Description: PROPERTY OF A LADY
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height 92 1/8 in. by width 41 7/8 in. by depth 22 5/8 in. (249.2cm by 106.4cm by 57.5cm)
Case width 38 1/2 inches. Valances in desk interior missing. Vase, candlesticks and ledger not included with this lot.
This desk-and-bookcase originally belonged to Gilbert Deblois (1725-1791) of Boston, who married Ann Coffin in 1749;
Thence by direct descent in their family to the present owners.
The Story of a Boston Merchant
I. The Man
Gilbert Deblois (March 15, 1725 to November 27, 1791), the second child and first son of Stephen and Ann (Furley) Deblois, was born in New York and died in Broadstairs (a small resort town in Kent, near Ramsgate, England). Gilbert's parents were part of New York colonial governor William Burnet's retinue that arrived in New York in September 1720. Stephen Deblois and Ann Furley were married in New York in February 1721 and named their son in honor of Governor Burnet's father, Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury. When the royal governor was removed to Massachusetts, the parents and their three children followed William Burnet to Boston, where they joined the Anglican parish of King's Chapel and Stephen became the church organist in March 1733. Burnet died in September 1729.
After growing up in Boston, Gilbert Deblois entered his business as an "importer of hardware and other foreign goods" at the end of 1746. On February 17, 1749, Gilbert Deblois married Ann Coffin (1730-1808), the daughter of William and Ann (Holmes) Coffin, in Boston. Between 1752 and 1774, in their long and politically turbulent lives, the couple produced sixteen children. In late 1750 or early 1751, Gilbert and his younger brother Lewis Deblois (1727-1799) purchased a dwelling house bounded by Hanover and Queen streets. The brothers petitioned the town in 1754 for widening Queen Street in front of their property. Subsequently, Gilbert and Ann made their home on Longacre street (now Tremont Street near Bromfield) opposite the common. Both brothers prospered as merchants and importers of English goods. Gilbert owned stores in Boston, Worcester, Providence, Newport, a shipyard and his own fleet of vessels. By 1756 Gilbert's chief place of business was advertised as located at the "Sign of the Crown and Comb" near the prison on Queen Street; for some years he also had a warehouse at the head of Green's Wharf. He advertised in the Boston Gazette, September 29, 1760: "Just imported ... from London, and to be Sold, by Gilbert Deblois, At his warehouse on Green's Wharf, opposite John Rowe, Esq; (only by Wholesale) A large and compleat Assortment of Winter Goods." After the economic downturn in 1764, he abandoned the warehouse for a store at the lower end of King Street, "adjoining Mr. James Apthorp's."
In 1762 Gilbert bought the "Paddock Elms" from James Smith, a wealthy sugar-baker and a warden of King's Chapel, and planted them in front of the Granary, just opposite his house on Tremont Street. Smith had imported the elms from England and then placed them in his nursery at Bush Hill, Milton. In return for the trees, Gilbert promised to name a son for James Smith, which he did in 1769. In late 1763, Gilbert and his brother Lewis were appointed vestrymen of King's Chapel. In 1764, during the smallpox epidemic in Boston, Gilbert moved part of his large stock of hardware, groceries and liquors to the "Sign of the Half Moon," a store in Weston, "on the great road to Worcester.." In addition in Boston, Gilbert had a shop opposite School Street, "near the late Rev. Dr. Sewall's meetinghouse" and a shop in a new, detached brick store at No. 1 Cornhill. In his memorials, petitions and claims as a Loyalist following the Revolution, he stated that over the thirty years of his business as a merchant he imported nearly £200,000 of goods, which produced an annual profit of £1,200 sterling.
The Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct tax levied by Parliament upon the American colonies, was designed to increase crown revenues by requiring a stamp duty on a large variety of printed items, and all legal documents. By this Act colonial whiggish opposition suddenly mobilized. Almost overnight the colonies entered into Nonimportation Agreements that were so effective that even London merchants petitioned Parliament for a repeal of the tax. Against these Nonimportation Agreements of the radicals, the Loyalist Gilbert Deblois took a firm stand, although he was forced to sign them in May 1768. In January 1774, as the Revolution approached, he purchased his latest dwelling on Tremont Street, at the north corner of Bromfield Street, which he bought from John Timmins (which would later burn in 1838). During the Revolution, this valuable property was confiscated, because Deblois fled the colonies as a Loyalist refugee, but his wife was afterward permitted to buy it back.
