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Side Chair

Place Made:
Augusta or Rockbridge County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
walnut, split oak
HOA: 37 5/8; WOA: 17 1/8
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Chair: Yoke back with solid splat; straight legs; two stretchers on sides, one in front and back, all morticed and tenoned, and pegged; seat side rails morticed through and protruding past back post; slip seat fits into notched front post.

CONSTRUCTION: The combined traditions of joiner and post-and-round chairmaker are demonstrated in the turned finials and feet of the front legs and also in the use of separate seat lists like those of a ladderback chair but here placed within the seat frame. The construction of the chairs reminds us of the Moravian stretcher base chairs in the Old Salem collection. The maker was possibly German. The rear protruding side rails are unique.

STYLE: A Backcountry blend of national styles is amply evident in this walnut chair. The crest and base–except for the extra stretchers at the sides–reflect Chinese modes of the fifteenth century; the splat is a derivation of an early-eighteenth century British design that also had roots in the Orient.

WOODS: Walnut with split oak seat.

The chair descended in the family of Zachariah Johnston, whose Scotch-Irish parents emigrated from Ireland in 1740. Zachariah was baptized in 1742 at Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, Augusta County, VA, and in adulthood became a highly respected church and civic leader in the region. He represented Augusta and later Rockbridge Counties in the Virginia House of Delegates, was a trustee of Liberty Hall Academy (which grew into Washington and Lee University), and was a vocal proponent of religious freedom, declaring before the Virginia House of Burgesses, “I was born a Presbyterian and I shall die a Presbyterian! But that day that Presbyterianism should become the established religion of this country, I shall cease to be a Presbyterian.” In 1797 he built a sturdy limestone home near Lexington, Virginia, that reflected his newly acquired social status. One generation after his poor immigrant parents had made the treacherous journey to America, Zachariah Johnston had become an influential citizen in his adopted homeland. He died in 1800 and was buried in the Lexington Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Among the furnishings listed on his estate appraisal were 6 walnut chairs, of which the MESDA example is one. The simple chairs were practical and conservative, just like their Scotch-Irish Presbyterian owner.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund