NEW ENGLAND CONNECTION: The design of the case is closely related to pieces from Salem, Massachusetts. The strong connection between Salem and Norfolk is not surprising since large quantities of venture furniture were sent South from Salem. An almost identical desk attributed to Langley Boardman of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was included in a 1992 exhibition by Brock Jobe of SPNEA. The relationship between the two pieces has not been determined. Did a single cabinetmaker working first in Portsmouth, then in Norfolk, make both pieces? Did an apprentice in the Portsmouth shop move south? Or was a similar Portsmouth work shipped to Norfolk and copied?
The mahogany veneer on yellow pine confirms its Southern origin. Similar bellflower inlay and light wood beading are also found on a desk and bookcase with a longstanding Norfolk history.
Because of its diminutive size, this form is often called a lady’s desk or a lady’s secretary, so it’s original owner might have been Mrs. Taylor. The daughter of Norfolk merchant Thomas Ritson (d. 1807) and his wife, Martha Willoughby, Nancy Ritson married Robert Barraud Taylor on 28 July 1796. Nancy Taylor, age 85, was listed in the 1860 census living in the home of her son, William E. Taylor (1809-1870). The desk then descended his great-granddaughter, Lelia Baker (Taylor) Dunn (1900-1965).