The so-called Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770, when a mob of some 60 hecklers, expressing the community's resentment at the quartering of British troops in the town of Boston, began to snowball a squad of redcoats. A fracas developed, during which, without orders, several soldiers opened fire on the mob, killing three and wounding eight, two of whom later died. Radical patriots deliberately characterized the brawl as a "massacre" for propaganda purposes. Captain Thomas Preston and the British soldiers were tried for manslaughter, and with John Adams (a leader of the Massachusetts Whigs) acting as the defense lawyer and Gilbert Deblois (a leading High Tory Boston merchant) serving on the jury, the men obtained an acquittal. This melee, in which the Americans patriots were partly at fault, was so maneuvered as to create strong anti-British feeling and an outspoken demand for American independence. Throughout 1770 Gilbert wrote that all the goods he had imported, contrary to the Nonimportation Agreement, had to be returned to England, noting the "great change in the attitude of the Sons of Liberty." In 1774, Gilbert Deblois was an Addresser of the unpopular Thomas Hutchinson, the retiring governor, reciting the special favors the Loyalists had enjoyed during his administration and testifying their loyalty to the king. In May 1774, before the British general Thomas Gage replaced Hutchinson as governor of Massachusetts, Tory leaders in Boston canvassed up and down King Street and Cornhill, along the docks, and in the neighboring towns of Cambridge, Roxbury and Dorchester looking for supporters of the Crown. The Tory leaders were able to subscribe one hundred and twenty-three inhabitants including Gilbert Deblois to an address that welcomed Gage's coming. Soon after his arrival, Gage attempted to secure military stores west of Boston in Concord. This military action instigated the shot heard round the world and precipitated the War of Independence. By October 1774, Gage had resigned and was replaced by Sir William Howe.
Following the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, the metropolis of Boston became for a time a kind of sanctuary for the Massachusetts Tories; but following the fortification of Dorchester Heights on the night of March 4th the following year, "the last trump," as George Washington wrote, "could not have struck the Tories with greater consternation." When Lord Howe began his hurried embarkation from Boston to Nova Scotia, the Loyalist inhabitants were permitted to go first; however orders were given to them to carry nothing but necessities. The fleet of one hundred and seventy set sail on March 11, 1776. Abigail Adams, looking out from Penn's Hill in Braintree, reported the forest of masts as the largest fleet ever seen in America. The transports were mostly small schooners, and on their top-heavy decks were huddled a wretched throng of soldiers and refugees. There was but one consolation, as one of them expressed it, "neither Hell, Hull nor Halifax, can afford worse shelter than Boston." It was impossible, thought another of them, that more events could occcur to render their distress complete, and their ruin almost inevitable. They remembered that March was the most tempestuous month of the year on the American coast, and feared that without a miracle the wretched fleet must be dispersed and lost. In spite of their misgivings, however, their ragged fleet of ships with its nine hundred plus fugitive Loyalists arrived after six days on the Nova Scotia coast -- and among them were Gilbert and Lewis Deblois and three of Gilbert's sons, Lewis, Francis, and Stephen, leaving behind his wife and five children, oldest son Gilbert, Jr., three sons, William, John, and James Smith and daughter Elizabeth.
In October 1776, Gilbert sailed from Halifax to New York and visited his cousin George ("Sr.") Deblois (1740-1799), then in December sailed to England with two of his sons. Communication became difficult because letters and goods were held. In December 1777 Ann Deblois wrote to her son Lewis, "How ardently do I wish the reunion of my at present very unhappyly sepperated family. I have been kindly treated by everyone here since your Papa absence but earnestly wish to know where is to be the place of my destiny." Young Lewis was in Quebec. In 1779, Gilbert was proscribed and banished as an enemy of the state, and his estate confiscated. The following year in London he addressed the King as an expatriated Loyalist. In his statement of account he said he apprehended that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would not benefit greatly by the confiscation of his estates, inasmuch as a considerable part was invested in the hands of committees, who did not render an account satisfactory to the public, with the result that a proposal was made that the General Court should institute an enquiry into the conduct of these committees, but the affair was dropped. In April 1779, Ann Deblois, wife of Gilbert Deblois, received one-third dower right to No. 1 Cornhill and the Tremont Street property by the committee appointed by the Probate Court.
During his exile in England, Gilbert Deblois lived outside of London in Peckham in Surrey, first on Elysium Row and then on Camden Row. Following repeated unsuccessful requests to his wife to come to England, by 1779 he has written that he had abandoned that hope. During this period, between 1777 and 1780, Gilbert had his portrait painted by John Singleton Copley, who was living in London in Leicester Square. In September 1780, the Massachusetts Inferior Court of Common Pleas forfeited and confiscated Gilbert's Taunton shipyard and his fleet of ships; the next year in April the same legal action was taken against his Boston property. In October 1785 two-thirds of the land and house in on Tremont Street was sold to her. In February 1783, two thirds of the confiscated land and brick warehouse on Cornhill was sold to their son Gilbert Deblois, Jr. (1755-1808). After the war, he sent his son Francis (1763-1786) from London to Boston in August 1784 to collect debts and try to recover other Deblois confiscated property for the family, but the young man died there in March 1786 before he could achieve any notable success. The father himself, Gilbert Deblois, in response to entreaties of the family, sailed for Boston in 1789 to attend the marriage of his son Lewis (1760-1833) to Ruth Hooper Dalton in Newburyport, and also to make his will, dated June 3, 1789, and proved in Boston in 1792. He returned to England in early 1790.
