Thursday, February 25, 2016

Family Heirlooms and the Hannah Barnard Court Cupboard

~My dresser from the mid-1960s~
I have no idea what the specks you see on the 
lower left are from, but they are permanently
embedded in the finish. That's okay - I'm
sure it was from my brother or I and it adds
to the over-all history of the piece.
I have a dresser - a well made dresser - that my parents bought for me and my brother when we were both very young. It was purchased probably around 1968 or thereabouts. It still resides in my house in my bedroom, now used by my wife for her clothing. This wonderfully made piece of furniture still looks *almost* as good as it did when bought brand new nearly 50 years ago.
For Christmas of 1982 my mother bought me a desk - a basic but beautiful wooden writing desk made of high quality workmanship - and it actually has almost a colonial feel to it. Let me tell you, I used this thing, which was covered with papers and pens & pencils & erasers back in those days long before the home computers took over, to write my stories, do research, and even sometimes just to settle back to read my books. I still have it, only now the desk is being used by my college son.
My record shelf turned book
 shelf from 1983
Back in 1983, I had a shelving unit made by my brother's carpenter friend to specifications I gave him for my record album collection. Since that time I've sold nearly every one of my albums (excepting my Beatles and a few very cool country/bluegrass records), and now I, instead, have hundreds of history books sitting atop of the shelves.
I also have my grandpa's wall clock, which was made in the late 1800s, and my grandma's Singer sewing machine from 1920 (a wedding gift to her from my grandfather).
Family heirlooms passed onto me and, one day, to my own children...and (hopefully) to my grandchildren.
Yes, I do consider my dresser, desk, and shelving unit to be heirlooms right along side of the clock and sewing machine; I don't plan to get rid of any of them and, as I said, hopefully they will be passed on to my descendants.
Now, look around you. Look at your own belongings.
Do you think that anything you own in your house will still be around in 50 years? 100 years? 150 years? How about over three hundred years from now?
How would you feel if you could go a couple centuries into the future and find something of yours - something that was very special to you back in the day - displayed in a museum with your name and a couple of sentences about the object on a placard?
You'd feel pretty special, wouldn't you?
The 1982 desk my mother bought for me for Christmas. Simple, yet filled with quality. You can see the nicks and scratches from my use of it. Every nick and every scratch has a story to tell. One day this may belong to one of my grandkids.

~Clock from circa 1890s to about 1900~
This clock belonged to my grandfather. I believe it was given to him when he retired from the Detroit Stove Works back in 1958. Grandpa hung it on the kitchen wall at our family cottage, and that's where it stayed, even after he died in 1972, until around 1999 when I asked my family if I could have it for the "Greenfield Village room" in our house. 
There's not one of my grandfather's grandchildren who doesn't remember falling asleep to its tic-toc as the pendulum swung back and forth.
Lots of memories with this clock.

~Singer sewing machine made in 1918/19~
My grandfather gave this to grandma as a wedding gift in 1920. I vaguely remember seeing her sewing when this sat at the cottage (the same cottage as the clock), but my mind now wanders back to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s when she sewed for her husband and two sons.

The Hannah Barnard Court Cupboard: 1710 - 1715
Hannah Barnard was born on June 8, 1684, the second daughter of Samuel and Mary, in Hadley, Massachusetts, eight years before the famed Salem witch trials (to put her 'time' into perspective). There is really nothing very unusual or very special about Hannah - any more than you or I in our own time. Like the greater majority of the past population who have gone before, most folks here in the 21st century have never heard of her.
Hannah was a young woman of around 20 when a major event occurred very near to her: during Queen Anne’s War (the second in a series of French and Indian Wars fought between England and France), an uprising known as the Raid on Deerfield (or the Deerfield Massacre) took place on February 29, 1704. The French and local Indian forces attacked the nearby English frontier settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts just before dawn, burning part of the town, killing 47 villagers, and taking 112 settlers captive to Canada, of whom 60, including John Marsh (a Hadley soldier who would become Hannah's husband a decade later), were eventually brought back.
It was in 1715 that Hannah, at the age of 31, married this man, John Marsh. Hannah was John's 2nd wife, for his first died (along with a young child the two had) some years earlier.
A side view of the cupboard
There are questions on why Hannah married at an age that was older than most first marriages for women. Perhaps it was because she assumed the role of "keeper" of her father's house after her mother had died in 1709. Or maybe she became a teacher in nearby Deerfield, though there is no record of this.
Maybe she just wasn't quite ready to leave her family.
No matter, she must have been pretty special to someone close to her, however, for sometime between 1710 and 1715 the court cupboard shown in the pictures here, complete with her name scrolled upon it, was built for her. This was a highly unusual practice at the time, for women generally didn't 'own' anything.
Did her father have it made as a dower or perhaps as a wedding gift, or maybe even as a gift for helping as she did after his wife's death?
Or how about the possibility that her husband might have had it made for her after they were wed, though this, in my opinion is improbable for I would venture to guess he would not have had her maiden name embossed upon it, but rather her married name instead. 
The other side
Perhaps after thirty one years as a Barnard, Hannah did not want to forget her family name as she entered into marriage. Or maybe it marked the fact that Hannah was well aware that while women could not inherit property, they could inherit movable furniture. Did she ask that her name be painted there? Or was she surprised when she received it from her family or her betrothed?
My own opinion is that it was made for her before she was even betrothed; quite possibly, from her father as a gift.
But that's just my opinion. 
In researching about the term "movables" (as mentioned above),  I learned these were items that could be moved from one dwelling to another easily. While most males usually received property as a gift or from a will,  females received movables as part of a dowry or given as gifts or from a will, for it was the woman that was expected to "move" after marriage, not the man. In such a system, women themselves became "movables," changing their names and presumably their identities as they moved from one male-headed household to another. 
Whatever the reason this chest was made, we can safely assume it stored precious household linens, which were time-consuming to make, in the drawers...

