Steps to the outer Door.”
Like many cabinetmakers, he supplemented his income by doing architectural work. Miller’s
1802 probate inventory included numerous window sashes, window lights, and an unfinished
house frame, suggesting that in later years his shop may have done more architectural work
Although no extant architectural work can be documented to Miller’s shop, two
Fredericksburg houses have interior ornaments by the same artisan who carved the Lodge No.
4 armchair. One house, known today as the Chimneys, was probably owned by merchant
John Glassell when the carving was installed, and the other, referred to as Kenmore (fig. 33),
was built by Fielding and Betty Lewis between 1772 and 1775. The fiive-petal flowers on the
appliqués in both houses (figs. 34-37) are virtually identical to those carved in relief on the
back and front rail of the Lodge No. 4 armchair (fig. 38), and the outlining and shading of the
leaves in all of these contexts is remarkably similar. Of all the carving associated with this
anonymous tradesman, the mantel appliqués in Kenmore are the most complex. The appliqué
in the small chamber to the left of the entrance is completely in the rococo style (figs. 34, 36),
with a swan in the center and naturalistically rendered leaves and flowers on either side. The
outlining, shading, and sculpting of this work is superior to the carving on the other appliqués
in Kenmore, which is surprising given the hierarchy of the rooms and the fact that the most
stylistically advanced appliqué is on the chimneypiece in the large dining room (fig. 39). The
carving in the Chimneys (fig. 35) is much more restrained and probably slightly later than
that in Kenmore.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that Miller may have been involved with the work in
Kenmore. Since his shop was located one block down Caroline Street from the Lewis home,
it is highly likely that Fielding and Betty were familiar with Miller’s work. Fielding was also
a member of the Fredericksburg Masonic lodge and would have known Miller through that
Carving by the same hand responsible for the architectural work and furniture mentioned
above is also found on a set of cherry chairs that descended in the Waller family (fig. 40).
The anthemions on the crests (fig. 41) are virtually identical to those on the mantel trusses in
Kenmore’s large dining room (figs. 39, 42). Previous scholars attributed chairs from this set
to Williamsburg based on the assumption that they descended from Benjamin Waller of that
town; the original owner, however, was probably his son John (b. 1753), who served as clerk
of the Spotsylvania County Court for twelve years beginning in 1774. John married in that
year and probably commissioned the set of chairs soon after.
Structural details also link the Waller chairs to the Lodge No. 4 armchair. Both the Masonic
armchair (fig. 15) and its domestic counterpart (fig. 40) have arms that are joined to the rear
posts with large dovetails (figs. 23, 43). More important, all of these seating forms have twopart glue blocks reinforcing their front rail and leg joints (figs. 24, 44), shoes that are integral
with the rear seat rail, and oak slip-seat frames. The glue blocks on the Waller chairs are not
rounded like those on the Masonic example, but minor variations often occur in the products
of shops with multiple workmen. As is the case with most seating attributed to Robert
Walker, the Waller chairs have arched rear seat rails. Although the rear rail of the Lodge No.
4 armchair is not arched, master’s chairs typically sat at the end of a room, where the back
would not have been visible. A photograph of the Fredericksburg lodge taken during the
1930s shows the master’s chair on the dais in the center with its back to the wall (fig. 45).
Most chair makers offered a range of forms and decorative options designed to accommodate
the tastes and budgets of their patrons. The side chair illustrated in figure 46 is attributed to
Miller’s shop based on the lobate openings in the back, which were laid out with the same
template used to make the Waller chairs. A related chair, possibly from the same set, has an
oral history of descent in the Thornton family of Fall Hill, in Spotsylvania County just
outside Fredericksburg. Documentary evidence also indicates that Miller produced seating
forms that were cheaper and less ornate than the Waller chairs. In 1774 he made a set of
twelve black walnut chairs valued at one pound each for Fredericksburg merchant George
Weedon. The side chair illustrated in figure 46 may have cost approximately the same
Miller’s shop produced a variety of simple seating forms. A side chair that reputedly
descended in the Little family of Fredericksburg (fig. 47) and the armchair shown in figure 48
share construction features with the previous group of chairs, including arched rear seat rails
with integral shoes and virtually identical crest rail and shoe profiles. The side chair also has
splat chamfering like that on the Waller and Thornton examples, while the armchair
illustrated in figure 48 has an oak slip-seat frame and arms and arm supports of the same
basic profile as those on the armchair from the Waller set. Moreover, the dovetails used to
attach the arms to the rear posts are approximately the same size and shape as those on other
seating attributed to Miller’s shop.