Gilbert obviously was not well, suffering with symptoms of gout. Ever the concerned and solicitous father, he carried on a stern correspondence after he returned to England with his daughter Elizabeth over her romantic involvement now with one "M. de L'Etombe." At the same time, he was having a rather contentious dispute with St. John's Church in Providence over the failure to be paid for the procurement of an organ for the church. In July 1791, he moved to Broadstairs in Kent on the North Sea for his health and died there on November 27υth (despite the fact that the official published genealogy of the family states that he "died in Packham, a suburb of London"). His wish to be buried at Pentonville besides "Uncle Twycross and Sister Winslow" was fulfilled.
Gilbert DeBlois -- with his fellow American Loyalists -- because of the American Revolution suffered losses and family separations, but maintained pride in their colonial merchant tradition.
II. The Family
The founders of the three branches of the Deblois family in America were Stephen Deblois (1699--1778), Gilbert's father, and and two sons of George Deblois (1710-1798), Stephen (1735-1805) and George ("Sr.") (1739/40--1799). Stephen (the elder) and George were both born in Oxford, England. Stephen lived first in New York, and then permanently in Boston; Stephen the younger lived in Newport, Rhode Island, and his brother, George ("Sr."), lived first in Salem, Massachusetts, then New York, New York, and then finally in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The patriarch of the family was Louis (or Lewis) DeBlois (or Deblois) of Oxford, who came to England as a Huguenot refugee out of France as early as 1688 following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He died in England in June 1739.
Stephen Deblois arrived in New York in September 1720 aboard the ship Seahorse in the retinue of Governor William Burnet and in New York married Ann Furley (1687--1762) in February 1721 who was also in the household of Burnet and traveled in the same ship with her future husband. Stephen Deblois built the Concert Hall on Hanover Street in 1756, the first building in Boston to be used for public concerts. He was an accomplished musician and served as the organist of King's Chapel for thirty-five years. Their first child was Sarah (1723--1777), who married William Wait Wallis (b. 1721) in 1743 and had several daughters who were living mid-century; then their son, our Gilbert Deblois, who was born in 1725; and finally another son, Lewis Deblois, (1727-1799), who married in 1739 first, in Boston, Elizabeth Jenkins (1730--1767), and second, in 1770, Elizabeth Debuke (1725-1799).
Lewis Deblois, born in New York in 1727, became like his brother Gilbert, a successful importer of and dealer in hardware and other foreign goods after the family's move to Boston. Like his father, Stephen, and his brother, Gilbert, he too had a great interest in music; both brothers served as organists in several Boston churches. He advertised for sale a "curious toned harpsichord just imported" which is "esteemed the master piece of the famous Falconer." He also advertised for church use an organ made by Mr. Thomas Johnston of Boston, the furniture craftsman, japanner, painter, engraver, and looking glass seller (1708-1767), formerly used in his father's Concert Hall. In 1774, when he became a "protester and addresser," he identified himself as a "shopkeeper" in Dock Square. And like his brother, Gilbert, in March 1776, with a family of two, he went with Howe's fleet to Halifax, and from there, sailed with Gilbert and other Loyalists for England. With his brother Gilbert, Lewis was frequently a partner in business and had been a fellow vestryman of King's Chapel, 1765 to 1776. His second wife, Elizabeth Debuke Deblois, accompanied him in exile to England, where he died on February 9, 1799, and where the Gentleman's Magazine reported his death: "Very suddenly at his apartment in Holborn, after being out on that day, Mr. Lewis Deblois, late merchant in Boston, North America."
Lewis Deblois had four children by his first wife, Elizabeth (Jenkins) Deblois: (1) George Deblois, "Jr.", so-called in the family (1750-1819), who married, first, Catherine Loughton, (1752-1776) in 1773; married, second, Lydia Scott, in 1777; and married, third, Mrs. Ruth (Hooper) Jenkins, in 1809; (2) Sarah Deblois (1753-1827), married in 1771, George Deblois, (1739/40-1799) of Salem, called ("Sr.") in the family, the first cousin of her father. He has been called the "founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia." (3) Lewis (1762-1801) who married but about whom little else is known. (4) Gilbert Deblois (1763-1785), who died in Providence without issue.
