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Secretary and Bookcase

Little, William
Place Made:
Anson County (Sneedsboro) North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany, yellow pine, poplar
HOA: 94″; WOA: 46″; DOA: 21 3/4″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Secretary with bookcase: Cornice comprised of three plinths with vertical inlaid star in each, middle one being larger than two end blocks, all connected by a curved wooden strip with string inlay; dentil molding beneath the cornice; mahogany veneered frieze on bookcase with three horizontal inlaid stars in ovals; bookcase with two doors that have original thirteen lights in each; secretary drawer exterior decorated with two oval inlays and an outer line inlay with lunetted corners; three drawers beneath with line inlay repeating the lunetted corners; applied bracket feet.

MAKER: William Little (1775-1848) was born in Carlisle, England, where he was apprenticed to a Mr. Graham of “Bighead,” but sailed to America when he was 23. He worked briefly in Norfolk and then Charleston before moving upcountry and settling in the Anson County town of Sneedsborough, on the Pee Dee River. Little worked there as a cabinetmaker until about 1818. At that point he appears to have become a successful full-time planter who purchased slaves to work his land. When he died he owned 112 enslaved individuals. Unlike the majority of other backcountry NC cabinetmakers who made most of their best pieces from walnut or cherry, Little produced many inlaid mahogany objects. All of his furniture is in the neoclassical British style with overtones of both Norfolk and Charleston design. William’s brother George Little, writing from England, quotes recently immigrated brother Thomas Little saying of William’s personal furnishings, “You have some of the nisest furneter in your House ever he did see.” See Acc. 3962 for a sideboard by Little, and Acc. 2816.1-37 for the planes used in his shop.

William’s brother Thomas (1781-1855) settled in nearby Richmond County, NC, and MESDA owns a portrait by the Philadelphia artist James Reid Lamkin of Thomas’s daughter, Jane P. Little (1833-1857), (MESDA Acc. #5877).

The secretary bookcase belonged to Colonel William Ellerbe (1765-1830) and his wife, Elizabeth (Crawford) Ellerbe (1770-1840) of Red Hill Plantation in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. The Ellerbes were successful planters with a large cotton plantation on the Pedee River, near Cheraw, South Carolina, plus a grist mill, a saw mill, and more than 50 slaves. They are buried in the Ellerbe family cemetery at Red Hill Plantation.

RELATED OBJECTS: The secretary bookcase descended in the Ellerbe family along with a portrait miniature of their son, Dr. William Crawford Ellerbe (1800-1835), and a work table that belonged to his wife, Epatha Moore (Sanders) Ellerbe (1807-1881) of Midfield Plantation in Kershaw County, South Carolina (MESDA Acc. # 3076, 3048).

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Douglas