The Little side chair and armchair illustrated in figures 47 and 48 may be slightly earlier than
the seating that descended in the Waller and Thornton families (figs. 40, 46). On the former
chairs (figs. 47, 48), the splats are less tapered in the middle and the backs are less raked. The
armchair illustrated in figure 48 has quarter-round, two-part vertical glue blocks like those
reinforcing the leg and seat rail joints of the Lodge No. 4 armchair as well as arms with flat,
round terminals. These terminals appear to predate the delicately scrolled and carved ones on
the Waller armchair.
The earliest seating attributed to Thomas Miller may date from the late 1760s, but all of the
carved furniture associated with him was made during the following decade. Miller’s arrival
in Fredericksburg and the expansion of his shop coincided with the decline of Robert
Walker’s cabinet- and chair making business during the late 1760s. From the 1740s to the
mid-1760s Walker was a dominant figure in the furniture-making trade in northern Virginia.
His patrons included many of Spotsylvania County’s elite, some of whom were members of
the Fredericksburg Masonic lodge. Regrettably there is not enough evidence to compare the
size and composition of Miller’s and Walker’s shops or fully ascertain the level of patronage
they received. Most of the information on Miller’s shop comes from his advertisements for
journeymen and convict workmen, a 1796 assessment of his property, and his 1802 probate
inventory. Miller’s shop was thirty-eight feet long and sixteen feet wide, which was fairly
large for a small urban business. At the time of his death, Miller owned seven workbenches
and a variety of tools including the sixty-three gouges and chisels mentioned earlier.
Although he had the capacity to produce a significant amount of furniture, Miller may have
turned increasingly to architectural work during the late eighteenth century. His inventory
lists a variety of building components, but no unfinished chairs, tables, or casework. The sole
indication of furniture production was a set of desk hardware and five sets of coffin
Documents pertaining to Miller’s public life support the theory that his business changed. He
joined the local militia in 1777 and may have served during the Revolutionary War. In 1782
Miller became a member of the Fredericksburg city council and assumed responsibility of the
town fire engine, receiving public funds for its repair. He also served several terms as town
geographer and gauger of liquors. In 1790 the town paid Miller £87.11.10 3/4 for repairing
and extending the old courthouse and making temporary benches for the judges and an
“attornies barr.” His shop routinely performed this type of work. In 1791 Miller charged
James Pettigrew of Fredericksburg for cutting and installing panes of glass in the latter’s
During the 1790s a Thomas Miller rented a house and plantation in Caroline County,
Virginia, from Robert Gaines Beverley. While there is no evidence that Miller owned slaves
who worked the property, he probably derived some income from renting and farming the
land. Fredericksburg records mention a grain merchant named “T. Miller,” but it is unclear
whether he and the cabinetmaker were the same man. Thomas Miller’s obituary, published in
the Virginia Herald in 1802, described him only as “a respectable and very useful citizen.”
Miller, Allanach, and Allan are the only shop masters documented in Fredericksburg before
the Revolution. Allan and Miller each employed at least two indentured or convict
cabinetmakers, but there is no evidence that any of these laborers continued to work in
northern Virginia after their terms expired. Some may have moved west in search of greater
opportunities, whereas others may have returned to Britain. The principal regional
competitors with Allan and Miller were William Walker of Falmouth and Walker’s uncle,
Robert Walker of King George County. Falmouth furniture maker Thomas Vowles was also
active during this period, but he appears to have made simple joined and turned furniture
rather than fine cabinetwork.
A large group of clock cases with movements by Thomas Walker of Fredericksburg probably
represents the work of one of these regional shops (figs. 49-51). The cases vary considerably
in design, but all appear to date from the late 1760s to the mid-1780s. Allanach’s working
dates and Vowles’s limited range of work exclude their shops as possible sources for the
clock cases, and Robert Walker appears to have cut back or ceased production by the early
1770s. In contrast, the shops of James Allan, Thomas Miller, and William Walker were at
their peak during this period.
The most ornate clock cases (fig. 49) are similar to contemporary examples from the
Lancashire and Liverpool areas of England as well as Scottish derivatives. Because the
Virginia cases are constructed like their British counterparts, they probably represent the
work of an immigrant journeyman. Most colonial cabinetmakers and chair makers used their
own construction techniques when interpreting or integrating new designs.
