GROUP: This piece is part of a large group of furniture from the Gaston-Lincoln County area of North Carolina and is related to the Graham family secretary and bookcase in the MESDA collection (Acc. No. 2845). The pieces have similar drawer construction and the porringer corners of the table are decorated with circular lightwood inalys that are like those on the rosettes of the secretary. Also, the edges of the top of the table have a delicate quirk bead similar to that found on the beaded back boards of the bookcase. Both the secretary/bookcase and table are made of cherry, a wood that seemed to be popular (in abundance?) west of the the Catawba River.
MAKER: Because this table is considered part of the same group that includes the Joseph Graham secretary-bookcase (Acc. 2845), John Wills, Jr. (ca. 1784-1839) is the probable maker. John Wills, Sr., died in 1793, and a small number of woodworking tools and materials were sold at his 1793 estate sale, but John, Jr. was only 7 or 8 when his father died. So someone else must have trained him. In John Sr.’s estate papers is a suggestive receipt which indicated that prior to his death, John Wills, Sr. was involved in a “company” with his brother Conrad Wills, a brother-in-law Adam Cloninger, and Thomas Rhyne, and that company owned a crosscut saw. One must assume that the company, whatever it was, was involved in woodworking in some way. Probably one of the men that was part of the “company” trained John, Jr. When Adam Cloninger, one of those owners, died in 1818, numerous woodworking tools were listed in his inventory, including a crosscut saw valued at $7.85 and a jointer valued at $4.90, both rather expensive tools compared to other items in the inventory. John Wills, Jr. left North Carolina in 1832 with his family and settled at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, along with many other Lincoln County Germans. Documents in the estate files for John Wills Jr. were filed at the Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, Archive Center in Jackson, MO, and among them was a receipt in which John Wills, Jr., agreed that “Five months after date I promise to pay Drury Wills [his son] one corner cobbard the same kine of William Smith’s.” Further, listed on Wills’s estate inventory is one lot of carpenter’s tools, valued at $30, the 3rd most costly item on the entire inventory. Thus, there is little question that John Wills, Jr. was a cabinetmaker and the maker of MESDA’s Graham secretary bookcase and most likely this table.