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Townes, William __Probably by
Place Made:
Amelia or Mecklenburg County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
walnut –yellow pine
HOA: 27 3/4; WOA: 32; DOA: 20 11/16
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Side table finished on all four sides; top edge has a quarter round molding run on all sides, with corners quarter-rounded; top is held by screws set in gouged alcoves inside the frame; table has one drawer which is stopped by a large block which has a section removed in the center to accommodate a wrought nail; two small brass knobs; turned legs and pad feet with heavy “trumpet” shaped undersides; upper leg stiles are molded; apron is finished off with a rasp and is heavily chamfered on the inside edge; runners are wrought nailed in place.

SCHOOL: The scalloped shaping of the skirt and the indented quarter-round treatment of the corners on the top are distinctive details that associate this table with four other known tables, a desk, and a chest of drawers from the same shop. The high, steeply coved pad feet stylistically relate this group to the Anthony Hay shop of Williamsburg, but such features were transmitted throughout the lower Tidewater and into North Carolina by emigrating journeymen.

STYLE: The table is finished on all four sides and therefore, could have been used for tea service and other functions suggested by the presence of a drawer. See research file VT-78AA for other tables, a chest of drawers, and a desk associated with the same shop. The trumpet shaped underfoot is typical of Virginia Tidewater. (See accessions 4190 and 950.4)

This table is part of a small group with four other tables, a desk, and a chest of drawers whose shared stylistic details point to a regional cabinet shop that operated in Southside Virginia during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. While most of these objects have no provenance beyond twentieth-century associations with antiques dealers in Richmond, Petersburg, and High Point, one of the tables (S-4600) was acquired by a collector in Warren County, North Carolina, and another table (S-5598) and chest of drawers (S-5600) descended in the family of Duncan Cameron (1777-1853) of Fairntosh Plantation in Durham County. Born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Cameron moved to North Carolina in 1798. His father, the Reverend John Cameron (1744-1815) was a Scottish-born minister who served St. James Parish in Mecklenburg County from 1770 to 1784 and, in 1773, married Ann Owen Nash (1753-1825) from one of the most prominent families in Southside Virginia.

The fact that Warren County, North Carolina, adjoins Mecklenburg County, Virginia, suggests the location of the cabinet shop. A strong possibility is William Townes (1714-1777), who lived on the Appomattox River in Amelia County and moved to the Little Roanoke River in present-day Charlotte County. Townes was active throughout Southside Virginia, and is the only cabinetmaker in the region who advertised in The Virginia Gazette. In 1770 and 1772, he posted advertisements for journeyman cabinetmakers, offering “good encouragement” to journeymen “acquainted with the CABINET or CHAIRMAKING BUSINESS” who could be employed “by the month, or by the year, on application to the subscriber, in Mecklenburg.” Townes is recorded building mills in Amelia and Lunenburg counties in 1753 and 1770, and taking an apprentice, Daniel Wilson, in St. James Parish of Mecklenburg County in 1771. William Townes died owning a small plantation and eleven slaves; his probate inventory listed augurs, chisels, a gouge, and plane stocks. His son Henry Townes (1754-1818) was also a cabinetmaker who, by 1787, was taking apprentices to the “shop joiner’s trade” in Granville County, North Carolina. Henry’s brother Thomas Townes (1752-1844) recalled in his old age that many members of the Townes family had been mill wrights, carpenters, and cabinetmakers.

The Townes and Cameron families were close neighbors and associates. In fact, William Townes, then of Raleigh Parish in Amelia County, acquired land along the Little Roanoke River from Ann (Nash) Cameron’s grandfather, Clement Read (1707-1763); in 1760, he sold it to her uncle, Paul Carrington (1733-1818), noting this was the land on which Carrington lived. In 1774, Carrington witnessed Townes’s will, and twelve years later, in 1786, William’s nephew, Joel Townes, inventoried the estate of Ann (Nash) Cameron’s grandmother and childhood guardian, Mrs. Mary Read. Mrs. Read’s inventory was notable for the quality of its furniture, including a desk and bookcase with glass panels, a square black walnut table, two dressing tables, three large folding tables, an easy chair, and two large sets of chairs with leather seats, one of black walnut and one of birch.

While MESDA’s table lacks the provenance of the two Cameron family pieces in this group, the evidence suggests that, like them, it was probably made in the Southside Virginia cabinet shop of William Townes during the third quarter of the 18th century.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. James Swan and Mrs. Woodson Chowan