Connecting a London-Trained Joiner to 1630s Plymouth Colony
Studies of seventeenth-century New England furniture have often discussed the influence of London training on joiners who came to New England, and how such craftsmen and their objects might have influenced furniture tradesmen throughout the region. A recent study undertaken to identify New England joiners who first trained in London has begun to bear some interesting fruit. The records of the Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers of London provide the earliest written proof of a London connection to a New England joiner.1 The joiner in question is Kenelm Winslow, who arrived in Plymouth Colony in about 1631.
Evidence of Kenelm's London training is present in the Master's and Wardens' account books kept by the company from 1621 to 1828. In the relevant account citation the text reads: "Item [received] of Kenelme Winslowe late the apprentice of Abraham Worthington a silver spoone and for his admission iij s iiij d" [3 shillings, 4 pence]. It was standard practice for an apprentice finishing his time to make a payment to the Company, along with a gift of a spoon2(Fig. 1).
What is known of Winslow's training? Guidelines established in 1563, in what has come to be known as the Statute of Artificers,3 detailed the various aspects of apprenticeship arrangements. One important distinction was the length of an apprenticeship and the minimum age at which an apprentice could finish his term:
...after the custom and order of the city of London for seven years at the least so the term and years of such apprentice do not expire afore such apprentice shall be of the age of 24 years...4
The record of Winslow's admission is undated but follows records from August of 1624. Winslow was baptized May 3, 1599, in Droitwich, Worcestershire, a date that coincides with his admission to the Joiners' Company approximately twenty-five years later. Assuming Winslow's apprenticeship was a standard sevenyear term, he would have been bound to Abraham Worthington around 1617. Unfortunately, the Master's and Wardens' account books that survive begin with the year 1621, leaving no record of his binding. Yet the name "Kenelm" is distinctive enough, and the dates agree so well that it is safe to proceed with the thinking that this is the Kenelm Winslow, joiner, who lived in Plymouth, and later, Marshfield, Massachusetts. In addition, there are no further known records of a Kenelm Winslow in London.
Kenelm arrived in Plymouth along with his brother Josiah. Their elder brother Edward had been among the Mayflower passengers who reached Plymouth in 1620. Edward Winslow was quite prominent in the government in Plymouth, serving as assistant governor and governor before returning permanently to England by 1646.5
Although other joiners came to New England ahead of Kenelm Winslow, he is the first for whom there is a written record that indicates he was practicing his trade. Within a few years he apparently had enough work to bring on an apprentice. On January 1633/4, Samuel Jenny of Plymouth entered into a contract with Kenelm to learn the "joyners occupacon." The assumption is that Winslow could not teach the boy the trade unless he had enough work to maintain him. The contract is as follows:
Jan 6 1633 Sam Jenny, the sonne of John Jenny, by the consent of the said John, hath bound himself apprentise to Kanelm Winslow, of Plymouth, joyner, for the full terme of four yeares, during wch time the said Samuell shall doe faithfull service, as becometh an apprentise, to the said Kanelm. Also the said Kanelm shall exercise the said Samuell in the joyners occupacon, and shall doe his best to instruct him in his said trade, and at the end of his tyme shall dowble appell the said Samuell. But if the said Kanelm shall remove his dwelling from Plymouth, or the liberties thereof, then this covt to be void 6
The apprenticeship contract between Winslow and Jenny is unremarkable except for the phrase "Sam Jenny...hath bound himself apprentice...for the full terme of four yeares..." As previously noted, the practice in England, particularly London where Winslow had trained, was for an apprentice's term to be seven years, sometimes longer. It became the practice in New England for an apprentice to be twenty-one years old when he finished his term, not twenty-four. The dissatisfaction withthe shorter apprenticeship term in New England is expressed in regulation put forth in Boston nearly three decades later in 1660:
Whereas itt is found by sad experience that many youthes in thisTowne, being put forth Apprentices to severall manufactures and sciences, but for 3 or 4 years time, contrary to the Customs of all well governed places.... if nott timely amended, threatens the welfare of this Towne. Itt is therefore ordered that no person shall henceforth open a shop in this Towne nor occupy any manufacture or science, till hee hath compleated 21 years of age, nor except hee hath served 7 years Apprenticeship...7
Winslow's first apprentice, Samuel Jenny, was probably born in Leiden, Holland, where his parents, John Jenny and Sarah Cary, were married on November 1, 1614. The outcome of Samuel Jenny's apprenticeship is uncertain; there are no known period records referring to his trade other than his apprenticeship contract. In 1635, Winslow's second apprentice, John Gardiner, did not finish his time with him, but was turned over to George Kendrick after only one year. The court record stipulates that Kendrick was "...not bound to teach him the trade of joinery."8 This implies that Kendrick was not a tradesman, but a farmer and Gardiner's apprenticeship would now be as an agricultural laborer. There are no further known records identifying other apprentices of Kenelm Winslow.