When Gilbert Deblois (1725-1791) married Ann Coffin (1730-1808), daughter of William and Ann (Holmes) Coffin, in Boston on February 17, 1749, she was nineteen years of age. Ann (Coffin) Deblois descended from a distinguished Massachusetts maritime (Tristram Coffyn of Nantucket) and merchant family: she was a sister of Nathaniel Coffin, whose son was the distinguished British admiral Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839); her sister Elizabeth Coffin was the wife of Thomas Amory; and "It is said, on the testimony of Sir Guy Carlton and others, that her brother John Coffin by his resolution and watchfulness played the chief part in saving Quebec and Canada to England." She was a determined lady and chose to remain in Boston throughout her life. "Mrs. Deblois was so fierce a Loyalist that she never would be reconciled to one or two of her sons who became Whigs."
Gilbert and Ann (Coffin) Deblois had sixteen children, with seven of tens sons reaching maturity, and one surviving daughter, "the beautiful Betsy Deblois."
~ Ann (1752--1753)
~ Ann (1754--1755)
~ Gilbert (1755--1803), m. in 1780 and had one son.
~ Stephen (1757--1758)
~ William (1758--1806), m. in 1785 Sarah Williams and had seven children.
~ Lewis (1760--1833), m. 1789 Ruth H. Dalton and had six children.
~ Elizabeth (1761--1843), the historic "Miss Betsy", who died unmarried.
~ Francis (1763--1785), died unmarried.
~ Stephen (1764--1850), m. Elizabeth Amory, his first cousin and had eight children of whom the third son John Amory Deblois (1797-1855) married Emily Jane Rousse and produced the line that inherited the desk-and-bookcase
~ Ann (Aug.1765--Sept. 1765) John (1767--1784), died unmarried in London.
~ James Smith (1769--1803), named for James Smith, the well-to-do Boston sugar-baker and warden on King's Chapel, was purser of the frigate Constitution and died of a fever in the harbor of Smyrna.
~ Isaac (1770--1771)
~ Ann (1771--1774)
~ Ralph (1773--1774)
~ Lucy Ann (1774--1775)
Since the surviving daughter Elizabeth Deblois (1761--1843),"one of Boston's noted eighteenth-century belles in her own day", plays such an important role in the provenance of her father's desk-and-bookcase, and since her life of love and romance could have such a potential cinematic role, the record deserves a bit of lengthy indulgence from the genealogical record of the family:
The Genealogical Register notes that in July 1777, Betsy or the "Beautiful Betsy" as she was known, was wooed by Mr. Martin Brimmer, but her mother disapproved of the match for some reason -- possibly connected with the Revolution. Just as the wedding banns were announced in church (perhaps King's Chapel), the mother stood up and forbade them. Mr. Brimmer thereupon brought in the evening a loaded hay cart under Betsy's window -- at the corner of Bromfield and Tremont Streets -- that he might take her to church and be married without more ado. As she was preparing to step down on the hay her mother came into the room, threw her arms around her, and sent for a carpenter to nail up the window. The man came, but declined the job: he 'could not do it to such a beautiful young lady'. Alas, the romance did not survive and Mr. Brimmer married someone else.
Later in 1777, after the Brimmer relationship had ended, Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), the Revolutionary patriot, soon to be hero of The Battle of Saratoga and eventual traitor, sent a letter to Mrs. Knox, wife of General Knox, enclosing another letter requesting 'favorable intelligence' on 'the heavenly Miss Deblois', through Mrs. Knox and 'the charming Mrs. Emery,' who was no doubt Ann Deblois's sister Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Amory. Arnold was three years Betsy's senior and a patriot. She declined his interest as well.
Betsy was accomplished in music and entertained friends in the Deblois home during the war years. Surviving family letters mention additional admirers and her brothers often urged her to choose wisely. For whatever her reasons however, she declined all of her suitors and never married.
Upon her mother's death in 1808, Betsy inherited almost all her mother's property, including the house on Tremont Street. She lived there in 'single-blessedness and high respectability' until well toward 1836, when she moved to Roxbury. Her will, dated 27 Dec. 1830, is recorded at Dedham. She is said to have remained almost to the last 'a straight, tall, elegant woman." She died in Roxbury on October 27, 1843.
Stephen Deblois, one of Betsy's younger brothers, was born in Boston on April 4, 1764, and married in September 1792, his first cousin, Elizabeth Amory (1768-1850), the daughter of his mother's sister and her husband, Elizabeth (Coffin) and Thomas Amory. Stephen died at the United States Hotel in Boston on June 3, 1850. However, in his father's (Gilbert's) will drawn in 1789, Stephen is listed as living in Portland, Maine. He and his wife had eight children.