While one might assume that William Walker’s sibling relationship to Thomas Walker makes
the former the most likely candidate to have made these clock cases, there is evidence to the
contrary. As Robert Leath’s article in this volume of American Furniture indicates, chairs
attributed to the shops of William Walker and his former journeyman Robert Cockburn are
considerably less refined than the clock cases. Cockburn’s account book contains a
rudimentary sketch of a clock case (fig. 52), but it does not resemble, much less match, the
cases discussed here. Evidence also suggests that “Bill,” a journeyman who worked in
Walker’s shop during the late 1760s and early 1770s, was trained in Virginia; thus he could
not have been the source of urban British designs and structural features like those manifest
in the clock cases. There is no evidence that Walker employed immigrant journeymen, as did
his uncle Robert, James Allan, and Thomas Miller. William Walker may have trained his
nephew Robert II, who probably made the case illustrated in figure 53. If that was the case
and Walker’s shop was responsible for the Lancashire-style work shown in figures 49–51,
one would expect Robert’s construction techniques and stylistic vocabulary to reflect the
influence of his master. Convenience could have influenced the Walker brothers’ limited
patronage of each other. Thomas’s shop was in Fredericksburg and William’s was located
across the Rappahannock River in Falmouth. Although boats probably crossed the river on a
regular basis, it may have been easier for Thomas Walker to acquire cases from a
Fredericksburg artisan or vice versa.
If the clock cases illustrated in figures 49–51 were made in Fredericksburg, they almost
certainly originated in the shop of James Allan or Thomas Miller. All of the carving
associated with Miller’s shop is by a single hand, and the work differs significantly from that
on the clock case illustrated in figure 49. More important, no case furniture from Miller’s
shop is known, which suggests that he may have focused on chair work. Miller arrived in
Fredericksburg between 1765 and 1768; thus, he would have been between seventeen and
twenty years of age when the earliest clock cases were made. If Thomas Walker was looking
for a case maker during the late 1760s, it is more likely that he would have turned to James
Allan, an established artisan who had a history of business dealings with the Walker
During the last decade of the eighteenth century, Fredericksburg’s furniture-making
community changed as new craftsmen began arriving in town and offering a wide range of
fashionable goods. Falmouth cabinetmaker Thomas Vowles purchased a parcel of land on
Caroline Street in 1792. Account book entries and court records suggest that he continued to
produce turned and joined forms—flag bottom chairs, spinning wheels, chests, tables,
bedsteads, coffins, bottle cases, and birdcages—similar to those he offered in Falmouth as
early as 1768. The furniture market may have been stronger in Fredericksburg after the
Revolution. On December 5, 1786, Olney Winsor described Fredericksburg as “one of the
largest Towns in Virginia” but referred to Falmouth as “a small village.”
On June 28, 1792, the Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser reported that
Philadelphia cabinetmakers Alcock & Gregory had opened a shop in town and were offering
“any kind of Mahogany Furniture . . . equal to any on the continent.” Gregory disappeared
from the partnership the following year, but John Alcock continued to advertise “Dining
Tables, Breakfast and Tea Tables, Circular and Square Card ditto, Oval ditto, Bureaus, Chests
of Drawers, Cellerettes, and Side Boards, Chairs, Secretaries and Book Cases, Bedsteads,
&c.” Alcock probably produced furniture similar to that he had made in the North. In 1798 he
advertised “A QUANTITY OF WINDSOR CHAIRS,” most likely seating made in
Philadelphia and shipped to Fredericksburg. Although Alcock’s advertisements suggest that
he had a large and prosperous cabinet shop, he must have felt that other pursuits would be
more lucrative. In 1798 he informed his friends and customers that “he . . . [had] declined the
above business, which . . . [would] be carried on at the same place in all its various branches
[as formerly] by Mr. Alexander Walker, late of Falmouth.” Along with his business, Alcock
also transferred the remaining years of his apprentice, Robert McKildoe, to Walker. Alcock
operated a mercantile establishment in Fredericksburg for the next seven years.
After completing his apprenticeship with Alexander Walker, Robert McKildoe opened his
own cabinet shop in Fredericksburg in 1803. Shortly thereafter, McKildoe advertised “a
hansom Clock & Case, with other pieces of furniture of the latest fashion, with plated & gilt
mounting.” The following year he left Fredericksburg on the advice of John Alcock, who
noted that the local demand for furniture “was not sufficient to support two shops.”
Alexander Walker must have felt the same way since he required Alcock to sign a
noncompetition agreement when he purchased the latter’s business in 1798.