Winslow left Plymouth for Marshfield by 1643. He lived there the rest of his life, although he died in Salem. His probate inventory, dated September 25, 1672, is not all that enlightening. It includes "2 Chests and one Trunke" worth £1 4s; "working tooles" [possibly for his trade though he would have been 73 when he died] at £1 10s and 1 longe Table and a form" also worth £1 10s. Five chairs, with no description, were valued at 10 shillings. His will makes no mention of his trade or tools.9
With the record of Winslow's admission to the Joiners' Company of London we now have certain proof of early transmission of a "London style" of furniture to New England. The next question is, what does that particular London style look like? We lack any surviving furniture with a documented attribution to Kenelm Winslow or his apprentices, though Wallace Nutting was eager to assign pieces to Winslow without any evidence.10
We can only look at circumstantial evidence and present what information is known, with the hope of more definitive attributions if and when more records or documented objects become available. At this point, two seventeenth-century pieces of furniture; a joined chest and a wainscot chair, are associated with Kenelm through the reputation that they belonged to Kenelm's brother, Edward Winslow. The joined chest (Fig. 2) has been on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, since the early twentieth century. A brass plaque fastened to the lid records the family history of the chest:
This Chest / was brought to Plymouth in the Ship Mayflower, December 22d /D1620 by Edward Winslow, (afterwards Governor of Plymouth Colony) and / from him, through his great-grand daughter, Elizabeth Winslow, daughter / of the Hon. Isaac Winslow of Marshfield, and wife of Benjamin Marston, Esq. / of Marblehead, in the County of Essex, descended to her greatgrandson, / Benjamin Marston Watson of the City of Boston, its present possessor, who / has caused it to be repaired, and affixed this plate and inscription / this twentieth day of June, in the Year of Our Lord 1830.
Microanalysis of the chest, however, shows it to be red oak, native to New England, thus dismissing the claim that it was brought over on the Mayflower. The lid, the floor, and the bottom 15 inches of all four stiles are replacements. Two features of the chest that quickly differentiate it from identified Marshfield work are the heavy stock used for the rails (over 1-1/2 inches in thickness) and the small sectioned square stiles. These are about 2 inches square, instead of the typical rectangular stiles seen on most New England chests. The chest's framing members are decorated with "crease" moldings on the faces and beveled edges. These moldings represent the extent of the decoration. The crease moldings are off-center, again an unusual feature. These off-center moldings employed on the muntins create an asymmetrical appearance on the chest's facade.
Edward Winslow is traditionally also believed to have been the first owner of a wainscot chair now in the collection of the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, Massachusetts (Fig. 3). This chair, like the joined chest, is made of red oak, thus again indicating a New England origin. The chair has plain columnar turnings on the front stiles, incised carved decoration in the crest rail, and scroll-work edges cut into the seat rails on the front and sides. The rear stiles extend up behind the crest rail, using a joint that has come to be called a "lipped" tenon. This type of tenon appears on dozens of Plymouth Colony chests with drawers and on wainscot cupboards. The chair is notable for its evidence of pit sawing on its seat boards, the bottom surface of the forward seat board shows the irregular marks from handsawing as opposed to the regularly spaced kerfs from a water-powered sawmill. While the joiner used a sawn board for the seat, the rear panel is made from three riven oak boards, edge glued together. The crest rail extends beyond the stiles, leading to the possibility that there were brackets, yet no mortise or other evidence for brackets is apparent.
The wainscot chair was donated to the Pilgrim Society by Abby Frothingham (Gay) Winslow (1816–1905), wife of Isaac Winslow (1813–1883), a descendant of Edward Winslow. In a letter dated December 27, 1882, Isaac recorded the family history concerning the chair, as well as a table also at Pilgrim Hall:
You ask about the table and chair. I do not know much about them but presume from their make they must have come down not long after the May Flower's time. My own impression is that it was the chair and table used by the Governor and Council of Plymouth Colony and after the Colony was absorbed by Massachusetts they naturally fell into the hands of the Winslow family. When I was young and lived in Marshfield I always noticed that the chair and table were always spoken of as 'the Governor's chair and Table.'11
The common thread is that these objects belonged to Edward Winslow because family legend has always maintained that they did. If we could verify that either the wainscot chair or chest were in fact Edward's, then their date range would be very limited because Edward Winslow had moved from Plymouth to Marshfield by 1639, and had returned to England by 1645. There is no inventory of his estate in Marshfield, however, a deed concerning the Plymouth house includes a chair as part of the sale:
[7th March 1645] Mr Edward Winslow doth acknowledg That for and in consideracon of the sum of thirty eight pounds allowed upon the said account in payment to Mr John Beauchamp Hath freely and absolutely bargained and sold unto Mr Edmond ffreeman All that his house scittuate in Plymouth wth the garden Backhouse doores locks bolts Wainscote glasse and Wainscote bedstead in the parlor wth the truckle bed a chaire in the study and all the shelves as now the are in eich roome wth yeard roomth and fences about the same and all & every their apprtenc...unto the said Edmond ffreeman his heires and Assignes for ever...12
With such limited decoration on both the chest and the chair, it is impossible to link them to a common maker. The molding profiles on the chair do not match those on the chest; there are virtually no other features that could be compared with any confidence.
