Published: March 7, 2017
DEERFIELD, MASS. – The 270-page ledger kept by Hartford, Conn., cabinetmaker Lemuel Adams (1769-1850) has been discovered at the University of Miami by Kevin G. Ferrigno. The Adams ledger provides an unprecedented record of the cabinetmaking business in Hartford during the bustling 1790s.
Historic Deerfield Associate Curator Christine Ritok and private researcher Ferrigno are spearheading a long-term study of the interrelationships among Hartford area craftsmen, including Adams, his partner Samuel Kneeland, Aaron Chapin, John Porter, Aaron Colton, John I. Wells, Julius Barnard, Erastus Grant and Daniel Clay. The Adams ledger opens the window on their world.
The ledger contains, among other features, the daybook – or record of daily transactions – of the prestigious shop of Adams and Kneeland, who were in partnership in downtown Hartford between 1792 and 1795. The ledger details the establishment of their business, the identities and tenures of their journeymen and apprentices, the full range of their wares and their output by form, date, price and customer. Research is underway using the ledger to trace a wide variety of objects now known to have been made in the Kneeland and Adams shop.
The ledger provides insights into the relationships of Kneeland and Adams with their competitors in the Connecticut River Valley, like cabinetmakers Chapin, Barnard and Wells, as well as clockmakers Daniel Burnap and Timothy Cheney. The ledger documents the regular dues that Kneeland and Adams paid to the Hartford Society of Cabinetmakers, and that they purchased – in partnership with other cabinetmakers – the renowned pattern book Cabinetmaker’s and Upholsterer’s Guide by George Hepplewhite, suggesting that Hartford cabinetmakers collaborated on furniture design to an extent previously unknown. The ledger also details the purchases by Kneeland and Adams of large quantities of exotic imported mahogany, which they had milled for sale to their competitors in addition to their own use.
The Adams ledger also contains personal information regarding Adams about whom little has been previously known. A detailed genealogy dated 1792 reveals that Adams was born in Milton, Mass., that his partner Kneeland was his first cousin, and that their uncle and possible master was Dorchester Lower Mills cabinetmaker Stephen Badlam. Ritok and Ferrigno are hard at work developing an understanding of these relationships and their impact on Hartford furniture making.
The ledger further devotes several pages to a letter book kept by Adams as a record of his correspondence with family and friends over a 20-year period. They describe Adams’ move south with his family from Hartford to Norfolk, Va., his return to Connecticut, and finally his relocation to his parents’ farm in New Hampshire. Previously unknown, the letters document Adams’ evolving career as a cabinetmaker, merchant, lawyer and distiller and suggest the pressures that influenced all craftsmen during the Federal era.
“The discovery of the Adams ledger equals any manuscript find related to early American craftsmanship over the last generation,” said Historic Deerfield President Philip Zea. “The museum fully supports Kevin’s and Christine’s research and looks forward to the revelations ahead about craftsmanship and business in the Connecticut Valley after the American Revolution. This is terrific material!”
Ritok and Ferrigno have assembled a team of researchers, including Christina Keyser Vida, former curator of the Windsor Historical Society in Connecticut, researcher Carol L. Loomis and Kevin Tulimieri of Nathan Liverant and Son Antiques in Colchester, Conn., to work with them as they continue to delve into the range of information offered by the Adams ledger.
While a larger publication and exhibition are in the early planning stages, the researchers anticipate publishing a series of articles about their findings. To assist this effort, they are seeking to examine privately owned furniture labeled or signed by Adams, Kneeland or their partnership, as well as other account books, diaries and letters related to Adams’ competitors and customers. Anyone with access to such resources is asked to contact Christine Ritok at firstname.lastname@example.org. All responses will remain confidential.
Historic Deerfield is at 84B Old Main Street. For more information, www.historic-deerfield.org or 413-774-5581.
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