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Furniture - Living Rooms And Their Contents

( Originally Published 1902 )



THE ordinary modest house of the period was of two stories with a basement. On the first floor were two rooms, used for the parlour and dining-room, occasionally divided by glass doors. Upstairs were three bedrooms, the extra one, of course, being a small one over the hall or entry. In the basement were the cellar-kitchen and the wine-cellar. The kitchen was usually in an additional back building of two stories, the upper one reserved for the negro slaves. Frequently the house had a wing fitted up as an office.

A home of this type was occupied by Abraham Lodge who had built up quite a fortune in his twenty years' practice as a lawyer. The house was so correctly furnished that it may be taken as an example of the prosperous New York home of 1750. It was a two-story brick house with basement. The hall contained four high-backed Windsor chairs and two lanterns. From it you entered the parlour, completely furnished in mahogany. Here were eight mahogany chairs with cabriole legs and claw-and-ball feet, the seats of crimson silk damask. There was a large mahogany scrutoire and bookcase with glass-doors ; a small mahogany dining-table ; a round mahogany tea-table ; and a mahogany card-table. A large pier-glass, a large chimney-glass, and a large gilt-framed picture brightened the walls, and the room glowed with the light of sparkling logs on the brass andirons, near which stood the customary shovel, tongs and bellows. Eleven other pictures contributed additional ornaments, as well as a great array of cut glass and burnt china ware, then extremely fashionable. A valuable treasure in this room was a casket in which the family jewelry was kept, consisting of a gentleman's gold watch, a lady's gold watch and several diamond rings. There was also some handsome family silver.

The dining-room was scarcely less comfortable. The fireplace was furnished with brass andirons, and the light was softened by green window curtains. Here was a large mahogany oval table, a clock, ten matted chairs, a large sconce with gilt frame, two glass sconce candlesticks, a number of small pictures and all the table furniture, among which a lot of blue and white china was conspicuously displayed.

Up-stairs were three rooms. The front bedroom was the guest-chamber, and, like the drawing-room, was furnished with the greatest care in fashionable Chippendale taste. The large mahogany bedstead was unusually handsome because it had claw-and-ball feet ; its tester and curtains were of red stamped camlet, and red was the colour of the room. There was a mahogany easy chair with claw-and-ball feet and a crimson silk damask cover and cushion ; a mahogany dressing-table with drawers ; a mahogany tea-table with claw-and-ball feet and upon it a " painted table cover ; an iron bound chest and a small gilt leather trunk stood on the floor. Upon the walls hung two gilt-framed sconces, two large gilt-framed pictures, three small pictures, and two small black-framed pictures. The china in this room consisted of a large blue and white bowl and six burnt china coffee cups and saucers.

The back bedroom contained a large bedstead and a small folding-bedstead for children. The rest of the furniture comprised a small black-framed looking-glass, two black framed pictures and a small table with leaves. This sombre hue was relieved by the presence of six red leather chairs and the bright fire upon the brass andirons. Mr. Lodge had two silver-hilted small swords and walking-cane.

The third room, over the entry, was small ; and here was only an old walnut cupboard—an old-fashioned Kas—and a close-chair. The basement was devoted to the cellar, kitchen, wine-cellar, and storeroom. Mr. Lodge kept four slaves, a man, two women, and a girl, who lived over the kitchen at the back of the house. Still farther away was the stable.

Adjoining the house was Mr. Lodge's office, furnished with a writing-desk, table and stand, three matted chairs and his library. Above this office, he had a private room to which he might retire for rest.

The Walton house, built in 1752, and which has already been mentioned, was richly appointed. Most of the woodwork, including the staircase, was of mahogany and the furniture was of this wood. The handsomest curtains were of silk damask, which was the material used for covering many of the chairs and sofas. There were a number of green Windsor chairs in the house. Some of the furniture was upholstered with the hair-seating that had then become fashionable. There were three large walnut and gilt-framed mirrors in the house. Mr. Walton had acquired an immense fortune in his commercial ventures and made himself exceedingly popular. On the return of the British army from their victories in Canada in 1759, he entertained the officers in magnificent style, and it is said that the wealth displayed here was brought forward at home by some of these travellers as a proof that the American colonists were perfectly able to pay taxes for the war. The silver that was in daily use in this luxurious home will be described elsewhere.

