English immigrants to the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies quickly established the region’s furniture-making tradition. more

In the World

  • 1619Galileo perfects the telescope
  • 1621The transatlantic slave trade begins
  • 1702Queen Anne ascends to the English throne

In Massachusetts

  • 1620The Mayflower lands
  • 1630The city of Boston is founded
  • 16921692 Salem Witch Trials

New England Begins

Boston and the Bay, 1620-1690

Eastern Massachusetts furniture of this period reflects English styles and is characterized by broad proportions and sturdy appearance.

Some of this furniture, primarily made of oak, pine, maple, and cedar, also has ornament evocative of the international style known as Anglo-Netherlandish Mannerism. This style is notable for its abundant ornament, carved strapwork (flat, scrolling, sometimes interlaced decoration), and use of geometric designs that were heavily influenced by classical architectural proportions.

Remarkably, within a few decades, Boston craftsmen were creating furniture evocative of fashionable London styles. These early pieces were created by craftsmen such as as the immigrant joiners Henry Mason and Ralph Messenger and the turner Thomas Edsall. They included case furniture that featured imported woods and upholstered seating furniture.

The products of a number of shop traditions in Boston, Salem, Ipswich, Plymouth, Dedham, and other towns have been identified, each reflecting an individualistic interpretation of the prevailing styles. The furniture they created helped establish the visual identity of material life in Massachusetts as the colonists sought to transplant their way of life to the New World.

Selected Bibliography

  • Alexander, Jennie, and Peter Follansbee. Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th-Century Joinery. Fort Mitchell, Ken.: Lost Art Press, 2012.
  • Chinnery, Victor. Oak Furniture: The British Tradition: A History of Early Furniture in the British Isles and New England. Woodbridge, England: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1979.
  • Cullity, Brian. A Cubberd, Four Joyne Stools & Other Smalle Thinges: The Material Culture of Plymouth Colony. Sandwich, Mass.: Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, 1994.
  • Cummings, Abbott Lowell. Rural Household Inventories: Establishing the Names, Uses, and Furnishings of Rooms in the Colonial New England Home, 1675-1775. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1964.
  • Fairbanks, Jonathan L., and Robert F. Trent. New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century. 3 vols. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1982. See esp. vol. 3.
  • Forman, Benno M. American Seating Furniture, 1630-1730: An Interpretive Catalogue. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.
  • Manca. Joseph. “A Matter of Style: The Question of Mannerism in Seventeenth-Century American Furniture.” Winterthur Portfolio 38, no. 1 (spring 2003): 1-36.
  • St. George, Robert Blair. The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England, 1620-1700. Brockton, Mass.: Brockton Art Center-Fuller Memorial, 1979.
  • Tarule, Robert. The Artisan of Ipswich: Craftsmanship and Community in Colonial New England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  • Trent, Robert F., ed. Pilgrim Century Furniture: An Historical Anthology. New York: Main Street/Universe Books, 1976.

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