Thomas Amory Deblois (1794-1867), the second of Stephen's sons, a graduate of Harvard College 1813, married Dorcas Deering of Portland, Maine, where he died without issue. He practiced law in Portland, and during the administrations of Presidents Zachary Taylor (1848-1850) and Millard Fillmore (1850-1852), he was the United States District Attorney for Maine, and in 1857 he represented Portland in the state legislature. Bowdoin College conferred on him the degree of L.L.D. in 1867. At some point in his lifetime he acquired a copy of the Copley portrait of his grandfather, Gilbert Deblois.
John Amory Deblois (1797-1855) the third of Stephen's sons, Harvard College 1816, married Emily Jane Rousse (1822-1907), who was born in Virginia and died in Boston. He died in Columbus, Georgia; the Columbus Enquirer of June 5, 1855, published the following obituary upon his death: "The sudden death of one of our leading merchants fills our entire community with profound sorrow. In all the relations of life Mr. John A. De Blois was a model man; he was one of the pillars of the Episcopal Church. He was a native of Boston, but had resided in this city since 1837; and has been actively engaged in the commission business as a member of the firm of Hall and De Blois, a firm which contributed much to the prosperity of Columbus by its extensive business with Northern manufacturers. Honest and upright in his business relations, social in his intercourse with his fellows, a model husband, father and citizen, he dies without leaving an enemy behind him, and his loss is deplored by this community as a public calamity."
Nathaniel James Deblois (1806-1858), the fourth son of Stephen, married in 1845 Mrs. Angelique L.V. (Rousse) Hurd, and died in Boston at the age of 52.
Thomas Amory Deblois, M.D. (b. 1848), the eldest of three children of John Amory Deblois of Columbus, Georgia, graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served for eighteen years in the U.S. Navy. He received his medical degree from Dartmouth in 1877 and from the University of New York in 1878. He married Louisa Dorinthea Anderson of New York. Of their two children, Lewis Amory DeBlois (1878-1967), Harvard 1899, was the prolific family historian and grandfather of the consignors of the Gilbert Deblois Boston desk-and-bookcase.
III. The Gilbert Deblois Family Desk-and-Bookcase
By the time of the death of Ann (Coffin) Deblois -- widow of Gilbert Deblois in December 1808, only three of her sixteen children survived her:
~ Lewis (1760-1833), who married Ruth H. Dalton and had six children, none of whom ever married.
~ Elizabeth (1761-1843), unmarried.
~ Stephen (1764-1850), who married his first cousin, Elizabeth Amory, and had eight children.
When Gilbert Deblois died in 1791, he had left the Tremont-Bromfield Streets "mansion" and his "furniture" in equal parts to his wife, Ann, and daughter, Elizabeth. When Ann (Coffin) Deblois died in 1808 she left only $33 to each of her two surviving sons and the entire estate of personal and real property to her daughter Elizabeth. When Elizabeth moved to Roxbury in 1836 she sold the Tremont Street house for $26,500. At this time, she was seventy-five years of age and wealthy.
When Loyalist father Gilbert Deblois died in 1791, he left only five shillings to his two oldest sons, Gilbert Jr. (1755-1803) and William (1758-1806) because of an ongoing estate issue. Gilbert Jr. had only one son, Francis Gilbert (1781-1831), who upon his death left several children as wards of Elizabeth, who lived with their aunt. When her brother Lewis (1760-1833) died, two of his daughters--Charlotte (1791-1881) and Matilda (1798-1863)--were also living with Elizabeth in Roxbury. They with their two other siblings, Elizabeth (1792-1849) and Dalton (1800-1854), survived their aunt, and all died unmarried.
Elizabeth, before her death in 1843, set up five trusts totaling $40,500 and a direct bequest of $2,000 for the benefit of all her nephews and nieces. When Matilda died in 1863 and her sister Charlotte in 1881, each willed to the other her "entire estate, real, personal and mixed, if surviving;" otherwise to Aunt Elizabeth's "paid housekeeper" and their companion "Mary Atwood of said Boston, during her life or until she shall again marry," and then to her three children upon her death. Each sister, Matilda and Charlotte, therefore, appointed the other her executor, with full power to dispose of her estate by public auction or private sale, but, if deceased, then to pass to Mary Atwood for disposition. Therefore, either the desk-and-bookcase passed on to Mary Atwood from whom it may have been purchased at a later point by a descendant as was a clothespress currently in the collection of the Museum Fine Arts, Boston or it may have been given to Emily Jane (Rousse) Deblois (1822-1907) before Charlotte's death. The later hypothesis appears more plausible as Emily was the last of that generation still alive and no record exists among the carefully kept records of the Deblois family detailing any such purchase as it does of the clothespress.