Another handsome dwelling was that of de Peyster, in Queen Street, near Pearl. It gained historical interest when Governor Clinton lived there and Washington used the house for headquarters. Abraham de Peyster, a descendant of Johannes de Peyster (a native of Holland and a merchant of New Amster-dam) and mayor of New York in 1691-'5, was possessed of great wealth.

The house that he built in 1695, and that remained standing until 1856, was situated in Pearl Street, and was a fine specimen of the rich home of the day. It was of three stories with a balcony over its generous door. The parlour, on the first floor, was furnished with a couch and fifteen mahogany and black walnut chairs and several tables : one of these a round mahogany card-table ; another, a square mahogany card-table ; a third, an old mahogany table ; and there were also a Japanned tea-table ; and two marble tables and stands. The fireplace was furnished with an iron hearth with brass handles, tongs, shovel, and brush ; and near it stood a fire-screen. A mahogany desk and bookcase with glass doors and a large pier-glass completed the furniture of this room.

Upon the walls hung thirteen glazed pictures and three landscape paintings—one large and one small—and seven pictures painted on wood and canvas. Light was contributed by two glass candlesticks with branches. The windows were draped with curtains. Three cases of ivory-handled knives and forks, a case of plated ware, three china punch-bowls, a china basket and twenty china plates, and an entire china tea-service, consisting of tea-pot, cream-jug and sugar-bowl, besides cups and saucers, would seem to indicate that refreshments were served so frequently in this room that it was necessary to keep the dishes there.

The dining-room was directly behind the parlour. Here the most noticeable piece of furniture was the large mahogany dining-table, but there were also a mahogany tea-board and a round mahogany table. Seven black walnut chairs with blue worsted bottoms furnished the seats ; the windows were hung with calico curtains ; and a canvas cloth was spread upon the floor. Andirons, shovel, and tongs gave evidence of the cheerful open wood fire. The other furniture included a clock, a fire-screen, a pier-glass, two pairs of sconces with gilt frames, a pair of brass candle-sticks, a mahogany tea chest, and two portraits,—King George and Queen Caroline.

In the hall were two sofas covered with leather, five leather chairs, a dining-table and three lanthorns. The floor was laid with canvas. At the head of the stairs stood a tea-table, a lanthorn, and a painted wooden dog.

The principal bedroom was known as " the wain-scot room." The prevailing hue was green. The bed was hung with green worsted curtains, and there were two green stools. The other furniture comprised a dressing-table and mirror, a pier-glass, mahogany stand, six black walnut chairs, two arm-chairs; an easy chair, a cabinet, andirons, tongs and shovel.

Next was the " west bedroom," and on the same floor the "tapestry room" hung with tapestry that had once been extremely fashionable but was now not much valued. The chairs here were of leather. On the same floor there was a front room used as a sitting-room. Here were two Dutch painted tea-tables, an old-fashioned pier-glass, fifteen cane seat chairs, pictures, china tea-cups, etc.

Going up-stairs, there was a " Blue Bedroom." Of course, the curtains of the bed and windows were blue. The furniture consisted of a chest-uponchest," six cane seat chairs, a dressing-table, a home-spun rug, a pier-glass, eight glazed pictures, and five India pictures.

Upon this floor were two other bedrooms : one, contained a bedstead with curtains, brass hearth-furniture, a looking-glass, four glass sconces, ten matted chairs, and some pieces of earthenware on the mantel-piece. In the other, in addition to the bedstead, were four matted chairs, a slate table, a square deal table, a small stand and five India pictures.

Of course, there were a garret and cellar, a wine-cellar, and an office or counting-room. In an extension were placed the kitchen and the apartments of the negro slaves. Farther away was the stable where were kept the horses, the chaise and the double and single sleigh.

A good idea of the luxurious furniture of New York in the middle of the Eighteenth Century may be gained by glancing at the will of Mrs. Alexander, widow of James Alexander, who died in 1760.

She bequeathed £5000 to her eldest son John, also "my late son David's picture which hangs in the great room above stairs :" to her son William, " my dwelling-house with the outhouses, ground, stables and appurtenances ; " also " my largest and best car-pet as also his father's and my picture." To her daughter Mary Livingston, " all my wearing apparel whatsoever, as linen, woollen, silk, gold and jewels of all kinds, . . . also my chaise called the Boston Chaise and the horse I have and keep at pasture."