Despite Alcock’s misgivings, other cabinetmakers set up shop in town during the early
nineteenth century. Thomas Nelson Walker moved into McKildoe’s vacated cabinet shop in
1804. He may have hoped to capitalize on the trade and patronage networks established by
his father, who was the most successful clockmaker in the region. Thomas Sr.’s will
stipulated that his sons Thomas and James receive several town lots when they attained
majority and included the following bequest: “to either of my sons that shall actually follow
& exercise my trade of clock and watch maker, all my tools and instruments belonging to
said trade, Or if they [both] follow said trade I direct that said tools be equally divided
between them.” Thomas became a cabinetmaker, and James continued in his father’s trade.
Regrettably, little is known about Thomas Jr. after 1805.
Robert Walker II opened his cabinet shop in Fredericksburg in 1802. On March 5 of that
year, he advertised cabinetwork and reported that “the Turning Business . . . [would] be
prosecuted by the subscriber in an extensive manner.” The tall clock case illustrated in figure
53 has a partially legible label stating “This clock and . . . made by Robert Walker 22nd Aug
1809 the movement . . . clock by Goldsmith Chandlee of Winchester in . . . 1 decemr: 18 . . .
price of the case . . . 35 of the mov.mt . . . total price 88.” This inscription and Walker’s
advertisement that “Gentlemen at a distance . . . may rely on the utmost punctuality” suggest
that he made the case for a Shenandoah Valley customer who purchased the movement from
Winchester clockmaker Goldsmith Chandlee. The tall, thinly necked pediment, serpentine
upper edge of the waist door, and geometric panel above the waist door are details found on
contemporary New York and New Jersey clock cases. Similar influences are apparent in the
design of other clock cases made in Fredericksburg during the early nineteenth century,
several of which have movements by local clockmaker John M. Weidemeyer. Either cases in
this style were popular in the area or several northern cabinetmakers were active in
Fredericksburg shops during the early nineteenth century.
George D. Storke opened a shop in 1815. Census records indicate that his household included
four men, who may have been part of his workforce, as well as a woman and a boy. Like
several of his peers, Storke was unable to maintain his business. His inventory, which sold at
auction in 1819, included “SIDEBOARDS and China Presses, Secretaries and Book Cases,
Ladies’ Cabinets, Bureaus, Dining-Tables, Card do. Bedsteads Mahogany and Stained Wood,
Easy Chairs, Candle-Stands, Wash do., Portable Desk, Spice Cases &c.” The number and
range of forms suggest that Storke either had a relatively large shop capable of producing
stock-in-trade or that he retailed furniture made by others. Storke left town in 1822.
Based on the number of advertisements he placed in local newspapers, Alexander Walker
appears to have been the most successful cabinetmaker in Fredericksburg during the early
nineteenth century. As a third-generation cabinetmaker working in the Fredericksburg area
and the son of William Walker of Falmouth, Alexander had social and business connections
that gave him an edge over many of his newly arrived competitors. He purchased the shop of
John Alcock in 1798 and the following year announced his intention to maintain a stock of
“Windsor chairs of Superior Quality.” He also advertised for journeymen, noting that “the
number of hands he means to keep, will enable him to turn off a great quantity of furniture . .
. as good as can be imported.” On August 26, 1800, the Virginia Herald reported that
Alexander’s shop manufactured “all kinds of Cabinet Ware” and carried on “the turning
business in all its branches.” Like his competitor Robert Walker II, Alexander made a clear
distinction between cabinetwork and turning. Alexander’s shop continued in operation until
his death in 1830. Over the years his shop produced Windsor seating, tables, secretaries,
bureaus, sideboards with or without china presses, tea tables, breakfast tables, dining tables,
card tables, claw tables, center tables, sofas, bookcases, bedsteads, eight-day clocks,
washstands, and candle stands. The 1820 census of manufacturers reported that his shop
employed six men and two boys, used plank and scantling of almost every description, had a
“Quantity of Brass Mountings for furniture which cannot be enumerated,” and sold about
$3,000 worth of furniture per year. The census also noted “demand was limited, and Sale[s]
dull at present.” In comparison, George Storke’s shop employed four men and one boy and
sold about $2,000 worth of furniture per year. Alexander Walker’s will listed five “servants
that work[ed] in the shop . . . Jim Page, Anthony, Levy, Jim Turner, Edmund Painter.”
Whether these slaves were included in the 1820 census as employees is unclear.