The family historian, Lewis Amory DeBlois (1878-1967), wrote that "the earliest I recall seeing [the desk-and-bookcase] it was stood in the library of 119 Gibbs Avenue, Newport, R.I., called my father's cottage because he designed it, but owned by Granny (Emily J. Deblois [1822-1907], my father's mother). This must have been 1888. I cannot recall it in any of our homes in Boston...when Granny came to live with us during the last years of her life I think it must have remained in Newport probably in one of the cottages until Granny died in 1907 when it was shipped to me in Wilmington, Del." When "Granny" Emily Jane (Rousse) Deblois died in Boston on February 2, 1907, she left in her will of August 11, 1896: the disposition of "the old family desk to my son Thomas Amory DeBlois, to hold during his life and, after his death, to my grandson Lewis Amory DeBlois and his heirs."
Lewis Amory DeBlois (1878-1967) was a knowledgeable student of American furniture and a responsible steward in his care of his family heirloom. Having lived in Wilmington, Delaware, he had the wit and curiosity in early 1953 to write Joseph Downs, the curator of the newly-opened Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum to seek his advice and expertise. In early 1955 Lewis wrote to his son from Chappaqua, New York, into whose possession it had passed, with conviction, captivation, and circumspection: "it is a unique piece; I have seen much old furniture but never a piece like it." Nor have we.
Eaton, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton, Old Boston Families, Number One: The DeBlois Family (Boston, 1913).
Fox, Frank B., Two Huguenot Families: DeBlois-Lucas (Cambridge, 1949).
Jones, E. Alfred, The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims (London, 1930).
Meredith, Gertrude Euphemia, The Descendants of Hugh Amory, 1605-1805 (London, 1901).
Nelson, William H., The American Tory (Oxford, 1961).
Prown, Jules David, John Singleton Copley, In England, 1774-1815 (Cambridge, 1966).
Smith, Paul H., Loyalists and Redcoats, A Study in British Revolutionary Policy (Chapel Hill, 1964).
Stark, James H., The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution (Boston, 1907).
Whitehill, Walter Muir, Boston: A Topographical History (Cambridge, 1959).
Van Tyne, Claude H., The Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York, 1902).
Zobel, Hiller B., The Boston Massacre (New York, 1970).
Exceptionally carved, meticulously constructed and retaining an early finish, this monumental desk-and-bookcase is a masterpiece of Boston craftsmanship as well as an important document of American furniture, as its original owner and carver are known. It was commissioned by Gilbert Deblois (1725-1791) (fig.1), a member of the merchant aristocracy of Boston who achieved considerable wealth before the Revolution selling "imports from Great-Britain, Ireland, France and Holland" at his "store in Cornhill, no. 1, opposite School-Street, Near the Old South Meeting House."υ1 He was also a strong Loyalist who served on the jury for the Boston Massacre trial of his friend, British Captain Thomas Preston. His staunch loyalism forced him to flee to England for the duration of the war, separating him from his family and leaving most of his possessions in Boston with his wife. His name appears listed in the Banishment Act of the State of Massachusetts, dated September 1778, as well as in the Lloyd's of Nova Scotia Banishment. It was during his stay in England that he commissioned a portrait from John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)υ2. He likely ordered the present desk after his marriage to Ann Coffin in 1749, and it appears listed in the 1792 inventory of his estate at the value of £9 (see fig. 2)υ3. Remarkably, the desk has remained closely associated with family ever since, for over 250 years, and has never been published or exhibited.
In the use of construction characteristics common in British practice combined with rigorous architectural design, the present desk-and-bookcase represents a significant departure from mainstream Boston work. The structure of this desk is exceptional in excellence of design and workmanship. A particular feature of the construction found on the desk is that the front baseboard and quarter-round molding above it are cut from a single large block of wood, which is dished out from behind to form a rabbet for the bottom boards. Its remarkable architectonic design displays the classical architectural details of Doric columns, and engaged pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The bookcase doors are raised above the arc of the fallboard by a horizontally configured box with candle slides and molded recesses attached to the base of the bookcase. It is one of three magnificent pieces of Boston casework owned by Gilbert Deblois. The two others include a mahogany clothespress in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with identical hardware as is present on the currently offered desk-and-bookcase, and a mahogany tall-case clock housing a movement by Marmaduke Storr of London presently in the collection of the Chipstone Foundation (see preceding introduction and fig. 3)υ4. The clock was valued in Deblois' estate inventory at £9, the same price as this desk.
