The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at Yale University Art Gallery identifies several examples of this form of chair, all bearing a pierced splat with distinctive scrolled ears and all attributed to Thomas Davenport (1681-1745). In his article "Lesser-known Rhode Island Cabinetmakers: the Carlisles, Holmes Weaver, Judson Blake, the Rawsons and Thomas Davenport," (The Magazine Antiques, May 1982, pp. 1156-1163), Joseph Ott suggests that the delicate scrolled ears may be a trademark of Davenport.
|The cushions differ because the chairs had been left to various family members|
before being reunited and sold.
That lesser-known Rhode Island cabinetmaker, Thomas Davenport (10 Dec 1681 - 16 Aug 1745), is one of my paternal eight-times great-grandfathers. He is also sometimes known as "Captain" Thomas Davenport, although I am not sure how he received the title. It does appear on his headstone.
|The Common Burying Ground; Newport, Rhode Island|
According to the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission, Davenport's headstone (as is his wife's) was carved by John Stevens II, whose father founded their eponymous shop in 1705. The John Stevens Shop was known for its beautiful gravestones, and owned by Stevens' descendants until 1927, when it was taken over by the Benson family. The company is still active today, and still doing beautiful work, including the FDR, Martin Luther King, and World War II National Memorials in Washington DC.
At any rate, Thomas Davenport was born in Dorchester MA, then moved when young to Little Compton RI. There he met and, in 1704, married Catherine Woodworth (5 Oct 1673 - 1 Jun 1729). They had six children; by his second wife, Mary Pitman (1 Jan 1721 - 1782), he had two more. It was in 1737, upon his marriage to Mary, that he settled in Newport RI. Her family contained many furniture makers as well; perhaps this is how they met. Incidentally, Little Compton is also known as the home of the Rhode Island Red chicken; there is even a monument there, although both came after Thomas Davenport's time.
|Perhaps not as grand as the FDR Memorial, but still of note.|
The Davenport family originated in Cheshire, England, and surely have been surrounded by beautiful furnishings since then, tracing their roots back to Alfred the Great (849 - 26 Oct 899). The first use of the Davenport name came with Orme de Dauenport (believed 1046 - 1086), who is purported to be a cousin of William the Conqueror. Despite how fanciful and sketchy some of these heraldic genealogies are, there is DNA evidence that proves that Thomas Davenport is descended from Orme, at least. (Lady Godiva of--shall we say--bareback fame is believed to be some kind of distant aunt as well.)
And speaking of horsehair, yes, the word "davenport," meaning sofa is derived from another relation as well, A[lfred] H[enry] Davenport (5 Dec 1845 - 22 Jun 1905), who established a famous furniture and interior design business that operated out of both Boston and New York at the end of the nineteenth century. That Davenport worked with Stanford White, and provided interiors for the Vanderbilt Mansion and even the White House. Work by the A H Davenport Company can also still be seen in the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere.
Getting back to Orme, the Davenports continued for generations in Cheshire and environs, gathering land and power. So much power, in fact, that the family coat of arms charmingly includes a man with a rope around his neck (about which more later), indicating the Davenports had power over life or death. Reading through generations of Davenports, it was nice to see some Roberts along the way.
By the 1200s, there were lots of "Sirs," and lots of advantageous marriages, including a merger with the de Bromale family, who since 1277 owned the land that is modern-day Bramhall. John de Davenport was the first to inherit Bramhall Hall, in the late 1300s. A later Lord of the Manor, beginning in the late 1400s, William Davenport, helped gain the crown for Henry VII. The property was to stay in the Davenport family for five hundred years, finally being sold off to a development company in 1877. Fortunately, the Hall and much of the land was preserved, and is still available to visit.
Tours are given of Bramhall Hall, and one can admire, along with the other beautiful rooms and furnishings, a number of tributes to the family crest: busts of men with ropes around their necks, including these fellows flanking one of the fireplaces:
Cosy. But Bramhall Hall is not the only Davenport residence to survive. Far away from that precious stone set in a silver sea, far indeed, in the U S of A's deep South is another structure, sitting on Columbus Square in Savannah GA. It too is open to the public, as the Isaiah Davenport House Museum.
