PROPERTY OF THE DESCENDANT OF THE ORIGNAL OWNER
Originally owned by Jeremiah (1711-1784) and Hannah (Barnes) Sheldon or their son, Jeremiah Sheldon, Jr. (1762-1812), who married Avis Smith Angell (1772-1811), of Johnston, Rhode Island;
To Jeremiah Jr. and Avis' son, Nicholas Sheldon (1800-1835), of Johnston, RI, who married Harriet Sweetser (1800-1885) in 1822;
To their daughter Helen Maria Sheldon (1825-1906), who married Samuel Jacobs (1820-1880) in 1842 in New York, New York;
To their daughter Maria Aborn Jacobs (1848-1934), who married William J. Swift (1852-1920) in 1882 in New York, New York;
To their son Lawrence Swift (1883-1966), who married Elizabeth Maria Hurry (b. 1884) in 1910 in New York, New York;
Thence by descent in the family to the present owner.
A rare survival of the Newport three-drawer block-and-shell chest form, this dynamic chest appears to have been made in the shop of the master craftsmen, John Townsend (1733-1809). It is a previously unpublished chest having descended through the family to the consignor. The deeply carved shells are directly related to his signed work of the 1760s, when he carved concave shells framed by an incised border with scrolled ends, convex shells with boldly projecting ribbed lobes separated by wide and deep valleys, and distinctive C-scroll centers filled with fluting. Similar shells appear on a fall front desk at the State Department made by Townsend in 1765.1 This chest also exhibits Townsend's preference for using carefully selected extra thick mahogany stock for the drawer fronts, with correspondingly large and finely articulated dovetails. In addition it follows his common practice of using caligraphic capital letters as an identification system for the drawers, here "A", "B", and "C" on the interior drawer backs (in chalk) and also one drawer back inscribed Back in graphite on its interior and another on its back. While Townsend normally signed the back of these boards, an early Townsend high chest as well as two slant front desks from his shop have lettering on the insides of the drawer backs. The ogee bracket feet also appear to be constructed in a method unique to his workshop, with horizontal blocks mitered together and glued to the bottom board, supported by a vertical corner block.2 In typical John Townsend manner, the sub-top is constructed of two horizontal poplar braces, with poplar drawer divider backings. The glue blocks are made of chestnut and finished with beveling to conform to the shape of the brackets. The bold volutes are of a related profile to those of the aforementioned desk made by Townsend in 1765. The original large and boldly scalloped Rococo brasses are very similar to the pattern Townsend used for four extant four-shell bureau tables made about 1770 in the respective collections of Winterthur, Yale, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Art Institute of Chicago.3 These brasses are more elaborately scalloped than any in the group of low case furniture from his shop.
This chest has a history of ownership in the Sheldon family of Rhode Island and was likely originally owned by Jeremiah (1711-1784) and Hannah (Barnes) Sheldon of Johnston or by their son, Jeremiah Sheldon Jr. (1762-1812), who married Avis Smith Angell (1772-1811), daughter of Abraham Angell and Anna (Smith). This chest has descended directly through multiple generations of their family to the present owner, who has also inherited other Sheldon family heirlooms.
