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Nutt, John
Place Made:
Wilmington North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –yellow pine –ash
HOA: 36 1/8; WOA: 30 3/8; DOA: 19
Accession Number:
One of a set of chairs that descended in the family of George Elliot (1747-1808) of Ellerslie Plantation. A native of Dumfries, Scotland, he arrived in North Carolina around 1775 and settled on the Little River in northeastern Cumberland County, about 12 miles from Fayetteville. Elliot owned a sawmill and specialized in the lumber trade down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. At the time of his death, he owned several thousand acres and 82 slaves.

His house, “Ellerslie,” was constructed in two stages. The earliest one-and-a-half story frame section was built around 1790 in a strongly Caribbean-influenced style with piazzas wrapping around all four sides. The original set is described as “13 Mahogna Chairs” in Elliot’s 1808 probate inventory. They are listed along with a mahogany desk, chest of drawers, sideboard and tables, plus a walnut desk and table, three pine tables, a pair of large looking glasses, windsor chairs, a library of books, and silver tableware. His appraisers noted that he also had “a parcel of lumber on hand the quantity not known but supposed to be about 280,000 feet.”

MAKER: John Nutt apparently enjoyed a long and varied career as a cabinetmaker in Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina. Nutt’s earliest advertisement is from Wilmington in 1768. Nutt’s possible first advertisement in Charleston, of 6 March 1770, alluded to his Wilmington connections, viz.:

TO BE DISPOSED OF. FORTY five thousand feet of LUMBER, and forty thousand Barbados SHINGLES, at Cape Fear. Any person having a handy Negro Fellow that understands the Cabinet Business, to hire by the month or year, may apply to the subscriber, opposite to the Cross Keys.
(South Carolina Gazette, 6 March 1770).

Two days later, Joseph Fournier, a Charleston drawing master, advertised that he taught drawing, took miniature pictures, and drew plans of architecture “at Mr. John Nutt’s, Cabinet Maker, in King Street.” (South Carolina Gazette, 8 March 1770).

On 2 August 1770, John Nutt, “Cabinet Maker, Facing the Cross keys,” announced that he had for sale: “…a parcel of well manufactured MAHOGANY FURNITURE, consisting of Chairs of different Patterns, Dining Tables of different Sizes, Tea Tables, Half Chests of Drawers, etc. etc…” (South Carolina Gazette, 2 August 1770). Two months later it appears that John Nutt made plans to return to Wilmington because Oats & Russell, vendue masters, announced in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal of 2 October: “On Monday the 15th of October, Instant, at 10 o’Clock in the Forenoon, WILL BE SOLD, at Mr. John Nutt’s, at the Corner of King and Queen Streets; A VARIETY OF MAHOGANY, DINING TABLES, CHAIRS, etc. etc.” The advertisement implies that he was selling his stock, hence the use of vendue masters, with the intent of leaving town. His name and trade were recorded in a New Hanover County, N.C., deed book in 1771 (Deed Books, New Hanover County, N.C., Book G, p. 253).

John Nutt, Esq., died in Wilmington in 1810 at the age of 87 years (Raleigh Register, Raleigh, N.C., 23 August 1810).

DESCRIPTION: Arm chair. Shoe and back rail are separate. H-stretcher; center stretcher is half dovetailed in from bottom. Separate shoe. Angled seat. Arms flair. Ears scroll backwards. Geometric pierced splat. Arms are attached to rail and stiles with screws. Slip seat covered with reproduction hair cloth.

WOODS: mahogany primary; ash back rail; yellow pine seat frame; white pine support blocks.

CONSTRUCTION: The use of mahogany for this set would not be unusual for a coastal city, but the cabinetmaker’s unwillingness to waste expensive material is very evident in the construction. The side rails of this chair are only 3/4 inches thick, too thin to permit a rabbet deep enough to support the slip seat, so strengthening blocks were nailed at the rear of the side rails. The same is true of the side chairs, which have a construction feature the arm chair does not: the center stretchers are mortised through the side stretchers, an unusual feature also occurring on a pair of carved side chairs (MESDA Acc. # 3521). A side chair attributed to the same shop, with a different splat pattern, was also fitted with a center stretcher mortised through the sides.

HISTORY: One of a set of chairs that descended in the family of George Elliot (1747-1808) of Ellerslie Plantation. The surviving set now consists of two armchairs and five side chairs, but may have consisted of fourteen chairs originally, based on the numbering. One chair is in the collection of the Joel Lane House in Raleigh, NC, one in the Burgwin-Wright House in Wilmington, NC, and one in the Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, NC. Five nearly identical chairs with a different Cape Fear provenance are in the collections of Historic Hope Plantation, near Windsor, North Carolina.
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George London