Cromwell Child, a shipbuilder and sea captain from Warren, R.I., had this high chest made as a wedding present for his daughter Elizabeth in 1776 upon her marriage to Peter Turner, a surgeon serving in the American Revolution. Handed down from generation to generation on the maternal side, the high chest was donated to the DAR Museum by Mary Fales Masland Adams, a direct descendant of Child.
A costly piece of furniture with its carved shell, quarter-fluted columns and scrolled top embellished with carved rosettes and turned finials, this high chest was made in Rhode Island in the late baroque or Palladian style. Furniture in this robust architectural style had been popular in Rhode Island since the 1730s, and its popularity reached the West Indies, where many enterprising cabinetmakers from the Colony exported their products. During the 18th century, high chests were often paired with a matching dressing table and placed in the bedchamber where they stored clothing and other valuable textiles.
Though laws during the period limited what women could actually own, furniture made as part of a bride’s marriage rite could be of considerable value. In account books during the period, mahogany high chests were valued at between 50 and 100 pounds—more than a year’s salary for the average colonist.
American Spirit, Volume 140, No. 6, November/December 2006, Page 13
Photo by Mark Gulezian/QuickSilver