Isaiah Davenport (3 Nov 1784 - 16 Oct 1827), is a second cousin, seven times removed of mine. To make it clearer, he was descended from grandpa Thomas Davenport's oldest son, Eliphalet, while my line goes through another son: Ephraim.
Isaiah, like many of his relatives, studied carpentry. Indeed, one sees numerous Davenports across several generations engaged in work as chairmakers, cabinet-makers, joiners, masons, housewrights.... After apprenticing in New Bedford, MA, Isaiah moved--for reasons unknown--to Savannah in 1808, and a year later married Sarah Rosamund Clark (22 Feb 1788 - 7 Aug 1869). They had ten children, and their large home was built, in part, to house them all.
Besides designing and constructing private homes and public buildings, Isaiah served as an alderman, constable, and was even selected to give the toast when President James Monroe visited the town in 1819. Isaiah Davenport died during the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Savannah in 1847. Maybe that's why they say the house is haunted. Isaiah was just forty-three. It is interesting to imagine what "Savannah's Master Builder" would have created had he lived longer. He would have been pleased to know, I'm sure, that the preservation and restoration of his home in 1955 led to the creation of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which has been crucial in keep the town both historic and vital.
So many grand homes, so many beautiful designs. An old saw has it that "there are more Davenports than dogs' tails." Indeed. The Presidents Bush are descendants of Thomas' sister Hannah Davenport (23 Dec 1686 - 26 Jan 1769), while William Howard Taft (who employed his distant cousin A H to design furniture for the White House, although their connection was enough generations earlier they may not have known they were related) had Thomas' uncle John Davenport (20 Oct 1664 - 21 Mar 1725) as a direct ancestor.
Kings and presidents, manors and museums. As I have mentioned before, too often to link, I am adjacent--and even sometimes tangent--to greatness in my family's history. (I haven't even mentioned another Davenport relation and distant cousin, inventor Thomas Davenport [9 Jul 1802 - 6 Jul 1851], who received U S Patent #132, the first for an electric motor, in 1837 [!], the model of which resides in the Smithsonian. He wanted to invent an electric car.)
Well, I guess now I have mentioned him. But to return to the other Thomas, my eight-times great-grandpa.... He wasn't a lord, or a hobnobber with tycoons, or a revolutionary tinkerer. But he made really nice chairs.
|Photo courtesy of Stephen Kinnane, Sakonnet Furniture Makers|
Thomas Davenport was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on 10 Dec 1681, third son of Jonathan Davenport (6 Mar 1659 - 11 Jan 1729), a carpenter, and Hannah Manners / Maynard / Warren / Warner (1660 - 14 Jan 1729); he was the grandson of "Thomas Davenport of Dorchester," the first of this branch of the Davenports to reach America. On 20 Jul 1704, he married Catherine Woodworth (5 Oct 1673 - 1 Jun 1729), daughter of Thomas Woodworth (1636 - 13 Feb 1718) and Deborah Damon (25 Apr 1645 - Feb 1718), in Little Compton RI, Joseph Church, Justice officiating. They had six children. After her death, he married Mary Pitman (1 Jan 1721 - 1782) on 22 Jul 1737, in Little Compton, at the 2nd Congregational Church. They moved to Newport RI, where they had two children. Thomas Davenport died 16 Aug 1745, in Little Compton. He was buried in the Common Burying Ground, in Newport RI. On 25 Sep 2013, at the Bonhams auction, the Queen Anne chairs sold for just $12,500.
|From the Card File of American Craftspeople, 1600-1995. The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum|
For more on the early Davenports and Bramhall Hall:
For more on Rhode Island furniture:
(search for Davenport)
For more on Stephen Kinnane and continuing the tradition of fine furniture:
For more on the other Thomas Davenport and his electric wonders: