Few objects better illustrate the profoundly deferential and hierarchical nature of colonial society in the South than ceremonial chairs, which both literally and figuratively elevated the leaders of governmental, fraternal, and religious organizations above the crowd. Chairs imbued with ceremonial functions reinforced patterns of social deference and order throughout the British Empire. In domestic settings, the patriarchs of seventeenth-century households occupied joined or turned great chairs, while other family members and guests sat on smaller side chairs or stools. A similar hierarchical system came to exist in most public buildings in colonial Virginia. That an impressive selection of ceremonial chairs from eastern Virginia survives speaks strongly about the Old Dominion's emulation of British cultural traditions.
Masonic Master's Chair
Possibly Anthony Hay
Williamsburg, Virginia, ca. 1765
Long-term loan from Williamsburg Masonic Lodge 6
Catalog no. 53
Click on chair for detail
Built for Williamsburg Lodge 6 shortly before the American Revolution, this remarkable Masonic Master's chair evidences the popularity and influence of Freemasonry in colonial America. Freemasons promoted Revolutionary concepts such as the equality of man, the power of reason over dogma, and the existence of natural laws.
Probably made in Anthony Hay's shop, the chair duplicates certain aspects of the adjacent Capitol chair. Note, for example, the similarity in the lion's heads arm terminals and the carving on the arm supports. The deeply carved back, which is formed from one solid mahogany plank twenty inches wide and almost two inches thick, is highly distinctive. Adorned with a variety of carefully carved symbols and decorative elements, the back features Masonic symbols, the arms of the London Company of Masons, and symbolic references to Scotland and England in the form of a thistle and a rose.