...and may have held silver, pewter, or ceramics in the upper portion.
The colorful hearts, petal flowers, vines, and half-circles are characteristic of a number of "Hadley-chests" made around Hadley, Massachusetts nearly three centuries ago. Six of them include women's names painted on the front, such as this. It is unusual for a piece of furniture to be decorated with anyone's name, much less a woman's.
It is unfortunate to learn that Hannah died a year after her marriage while giving birth to a daughter named Abigail.
After Hannah's death, John Marsh married again and had four more children with his third wife. He was only in his forties when he himself died in 1725. His will gave only his then two year old son all of his real estate, though it was specified that Abigail was to receive 120 pounds "to be paid in what was her own Mothers," plus "her Mothers Wearing Cloaths...to be given her free."
The younger daughters of John Marsh received portions worth 100 pounds. 
John Marsh had one child who died at an early age with his first wife, one child with Hannah, and four with his third, and his will shows this. The movables were divided into a general list as well as two sub-categories labeled "3d Wives Goods" and "2d Wives Goods." The general list contained a "carved work chest" valued at 30 shillings. This is thought to be from his first wife. Hannah's list included a "flowered Chest" valued at thirty two shillings.
Imagine what this cupboard has "seen."
Presumably, the more valuable of the chests was the court cupboard that survives today (and is pictured in this posting). At thirty two shillings it certainly was worth as much as most cupboards. 
Abigail Marsh married Waitstill Hastings, and in 1742 had a daughter of her own. But she didn't just name her Hannah (after her mother), but Hannah Barnard Hastings! Since the use of middle names was rare in New England in this period, this was an obvious purposeful choice. Of course, this Hannah inherited the cupboard. The name persisted for two more generations: in 1769, Hannah Barnard Hastings married Nathaniel Kellogg, and the following August she had a daughter whom she named for her long-dead grandmother (and herself). This third Hannah died in 1787, but in 1817 her brother honored both his sister and his mother by naming a daughter Hannah Barnard Hastings Kellogg. This Hannah's migration to California broke the link between the cupboard and its history.
There seems to be a blank space from that point to 1934 when the cupboard was featured in Antiques Magazine. The author of the article stated only that the cupboard belonged to "an ancestress of a later owner." But because of the name Hannah Barnard was emblazoned upon it, the cupboard's history was that much easier to trace.
The Barnard family tombstone located in the Old Hadley Cemetery:
HANNAH HIS DAUGHT
DYED ON SEPT YE 31ST 1716
AGED 32 YEAR 
Yes, it does say "Dyed on Sept 31 1716."
 September 31?? Hmmm...
(photo courtesy of "Find A Grave")
This wonderful piece of Americana now sits in a prominent spot in the Henry Ford Museum in Deaborn, Michigan.
 
To think of the respect and the honor given to Hannah Barnard by her descendants is about as touching as anything can be; naming a granddaughter, a great granddaughter, and a great great granddaughter after Hannah can only be described as a testimonial to family in the truest sense. I've tried to do it with my own children: my first-born son was named for my dad - his grandfather - who, in turn, was named for his grandfather. And now my son's son's middle name is also Thomas.
Paying tribute to family, and keeping & caring for family heirlooms honors ancestors as very little else can.
When you visit a museum, especially one like The Henry Ford where items of everyday life are prominent, remember that nearly everything you see has a history of its own. It's not just an old wooden trunk or desk or chair you see displayed, but an item that probably had great meaning to the owner(s), which is the reason why the object still exists.
I also hope that I gave you a different perspective on your own items in your home: furniture, magazines, a diary/journal, precious dinnerware, collectibles like Department 56 houses...anything of quality and can last lifetimes to build memories are worth passing on as heirlooms.

The information herein came from The Henry Ford Museum and from the book, The Age of Homespun by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (in which an entire chapter is dedicated to Hannah Barnard, the Barnard family, as well as the court cupboard).





















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