From 1802 until 1805 Walker was in partnership with James Beck, a Windsor chair maker
and turner. In their first advertisement in 1802, Walker and Beck reported that they had
commenced the “Windsor Business, in its various branches,” that they intended “to keep a
constant supply of FANCY CHAIRS—stuff bottoms, Settees, and common Chairs of the
newest fashions, and at northern prices,” and that they “shall in future manufacture mahogany
Furniture at . . . Baltimore prices.” With the dissolution of the partnership in 1805, Beck
advertised that he had opened his own business. In addition to turning, he intended to
“manufacture Windsor-Chairs & Settees, With plain or stuffed bottoms . . . painted in
different colours, gilt and japanned . . . Bedsteads . . . Mahogany, plain or carved; fancy,
painted, gilt or japanned in different Colours.— ALSO Window Cornishes & Venetian
During his partnership with Beck, Walker placed separate advertisements for “ELEGANT”
cabinet furniture as well as Windsor chairs and settees. Among the items Walker listed were
secretaries, bureaus, sideboards, breakfast tables, tea tables, card tables, bedsteads, and
cabriole sofas. Walker apparently employed an inlay maker, since he also advertised “Fancy
Stringing and inlaying executed with neatness and dispatch.” Although no furniture can be
attributed to Alexander Walker or his predecessor John Alcock, side chairs that descended in
the Green family of Fredericksburg (figs. 54, 55) could be from the shop of one of those men.
The chairs are similar to contemporary seating from Baltimore and Philadelphia, which is
significant considering that Alcock moved from Philadelphia to Fredericksburg and that
Walker boasted he could compete with Baltimore prices. At the very least, the Green chairs
represent the type of furnishings being produced in Fredericksburg during the late 1790s and
James Beck’s work is more readily identifiable. Chairs marked “J. BECK” reputedly
descended in the Waller family of Spotsylvania County and the Pollock family of King
George County (fig. 56). Like the seating illustrated in figures 54 and 55, Beck’s Windsor
chairs share features with Philadelphia and Baltimore work, suggesting that he may have
come from one of those cities or been influenced by imported Windsors. The only other
furniture associated with Beck is a lap desk signed by his daughter Mary Ann (fig. 57). A
paper accompanying the piece is inscribed: “This writing desk was made in James Beck’s
Furniture Factory in Fredericksburg Va. in 1806.” Beck continued to work in Fredericksburg
until his death in 1821. Based on his probate inventory, Beck manufactured a variety of other
cabinet furniture forms including desk-and-bookcases, secretary-and-bookcases, washstands,
presses, tables, bedsteads, and chairs. He also owned three slaves who worked in his shop.
The changing face of Fredericksburg’s cabinet shops at the end of the eighteenth and
beginning of the nineteenth centuries was largely due to an evolution in the town’s economy.
Whereas previously the city had relied heavily on the transatlantic tobacco trade, the coastal
trade in grain grew in importance at the turn of the century. Wheat, corn, and flour from
western counties like Culpeper, Orange, Rockingham, and Shenandoah were handled by
Fredericksburg merchants and shipped to Norfolk, Alexandria, New York, and Philadelphia.
Whereas Fredericksburg had been the major regional center for the collection of inland
produce during the eighteenth century, other port cities such as Alexandria, Baltimore, and
Philadelphia began to draw on the same inland regions and, over time, pulled much of the
grain trade away from Fredericksburg. The city’s decreasing regional significance and
increased reliance on coastal trade led to its greater dependence on manufactured goods from
those same port cities, thus reducing its ability to support and grow its own manufacturing
Imported furniture from northern cities brought competition to local furniture makers and
forced them to change established business practices. Some cabinetmakers attempted to
mimic northern styles, but few were able to produce comparable forms at competitive prices.
The shop responsible for several clock cases with movements by John M. Weidemeyer is one
of the most notable exceptions, but the success of that cabinet business may have been
influenced by the clockmaker’s patronage and the desire of local patrons to have movements
specifically fitted to cases. The challenges facing Fredericksburg cabinetmakers were both
stylistic and economic. Alexander Walker responded to these pressures by offering a wide
range of furniture forms and maintaining stock-in-trade that probably consisted of cabinet
ware and seating made in his own shop as well as imports. In many respects, he followed the
model of large urban manufactories, as did many of his contemporaries in Petersburg,
Norfolk, and other Virginia cities.
As was the case in many of eastern Virginia’s larger towns, craftsmen of British descent
dominated the cabinetmaking trade in Fredericksburg before the Revolutionary War.
Although only two or three shops were active during that period, the level of work they
produced was exceptional by colonial standards (figs. 2, 8, 15, 16). The market for furniture
changed dramatically after the war, as additional shops opened and competed with each other
and with northern imports. Whereas James Allan and Thomas Miller had employed
immigrant journeymen to satisfy tastes for the latest British styles, shop masters active during
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries followed urban business models and
incorporated details from northern furniture to meet the changing demands of their patrons