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Meetinghouse Bench

Place Made:
Randolph County North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
yellow pine
LOA: 94″
HOA: 30″
DOA: 19″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Quaker Meeting bench: Seat rail– 94” x 11 ¼” x 1 ¼”– is supported by two outside legs running vertically from the floor up the back rail, these outside legs are approximately 3 ½” from the seat rail ends with a third middle leg, without a foot, in the center of the pew; leg supports have about ½” shoulder cut into the front of the leg for the back rail to sit on and a rabbet is cut into the back of the seat rail to allow the leg to be further stabilized; the two back edges of the leg supports have the same rounded bead as the back rail; back rail– 94” x 8” x 1”– is beaded on both the top and bottom of the plank with simple rounded shape; in addition to the rabbet, the back rail is attached to the vertical legs with large “T head” nails; seat rail is also beaded with more of a thumb nail shape on both the front and back top edges with so much wear on the front edge that it is very difficult to see; under the seat rail is a 94” x 6” x 1” vertical plank, running the entire length of the seat, extending past the legs through slots cut into the legs; in addition to the legs that continue up the back rail, the two outside legs have attached on the inside under the seat plank, a 1 1/4″ thick board attached to the leg with four large rose head nails, these boards have two tenons thru the seat plank, one on each side under the seat strengthening board, with the tenons being wedged in the center; the two outside legs have a foot attached at the bottom of this board, about 2 ½” wide by 13 ½” long, that have cyma curves on the front and rear of the foot, and a double cyma curve on the underside of the foot coming to a peak in the bottom center; yhe tenons from the bottom of the board into the foot are also held in place by pegs through the side of the foot; there seems to be no finish of any type on the seat rail, the back rail, and the upper parts of the legs but under the seat rail, there has been some attempt at painting those areas with a yellowish paint.

Bench has a history of being used at Back Creek Meeting in Randolph County, NC.

POSSIBLE MAKERS: The MESDA Craftsman Database identifies at least two woodworkers who were early members of Back Creek. Abraham Symons (1731-1820) moved to Randolph County from eastern North Carolina, transferring his membership from Pasquotank to Back Creek Monthly Meeting in 1793. A documented woodworker, in 1784 he was appointed to help oversee the construction of a new courthouse, prison, pillory and stocks for Pasquotank County (North Carolina Colonial Records, v. 24, p.630). In 1797, Reuben Bundy (1776-1823) also transferred his membership from Pasquotank to Back Creek; however, in 1804 he was disowned for overly fraternizing with non-Quakers and joining the Society of Free Masons. The probate inventories and estates sales from Abraham Symons and Reuben Bundy list numerous cabinetmaking tools and equipment. Either or both of these men could have made the bench.

PAINT ANALYSIS: from Cross-Section Paint Microscopy Report by Susan L. Buck, Ph. D, October 15, 2013.

“Purpose: The goal of this project was to use cross-section microscopy analysis techniques to identify the nature of the degraded coating on the ca. 1790 bench from the Back Creek Meeting House in Randolph County, NC. It was hoped that it might be possible with microscopy analysis to determine if the bench was originally unpainted.

Conclusion: This modest paint investigation shows that the current coatings consist of one off-white paint and two layers of shellac in the most protected areas. The presence of zinc white in the off-white paint confirms that the paint could not have been applied until after about 1845 when zinc white becomes commercially available. The strong positive staining reactions for oils, carbohydrates and proteins suggest that it could actually be a complex twentieth-century paint which is still comparatively fresh. The composition of the off-white paint, and the fibrous condition of the wood substrate in the two cross-sections, suggest that the bench was left unpainted for a very long time, perhaps more than a century, before the off-white paint was applied.”

The bench was acquired in 2006 by Randolph County collector Tommy Cranford from the son of Tommy Ray Walker (1925-1992), whose grandfather, Eleazer Winslow Walker (11834-1919), was the grandson of Thomas Winslow (1745-1826),one of the founders of Back Creek Meeting. Thomas Winslow donated 26 acres for the construction of a meeting house in 1787. Numerous members of the Walker and Winslow families are buried in the cemetery at Back Creek Friends Meeting. One of only two surviving examples, this bench was given to the Walker family when the original, late eighteenth-century meeting house was abandoned in the 1940s.

According to Tommy Cranford, who donated the bench to MESDA, “The Back Creek Friends first meeting house was built in 1789. Winslow gave 26 acres of land near Bear Creek on which to construct the meeting house. The Back Creek Friends Meeting is located about five miles west of Asheboro at the south east corner of the intersection of Highway 64 West and Back Creek Church Road. The original wooden structure was slightly behind and south of the present brick structure.

According to the heritage of the meeting, the structure was put up by the members of the congregation in the style of an Amish barn rising. I am not sure this is totally correct but that is the tradition that has been handed down in the meeting. Members of the Winslow family, Lowe family, Hanley family, Thornburg family, Hill family, and Walker family were among the first members and have descendants that are members to this day.

I have not been able to find any specific names of carpenters or cabinet makers that were of the meeting, but I would certainly assume that the same members that built the structure also contributed to the pew construction. The pews were used by the meeting until sometime in the 1940’s when a new meeting house was erected and newer, more comfortable pews installed.

The old pews were offered to meeting members and several were taken to the individual homes. Others were just destroyed or used for fire wood. I do know of one other pew, not in as good shape as this one, that is in a current member’s garage. It is a shorter version, perhaps six feet long. The longer pews may have been used in the center of the meeting house with the shorter ones on the sided.”

Credit Line:
Gift of Tommy and Ann Cranford