Oak "Hadley" Chest with Drawer Hampshire County, Massachusetts, 1680-1725
This chest, boldly initialed "AG" and with its distinctive stylized tulip-and-leaf carving, is a classic example of a large and iconic group of as many as 250 pieces of similarly decorated joined furniture (consisting mainly of blanket chests with drawers but also including boxes, tables, chest of drawers, cupboards and a settle) made in the Connecticut River Valley between 1680 and 1730. There is perhaps no form of early American furniture more recognizable than this group, of which this chest is a very fine and apparently a previously unknown example.
The chests of this type have been exhaustively published, initially by the Reverend Clair Franklin Luther in his 1935 seminal work The Hadley Chest, and more recently by Patricia E. Kane, Philip M Zea, and Susanne L. Flynt. Nearly 60 examples demonstrate variations of the flat tulip, leaves and scrolls depicted here; it was Kane who termed this the "Hadley motif" and identified several unique groups distinguished primarily by the pattern of scrolls. The example offered here demonstrates two scrolls suspended below the tulips, a distinctive characteristic that was most likely done with a template and that places this chest within Kane's Group 3, subgroup B, "Dependant Scroll." At least 16 other examples share this identical motif, including two in the collection of Historic Deerfield, two in the Francis P. Garvan collection at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, one in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and the first example to be discovered, which early collector Henry W. Erving coined "Hadley" in reference to where he found it.
This chest demonstrates many construction features typical of the majority of Hadley chests and includes the following: the four stiles have five sides; the framing members (stiles, rails and muntins) are all chamfered; the rough-cut pine board nailed to the backs of the two rear posts, over the ends of the bottom boards or sometimes beneath them, provides additional support. The bottom of the chest compartment is comprised of three boards, oriented with grain running from front-to-back, while the drawer bottom is a single board with grain running from side-to-side. V-shaped channel moldings are present on both sides and surround the inset panels. The drawers are side-hung, with a single large dovetail joining the drawer sides to the drawer façade. The groove in the drawer sides and its relationship to the single large dovetail varies from chest to chest; in this particular example, the dovetail is just above the groove.
These chests were used as dower chests and were probably made for a bride on the occasion of her marriage for her to fill with linens and other household articles to take to her new home. The initials carved into the central panel are generally believed to be her initials; in the few examples with three initials, they are thought to refer to both the bride and groom's initials. The repetitive Hadley motif covers the entire front surface of the chest, including the rails, muntins, drawer façade and stiles, stopping approximately 6 inches from the bottom of the legs. Decorative elements other than the tulip-and-leaf motif represented here include a heart-shaped motif placed below all other decoration on each front stile; there are some schools of thought that believe that the hearts and other motifs such as stars, sunbursts, vines and other characters that can be seen on other chests were variations of fertility symbols derived from maypole festivities and other folk rituals of provincial England.
As with the vast majority of other surviving Hadley chests, the early history of ownership has become clouded over time. The chest offered here reportedly descended in the Foote family, a prominent Hampshire County family in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Given this possible family history, one potential candidate for the original owner is Ann Gull, whose mother was married first to Nathaniel Foote Jr. and second to William Gull. Ann married Jonathan Root in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1680.
Other possible original owners include Abigail Grant, who married Dr. Samuel Mather in Windsor, Connecticut in 1704; Abigail Griswold, who married Sgt. Joseph Barnard in Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1705; Abigail Gaylord, who married Sgt. John Griswold in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1705; Abigail Gleason, who married John Hale in Enfield, Connecticut, in 1716, or Abigail Grant, who married Abiel Abbot in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1717. There were several craftsmen (joiners, turners, carpenters and coopers) with surnames starting with "G" that are identified by Philip Zea as working in the Connecticut River Valley who could have made this chest for a daughter or granddaughter, or been somehow otherwise connected with the shop in which it was made. Unfortunately, without more concrete family history, the identity of the early owners must remain a tempting genealogical mystery.
Literature: ▫ Philip Zea and Suzanne L. Flynt, Hadley Chests, Exhibition catalogue, Israel Sack (New York), Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT) and Memorial Hall (Deerfield, MA), 1992 ▫ "The Seventeenth-Century Furniture of the Connecticut Valley: The Hadley Chest Reappraised," Arts of the Anglo-American Community in the Seventeenth Century, A Winterthur Conference Report, ed. Ian M.G. Quimby (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974) ▫ Philip Zea, "The Fruits of Oligarchy: Patronage and joinery in Western Massachusetts, 1630-1730," Master's thesis, University of Delaware, 1984 and "The Fruits of Oligarchy: Patronage and the Hadley Chest Tradition in Western Massachusetts," New England Furniture: Essays in Memory of Benno M. Forman, special issue of Old Time New England (no. 72), Boston, 1987, pp. 1-65. ▫ Zea and Flynt, ibid. ▫ Henry Wood Erving, "Random Recollections of an Early Collector," in: Meeting of the Walpole Society, 1935, pp. 27-43 ▫ Richard Lawrence Greene, "Fertility Symbols on the Hadley Chests," Antiques Magazine (August, 1977), pp. 250-257 ▫ Zea, 1987, ibid, pp. 42-43. These include William Gaylord Jr (1651-1680), John Gilbert (1626-1690), Isaac Gleason, Robert Grainger, Isaac Graves II, Jonathan Graves, Sr., and Samuel Graves