Collections › MESDA Collection › Couch


Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
walnut, yellow pine
HOA 39 3/8″; 18 1/4 seat height
WOA 31″ crest tip to crest tip; 27 3/8 at the seat
LOA 80 3/4″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Couch: Six vasiform turned legs; seven stretchers connect the six legs and most are pinned to them; stationery back is angled and has an elaborately carved crest rail, shaped center spalat, vasiform spindles and carved rails resembling vines.

CONSTRUCTION: All joints mortised-and-tenoned, most of them pinned (exceptions are the back spindles, cross brace, and center leg joints with frame); the crest fabricated in two butt-joined pieces glued and nailed together.

FORM: During the first quarter of the eighteenth century, couches begin to appear with some frequency in Lowcountry inventories. The earliest mention of a couch occurs in 1718, when the inventory of Fayor Hall listed “one cain Coutch.” The familiar term “day bed,” although in use in England during the seventeenth century, does not appear in Charleston records.

STYLE: The elaborate carving of the crest rail, which was partially lost but is now replaced; the inverted cup shape of the center splat; and the double-vasiform spindles of the back are excellent examples of the baroque high style in America and reflect the migration of continental European artisans, especially French Huguenots, to the Low Country.

This is the sole example attributable to the South Carolina Lowcountry.

CONDITION: Top of crest was missing but is now replaced; sacking bottom was missing, next replaced by caning, and now replaced by a simulated, removable sacking bottom assembled on Masonite and fitted to the frame rabbets.

The couch may have been made in Charleston, but has a history of ownership and descent in the Cooper family of Williamsburg County and later Rollindale Plantation, Sumter County, South Carolina.

In 1873, Colonel William Cooper (1792-1873) wrote in his will, “I give my couch, which is an heirloom in the famlly, to my friend and relation George William Cooper of Sumter District” (Williamsburg County Wills 1806-1879, pp. 451-454). The Colonel’s first cousin, George William Cooper (1817-1875) resided at Rollindale Plantation, and the couch descended to his son, Augustus Thomas Cooper (1872-1910), and then to his nephew Dr. George McCutcheon.

The Coopers’ common line of descent is the William Cooper who married Jane James in 1751, and built the William Cooper House (circa 1760), one of the most architecturally ambitious houses on Black Mingo Creek in present-day Williamsburg County. The Coopers and Jameses were among the Scots-Irish Presbyterian families that settled the Black Mingo Creek area in the 1730s.

Based on its pre-1730 date, continentally-inspired style, and reference as a “family heirloom” in the 1870s, the couch must have been purchased by the Coopers in the 18th century. In fact, in 1772 William Cooper purchased land on Black Mingo Creek from Blake Leay White, the grandson of John Leay (1680-1742), an English-born carpenter, joiner, chairmaker, and turner. Leay was in Charleston by 1711, and his probate inventory lists “1 Couch” valued at five pounds, plus “6 new Tables” and “1 Chest of Joyner’s Tools.” In 1733, Leay received a grant for 700 acres near Black Mingo Creek. Leay’s couch apparently descended to his daughter Mary and can be found in the 1744 inventory of her first husband, Thomas Ferguson of Prince George Winyah Parish, listed as “a Couch” at one pound, ten shillings. Mary Leay Ferguson then married Captain John White and moved (presumably with the couch) to Black Mingo Creek in Prince Frederick Parish. In 1772, her son Blake Leay White left the area, moved to Charleston, and sold his grandfather’s land to William Cooper.

The couch might have been purchased at that time. Although a bill of sale does not survive, the chain of title for land from John Leay to Colonel William Cooper provides a viable narrative to place a pre-1730, continentally-inspired object in the hands of the Cooper family in Williamsburg County.

(Inventory of John Leay, Charleston County Inventories, 1741-1743, pp. 316-317; Inventory of Thomas Ferguson, Charleston County Inventories, 1739-1744, pp. 448-450; Blake Leay White to William Cooper, 1772, Charleston County Deeds, Book B-4, 1771-1773, pp. 335-341; George Cooper to William Cooper, Williamsburg County Deeds, Book A, p. 339.)

While John Leay was born in England, the couch’s continental style may derive from his association with a Dutch-born joiner and mill wright, Nicholas Hermanson Cramer, “late of Laardon (sic) in the Province of North Holland.” Cramer migrated to Charleston by 1720 and, in his will, appointed Leay to participate in resolving any conflicts that might arise regarding his carpentry and joiner work. “Laardon” refers to the town of Leeuwarden in the the province of Friesland. A successful early craftsman, Leay helped build the South Carolina State House in the mid 1720s, and was part of a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic colonial capital. His daughter, Susannah Leay, married a French Huguenot carpenter, Esaie Brunet. As the Brunets’ children did not survive to adulthood, Blake Leay White and his sister were the sole beneficiaries of the Leay and Brunet family estates.

(For more on the Leay family, see “Records from the Blake and White Bibles,” annotated by Mabel L. Webber, South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 36, pp. 14-19.)

Credit Line:
Gift of Frank L. Horton