To her daughter Elizabeth Stevens, the wife of John Stevens of New Jersey, 100 "to purchase furniture for a bed." To her daughter Catherine Parker, " 16 crimson damask chairs, one dozen and four crimson damask window curtains, the looking-glass, the marble table that now are in the dining-room, the square tea-table with the china thereon in the blue and gold leather room, as also the one-half of all the china and glass in all the closets, the mahogany dining-table the next in size to the largest, the mahogany clothes chest, as also my wench called Venus and her two children Clarinda and Bristol, also my long silver salver, a silver tea-kettle and lamp, the chintz bed in the large back room with the feather bed, bolster, pillows, bedstead and furniture, . . my third best carpet and all my pictures not given to any other . . . also £100 to buy furniture for a bed."

To her youngest daughter Susannah, £1500 ; also " the two large looking-glasses and the two marble tables which are placed and stand under them, the eighteen chairs with green bottoms and the green window curtains ... in the great Tapestry Room above stairs, . . . also three sconces suiting in the above-mentioned glasses and the twelve chairs with green bottoms which are in the little front parlour below stairs, also the looking glass and pictures that hang in the old parlour below, the green russell bed and window curtains, the green silk bed quilt, two blankets, one rug, the feather bed, two pillows, bolsters and bedstead belonging thereto. . . . also the chintz bed that stands in the little back room, with the bedstead, feather bed, two blankets, one rug, one quilt, two pillows and one bolster, the large Holland cupboard, the dressing-table and dressing-glass, twelve chairs with yellow bottoms, the five pair of window curtains, the square tea-table with white china upon it which are in the room hung with blue and gilt leather, my large mahogany table and three small mahogany tables, my second best carpet, one set of blue and white china dishes and plates for a table, also a tureen, eighteen pair of sheets, 36 pillow cases, 24 table cloths, 36 napkins, 24 pewter dishes, 60 pewter plates, four of my best kettles, four of my best iron pots, four saucepans, four pair of andirons, four pair of tongs and shovels, 24 ivory handled knives, 24 do. forks, also the other half part of all the china and glass in all the closets of the house I live in also . . . my best silver tankard and two silver mugs, two pair of silver salt cellars, two sauce cups, 12 table spoons, one silver bowl, two silver tea cannisters, one sugar box, one milk pot, 12 teaspoons and a tea-tongs, one silver tea-kettle and chafing-dish, two small salvers belonging to the tea table furniture and my silver salver next to the largest." Her best horse and chaise she gave to her daughters Catherine and Susannah equally. All other house linen was to be shared equally among her four daughters ; all other plate among six children.

This was a very charming home. One room was evidently furnished in crimson damask and contained sixteen richly upholstered chairs ; another room was hung with blue and gold leather ; another, rich with tapestry, contained eighteen chairs with green bottoms matching the curtains ; and another was in yellow, if we may judge from the twelve chairs with yellow bottoms and five pairs of window curtains. These chairs, in all probability, were of walnut, or mahogany, with the carved wooden backs. Mrs. Alexander had also some handsome beds, notably the one draped with green, the material being a kind of flowered worsted damask known as russell. She had looking-glasses and sconces in glittering frames, marble tables, and a vast amount of china and plate. The large Holland cupboard, which was, of course, a Kas, shows that some of her furniture was old.

Mrs. Alexander was a striking instance of the fact that in New York the keeping of a shop in colonial days did not interfere with social position. She was a woman of much energy and enterprise, and for many years had actually imported and sold goods. She was a widow when she was married to James Alexander, who was a lawyer of wealth and distinction. Their son was educated in England and while abroad endeavoured to claim the title of the Earl of Stirling. Not recognized, he returned to America where he was always addressed as the Earl of Stirling. Having noted the contents of Mrs. Alexander's home, it may be interesting to read the following advertisement that appeared in 1761 :

" To be sold at prime cost the shop goods of the late Mrs. Alexander, consisting of Broadcloths, Ratinets, Shalloons, Durants, Tammies, Worsted Hoses, Gold and Silver Lace, Silk for Women's Wear, Ribbons and China ware and a Variety of Other Goods at the House of the late Mrs. Alexander."

Furniture for the comfort of the children is frequently met with. We have seen that Mr. Lodge had a folding bed for his children. A child's rocking-chair and a leather-covered cradle appear on page 67.

The latter bears the date 1734 in brass nails.



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