There are several examples of joined work surviving from the town of Plymouth, but they do not form a cohesive group, and have thus escaped attribution to known makers.13 Based on the surviving body of work, there were several productive shops in Marshfield between the mid-1630s and 1700. Among the best-established shops was that of joiner Thomas Little (here 1630–died 1672). A joined chest that descended in his family, on display in the Isaac Winslow house in Marshfield, is the keystone of this group (Fig. 4). Related chests are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution (Fig. 5) (in their Greenwood Collection) and Historic New England (Fig. 6). All three chests feature plain panels, but use more elaborate moldings run in the framing members, and stopped chamfers at the junction of the stiles, rails, and muntins. The chests are seemingly related to the larger body of Plymouth Colony joined furniture represented by the many chests with drawers and press cupboards featuring geometric patterns formed with applied moldings and turnings, and painted decoration.
A table with drawer (Fig. 7), also part of the Smithsonian Institution's Greenwood collection, is likewise connected to works from Marshfield, though not necessarily Little's shop. The decoration consists of carved intersecting lunettes on the drawer front, moldings on the drawer rail and side rails, and baluster turnings on the stiles. Red paint, presumably iron oxide pigment, highlights some of these features. The table relates to other known works with Marshfield connections, though these are not yet attributed to a known shop.14
The Winslow chair at Pilgrim Hall has some attributes that compare favorably with several of these known works from Marshfield, specifically the scrolled decoration on the seat rails, crease moldings on some of the framing, and the lipped tenon on the joint between the rear stiles and the crest rail. Because of its extensive restoration, the Winslow joined chest at the MFA cannot be reliably attributed to any known group of surviving furniture.
The discovery of Kenelm Winslow's admission to the Worshipful Company of Ceilers and Joyners of London warrants a reexamination of Plymouth Colony joiners and joinery to determine the impact of Winslow's London training, if any, on the style of furniture made in the Colony.
2. Family History Library microfilm #1068631; Masters' and Wardens' Account Books, Joiners' Company of London, 1621–1828. Guildhall Library, City of London, Ms 8041.
3. The original title was "An Act touching divers orders for artificers, laborers, servants of husbandry and apprentices."
4. Margaret Gay Davies, The Enforcement of English Apprenticeship: A Study of Applied Mercantilism 1563–1642 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1956) pp. 271–74
5. A search made in these records from 1621 to 1640 produced no further record for Kenelm Winslow or for his master, Abraham Worthington. For biographical details of Kenelm Winslow, see Robert Charles Anderson, The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620–1633 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004), 518–521; for Edward Winslow, ibid. 507–510.
6. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds.; Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, (Boston: from the press of William White, 1855–1861) 1:24
7. Reports of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston: Record Relating to the Early History of Boston (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1876–1909) 39 vols., 2: pt 1, pp. 156, 157 quoted in Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture 1630–1730, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1988), 58.
8. For Samuel Jenny, see the entry for his father, John Jenny in Anderson, Pilgrim Migration, pp. 291–296. Robert Blair St. George in The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England 1620–1700, (Brockton, Massachusetts: Fuller Art Museum, 1979) provides an excellent overview of Plymouth Colony joinery. He refers to Jenny as a joiner, but the only citation is the apprenticeship contract with Kenelm Winslow. See p. 88. John Gardiner stayed with Kendrick only a year, the court records note that he was turned over to a new master once again. See Shurtleff and Pulsifer, eds.; Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, 1:37, 44–45.
9. Kenelm Winslow will and inventory, Plymouth Colony Probate Records, vol. 3, pt 1, f.56–7.
10. In his discussion of the Tracy family wainscot cupboard, now at Winterthur, Wallace Nutting, in Furniture of the Pilgrim Century (Framingham, Massachusetts: Old America Company, 1924) wrote: "The strong assumption is that John Alden or Kenelm Winslow built these cupboards and chests." Alden is not a candidate, being a cooper; and Winslow has yet to be effectively connected to any surviving artifacts.
11. The author thanks Stephen O'Neill, curator at Pilgrim Hall for providing access to the wainscot chair, and his detailed reports from the files concerning its history.
12. Edward Winslow's deeds concerning his Plymouth house are found in Shurtleff and Pulsifer, eds.; Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, 12:129, 50–51.
13. See St. George, figs. 41-43, 53.
14. For the table and a related box, see St. George, The Wrought Covenant, figs. 7 & 8, p. 31.