Similarities amongst the three Deblois pieces indicate a common shop tradition distinguished by extremely fine cabinetry rooted in urban British construction practice, accomplished carving, use of high quality materials and complex designs assimilating the influence of late-seventeenth--century Baroque style and Palladian classicism. The extensive group of furniture now identified from this shop -- apparently a large enterprise flourishing from 1735 to 1760 -- reflects the collaborative efforts of several highly skilled artisans contracted by the shop and collectively represents the pinnacle of cabinetwork from eighteenth-century Boston. The shop is the focus of the article "Roman Gusto in New England: An Eighteenth-Century Boston Furniture Designer and His Shop" by Alan Miller, American Furniture, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation, 1993), pp. 160-200.
The present desk is one of the most extensively carved pieces stemming from this shop and its lavish carving is assuredly linked with John Welch (1711-1789), the accomplished Boston carver who executed the Rococo style frames for many of John Singleton Copley's portraits of Boston aristocracy. Born in Boston on April 19, 1711, Welch may have apprenticed to the prominent Boston carver George Robinson (1680-1737), before working as a journeyman by March 8, 1732.υ5 He was in business at a shop on the Boston wharf by 1733 where he executed ship and furniture carving in addition to architectural carving for the courthouse (the present Massachusetts State House) when it was rebuilt after a fire in December of 1747. He collaborated with John Singleton Copley during the first half of the 1770s and of the 32 extant Rococo style frames on Copley portraits, twenty-five can be documented or attributed to Welch. Welch continued to work after the Revolution and served as a Captain in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery and was a pew holder at King's Chapel. He owned a house on Green Lane, near Paul Revere's house, which was large enough to quarter 14 British soldiers after the French and Indian War. Welch died in Boston on February 9, 1789 and was buried in the church cemetery, leaving an estate valued at £58 s9.υ6 The attribution to Welch for the carving of the present desk is based upon shared details with his documented architectural carving for the State House, in particular the Corinthian capitals, which were undoubtedly carved by the same hand. Welch was contracted by the shop to execute the carving on the desk and probably followed elevation drawings provided by the designer/master of the shop.
An extraordinary desk-and-bookcase at Winterthur Museum, originally owned by the Boston goldsmith John Allen (1671-1760), is clearly the product of the same shop and carver (fig. 4). It displays many construction and design details consistent with those found on the present desk, such as nearly identical engaged pilasters surmounted with Corinthian capitals with the outer examples architecturally integrated into the cornice, bookcase interiors and desk interiors of the same design, prospect door echoing the shape of the bookcase doors, and punchwork-and-acanthus carved feet. The feet on the Allen desk reflect a difficulty on Welch's part in translating the designs for that desk into three-dimensional forms. The central shell pendant in the manner of William Kent is unique in this shop's work. In contrast, the feet and pierced pendant of the present desk are successfully rendered and unsurpassed in quality, manifesting Welch's genius as a carver.
Among other related pieces, the Huntington desk-and-bookcase survived with carving attributed to Welch that is very closely related to the present desk, with a design described by Miller as "almost entirely within the Palladian design mode" (see figs. 5 and 6).υ7 Both desks exhibit the same form, interior arrangement, and unusual carved details such as engaged Corinthian pilasters to the rear corners of the bookcase and reverse ogee feet overlaid with exquisitely modeled acanthus leaves and scrolls. Miller notes that the latter "literally quote elements on the picture frame carved by Welch" for John Singleton Copley's portrait of Nicholas Boylston and that such feet would have been extremely difficult to reconcile with a blocked façade, perhaps explaining why the piece was designed with a straight front.υ8 A desk-and-bookcase in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is the earliest known piece by this shop.υ9 It displays similar carving on the tympanum possibly attributed to Welch and identical carrying handles to the present desk. A desk-and-bookcase at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston made by this shop and one of the earliest bombe desks made in Boston features a very similar scrollboard appliqué and shells inside the bookcase (see figs. 7 and 8).υ10 Closely related carved imbrication as seen on the drop pendant of the presently offered desk-and-bookcase is found on the crests of a set of eight side chairs attributed to Welch that descended from Charles (1698-1758) and Grizzell (1709-1796) Apthorp of Boston.υ11
Another remarkable achievement of this shop with carving executed by John Welch is a clock case with a movement by Thomas Hughes of London originally owned by Colonel Henry Bromfield, also a wealthy Boston merchant.υ12 Currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Bromfield clock's architectonic case, inscribed "This case made by George Glinn 1750 ... it cost £10 lawf. money", has distinctly baroque details of a blocked façade, an elevated cornice, and ball- and winged-paw feet. This clock and the above-mentioned desk-and-bookcase made for John Allen were made concurrently and exhibit matching cove, ovolo, and pilaster base moldings as well as pilaster corners molded with the same ovolo scratch stock cutter. The extraordinary winged paw feet of the clock are derived from late seventeenth and early eighteenth century patterns of Daniel Marot, a progenitor of the baroque court style in France who designed clock cases with complex interrupted facades, engaged fluted pilasters and carved ball feet. The tall case clock owned by Gilbert Deblois displays the same winged paw feet carved by Welch on the Bromfield clock as well as design and construction details consistent with the case made by George Glinn (Glenn) with several subtle improvements, which required retooling planes and stock cutters. The Corinthian capitals on the Deblois clock are minature versions to those carved by Welch for the Massachusetts State House and are identical to those on the presently offered desk-and-bookcase.
