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Dressing Table

Palmer, Martin __Attributed to
Place Made:
Hillsborough North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
walnut, yellow pine
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Dressing table: has one drawer with two brass pulls and a keyhole; scalloped front apron; top is made of two boards, molded on all sides; tapered legs conclude in rather naive ball and claw feet.

STYLE: Claw and ball feet are rare in early North Carolina pieces; the bold projection of the feet on this piece, along with the “soft” appearance of the talons, seem related to Virginia work. The astragal shaping of the skirt and heavily-molded top lend this table a solidly Baroque appearance.

GROUP: During the decades preceding the Revolution, the small town of Hillsborough in Orange County was the political and social center of eastern Piedmont North Carolina; it was there that Governor Tryon’s justices tried the perpetrators of the 1771 War of the Regulation. By the 1760s, settlers both from southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina had begun to take up significant acreage in the area; in 1786 Elkanah Watson commented that Orange County was “in an advanced state of agricultural improvement, and embraced a very genteel society.”

A significant group of furniture can be attributed to Hillsborough during this golden age. The group consists of two dressing tables, a series of chairs, and several dropleaf dining tables with provenances in prominent Orange County families such as the Bennehans and Camerons. One of this group, the MESDA dressing table reveals stylistic influence from both southeastern Virginia and the Perquimans County area of North Carolina in the turnings at the tops of the legs, in the form of the feet, in the long upper leg stiles (the squared portion), and in the fact that the table is finished on all four sides.

MAKER: The likely maker of the table is Martin Palmer (1742-1832), a carpenter and joiner who moved to Orange County from Bertie County, North Carolina, around 1770. Palmer attended Governor Thomas Burke’s estate sale and purchased the handsaw listed among his “Labouring Utensils.” Martin and his son William Palmer (1762-ca. 1842) are well documented building houses, repairing public buildings, and making furniture for many of Orange County’s most prominent families in the late 18th century, such as the Bennehans and the Camerons. The Palmers represented one of the most extensive craftsman families in Orange County. In addition to Martin and William, Martin’s father-in-law, Thomas Bevins, was a bricklayer. Martin’s sons-in-law included John A. Faucett, a carpenter and cabinetmaker, and Roswell Huntington, a silversmith. Martin’s grandson and namesake, Martin Palmer Huntington, was also a silversmith.

Descended in Webb family of Hillsborough and, by family tradition, said to have belonged to Governor Thomas Burke (1744-1783). It is probably the “1 small walnut Table” listed in Burke’s probate inventory and subsequently inherited by his only child, Mary Williams Burke (1782-1869), who was a neighbor and close friend of the Webbs before she moved to Alabama in the 1830s. In 1837, Miss Burke gave Dr. James Webb power of attorney to dispose of all of her Hillsborough property and belongings, excluding her father’s bookcase.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. Joseph B. Cheshire, Jr.