Jeremiah's grandfather, John Sheldon (1630-1708), was one of the thirteen original purchasers of the Pawtuxet Lands of Rhode Island. Born in England, he moved to America by 1660, when he married Joan Vincent in Providence, and was a tanner by trade. In 1673, he was deeded all rights to land in the Providence area bought by William Arnold (1587-1676) in 1639. He later served as deputy to the General Assembly in 1702.4 His son, Nicholas (1664-1747) married Abigail Tillinghast (1674-1744) and they were the parents of Jeremiah Sheldon and grandparents of Jeremiah Sheldon Jr. In 1685, John Sheldon deeded to sons Nicholas and John large parcels of land in the Providence area while Nicholas also inherited land in the area from his father-in-law, Pardon Tillinghast. In 1741, Nicholas deeded to his son Jeremiah all "my homestead lands where I dwell" for £1,000. Jeremiah's will, dated May 8, 1783 and recorded December 20, 1784, left his wife Hannah half of his farm and estate during her lifetime, his son, Jeremiah Jr., half of the house, barn and buildings and the remainder after his mother's death, and various other family members 30 shillings.5
Pre-deceased by his wife in 1811, Jeremiah Sheldon Jr. died in 1812, leaving a significant estate valued at $1,568.65. His will dated April 18, 1812 and proved May 28, 1812 specified that his property be maintained to support his children until the youngest reached the age of 14.6 To his sons and executors, Angell and Charles, he left the easterly half of the farm, including the eastern half of the dwelling house. To his daughter, Sarah (d. 1840), he left her mother's wearing apparel, one feather bed and furniture, one low case drawers valued at $8 and best table at $2, along with the privilege of living at home as long as she was single. He directed that his sons Jeremiah and Nicholas be put to trades at sixteen years of age. The remainder of his estate was divided amongst his children William, Jeremiah, Nicholas, Tillinghast, Joseph, Israel, Job and Sarah.
His son, Nicholas (1800-1835), married Harriet Sweetser (1800-1885) in 1822 and they lived in Johnston with their five children. After Nicholas died in 1835, an estate inventory taken on February 17, 1835 was valued at $1,646.90. It included many fine furnishings, such as a secretary bookcase valued at $18, a card table at $15, and twelve parlor chairs at $15, among other items. This chest perhaps corresponds to a listing for a bureau valued at $6.50 in the bedroom. It could also correspond to the "low case drawers" mentioned above that Sarah Sheldon inherited from her father, Jeremiah Sheldon, Jr., which perhaps came into the family of her younger brother Nicholas after her death in 1840.
This three-drawer chest represents an exceedingly rare Newport case form and few examples of comparable quality are known. One in the Kaufman sold at Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., as part of the legendary Mr. and Mrs. Walter B. Robb Collection, Important American Furniture, Sale 4478, November 1980, lot 1290 for $396,000, setting a world record for American furniture at the time. Another in the collection of the Dietrich American Foundation with a replaced top has a history in the Rush-Hazard-Commodore Families.7 A third example formerly in the collection of Alfred Maclay (1871-1944) inscribed "John" in chalk with replaced brasses and replaced moldings under the edge of the top sold at Christie's, January 15-16, 1999, lot 694. A fourth example missing its volutes of the feet was sold in these rooms, June 28-30 1984, lot 691 as the property of Mrs. Henry Drinker Riley. Another is in the Karolik Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.8 Three others are in the collections of the Chipstone Foundation, Winterthur Museum and the Newport Restoration Foundation, respectively.9 One formerly in the collection of Bernard and S. Dean Levy (1738-1836) was by history originally owned by Moses Brown (1738-1836).10
1 See Morrison Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker, New York, 2005, no. 17, pp. 108-11.
2 Heckscher, p. 70.
3 See Heckscher, nos. 24-27, pp. 128-131. See also pp. 67-8.
4 William Richard Cutter, New England Families, Volume 3, p. 1118.
5 Johnston Probate, Volume I, p. 183, Archives, Providence City Hall.
6 Johnston Probate, Volume 4, p. 298, Archives, Providence City Hall.
7 See Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards, Tenafly, NJ, 1984, fig. 7.24, pp. 272 and 300.
8 See Edwin Hipkiss, Eighteenth Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection, Boston: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1950, no. 37, pp. 66-7.
9 See Oswaldo Rodriguez Roque, American Furniture at Chipstone, Madison, WI, 1984, no. 4, pp. 8-11 and Nancy Richards and Nancy Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur, 1997, no. 180, pp. 365-6.
10 See Moses, figs. 8.8-8.89, pp. 312-3.
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