George Glinn (Glenn) was an Irish immigrant cabinetmaker working in Boston in the mid-eighteenth century as well as a member of West Church and founding member of the Charitable Irish Society in Boston (founded 1737).υ13 He was listed in the annual membership role for the society for the years 1718-1741 alongside Robert Glenn, an Irish immigrant who was a relative, perhaps his brother, as well as a cabinetmaker. George Glinn (Glenn) married Eliza Grice on September 1, 1751 and after her death Elizabeth Tingey on January 17, 1760, both in West Church, the same church where Robert Glenn married and baptized his children. Henry Bromley and Gilbert Deblois were possibly members of the Charitable Irish Society, whose parents were Irish immigrants who moved to Boston in 1636. Copley's mother remarried in 1748 Peter Pelham, who was also a founding member of the Charitable Irish Society with George Glinn (Glenn). This suggests the existence of a patronage network, which may have included reliance on members of the Charitable Irish Society.
Lack of property records for George Glinn (Glenn) and the sparseness of other records suggest he achieved moderate economic success and probably worked as a journeyman in a larger cabinet shop.υ14 As the splendid legacy of furniture attests, this unidentified shop was successful over a long period of time and undoubtedly employed journeymen and specialized craftsmen of the caliber of John Welch and George Glinn (Glenn).
Exceedingly few desk-and-bookcases of this quality from this historically significant period in Boston appear on the marketplace. The most recent was a desk-and-bookcase originally owned by Edward Jackson (1708-1757) that sold in these rooms, Important Americana: The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henry Meyer, January 20, 1996, sale 6801, lot 218, for $1,432,500. The present desk-and-bookcase is extraordinary because it retains its carved components and carries a sterling provenance. Sotheby's is honored to have the privilege to sell a desk-and-bookcase of this importance.
υ1 October 24, 1770 advertisement. A November 23, 1774 advertisement also survives as does a trade card in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society in which Deblois advertises himself as an importer of hardware from England, India, Scotland & Holland.
υ2 The portrait was given by his descendant, Dr. Elizabeth DeBlois, to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acc. #1990.300).
υ3 Suffolk County Probate 19898.
4 For additional information on the clothespress see Collecting American Decorative Arts and Sculpture: 1971-1991, (Boston, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1991), p. 33, no. 6 and Edward S. Cooke, Jr., "Boston Clothespress of the Mid-Eighteenth Century", Journal of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston I (1989), pp. 75-95. The tall case clock was sold at Sotheby's, Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Folk Paintings, October 25, 1992, sale no. 6350, lot 320.
υ5 Luke Beckerdite, "Carving Practices in Eighteenth-Century Boston," in Old-Time New England: New England Furniture, 1987, p. 142.
υ6 Beckerdite, p. 159.
υ7 See Miller, fig. 40, p. 186. This desk-and-bookcase is illustrated with later restoration in Brock Jobe's article "A Boston Desk-and-Bookcase at the Milwaukee Art Museum", The Magazine Antiques (Sept. 1991), vol. 140, no. 3
υ8 A detail of this frame is illustrated in Miller, fig. 12, p. 170.
υ9 See Miller, fig. 8, p. 168.
υ10 See Miller, fig. 45, p. 190.
υ11 See Leigh Keno, Joan Barzilay Freund, and Alan Miller, "The Very Pink of the Mode: Boston Georgian Chairs, Their Export, and Their Influence," American Furniture, (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation, 1996), fig. 1, p. 266.
υ12 This clock was sold at Sotheby's, June 28, 1990, Fine American Furniture, Folk Art, Folk Paintings and Silver, sale no. 6051, lot 369.
υ13 Sotheby's would like to thank Leigh Keno American Antiques and Robert Mussey for providing the research on George Glinn (Glenn) and Robert Glen.
υ14 Alan Miller discusses one possibility, William Price (1684-1771), in his article but notes there is no evidence linking him to this group of furniture. Another candidate, Richard Walker, has been proposed by Philip Zimmerman and Frank Levy in "An important block-front desk by Richard Walker of Boston," The Magazine Antiques (May 1992) vol. 24, no. 3, 436-41.
Sotheby's would like to thank Ralph M. Chait Galleries for loaning the Chinese blue and white porcelain Kangxi vase, circa 1662-1722.