|Martha H. Willoughby
The Accounts of Job Townsend, Jr.
An account book in the collection of the Newport Historical Society offers a wealth of information on the business activities of two cabinetmakers working during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Written in two distinct hands, the accounts include the ledgers and daybooks kept by Job Townsend, Jr. (17261778), and his son, Job E. Townsend (17581829). This essay and the following transcription (appendix 1) examines the accounts kept by the elder cabinetmaker covering the years from 1750 to his death in 1778.1
Born into the celebrated Townsend-Goddard family of cabinetmakers, Job Townsend, Jr., and over eighteen of his relatives through kinship or marriage produced an array of furniture in the late baroque, rococo, and neoclassical styles. Best known for their blockfront, shell-carved furniture, the Townsends and Goddards dominated the furniture industry in colonial Newport. Job, Jr., undoubtedly trained under his father, Job, Sr. (16991765). In 1750, the year the account books begin, he completed his training and began working on his own. He married Deborah Taylor three years later, and his son, Job E. Townsend, was born in 1758. Upon Job, Sr.s, death in 1765, Job, Jr., inherited his fathers shop on Bridge Street. Located on Easton Point just north of the wharves, the shop was in the epicenter of eighteenth-century Newports furniture-making community and just two blocks away from the shop of Christopher Townsend (17011787), Job, Jr.s, uncle. The tax rolls of 1767, 1772, and 1777 indicate that his financial success was moderate. Compared to three family members of his own generationhis cousin John (17321809), younger brother, Edmund (17361811), and brother-in-law, John Goddard (17231785)he paid significantly lower taxes, and his estate was left unrecorded; nevertheless, there are signs that he enjoyed a measure of prosperity. With John Goddard, he served as Viewer of Lumber, a post previously held by his father, and according to the Newport census of 1774, Job Townsend, Jr.s, household included an African-American, probably a slave.2
During the time Job, Jr., kept his accounts, Newport was a major center of economic activity, second only to Boston in New England. Located at the mouth of the Narragansett Bay, Newport was ideally situated for the mercantile pursuits of entrepreneurs in the shipping business. Furthermore, Newports particular social traditions fostered free trade. Jeanne Vibert Sloane argues that Rhode Islands religious tolerance contributed to the establishment of a laissez-faire economy that contrasted with the restrictions placed on trade in Calvinistic Boston. In this setting, merchants such as Charles Champlin, Aaron Lopez, and Joseph Gardner amassed substantial fortunes through the triangular trade of rum, slaves, and molasses from New England to the African coast and back via the Caribbean. Such prosperity provided numerous artisans with large local and export markets for their wares. From 1745 to 1775, Newport supported at least sixty cabinetmakers, whereas Boston supported at least sixty-four. When each citys population is taken into account (in 1755 Newport had 6,753 citizens compared with over 15,000 in Boston), such a large number of cabinetmakers attests to the vitality of Newports artisan community.3
In this milieu, Job Townsend, Jr., concentrated on making furniture for local use, and his recorded activities reveal the transactions of an urban craftsman who maximized his income through product specialization rather than diversification. Although the accounts cannot be considered a complete record of either output or income, the recorded transactions can be used to illustrate general patterns of Job, Jr.s, business activities. During the years 1762 to 1776, furniture production accounted for 69 percent of his total credit income (see table 1). This percentage is higher during his more prosperous years in the early 1760s. In 1763, his most financially successful year, 84 percent of his credit income derived from newly made furniture (see table 2). As Job, Jr.s, output, and possibly his recordkeeping skills, dwindled during his later years, furniture making still remained his most lucrative occupation. Coffins were Job, Jr.s, second greatest source of credit income. Never more than a quarter of his credit income in any given year, coffins accounted for 17 percent of his total credit income from 1762 to 1776 (see tables 1, 2). The remaining activities noted in the account books consist of mending furniture, performing miscellaneous joinery, making and mending tools, and bartering goods, all of which accounted for 14 percent of the total income recorded during the same years. The account books kept by rural joiners illustrate very different strategies required to maximize income in primarily agricultural settings. Using the accounts of woodworkers working in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Philip Zea demonstrates that, without a large market for any single product or services, rural joiners had to be versatile and to respond to a variety of needs largely determined by seasonal changes. Zea calculates that only about a quarter of their income came from making furniture, despite their ability to create high-quality furniture.4
Job Townsend, Jr., concentrated his production on a few furniture forms. During his most lucrative years, 1762 to 1776, tables and desks accounted for 73 percent of his credit income derived from furniture (see table 3). Made in the largest quantities, tables were the single greatest source, with 149 examples accounting for 53 percent of his credit income. Most of the tables are described by their primary wood, size, and function. Made of either mahogany or maple, they include fly, stand, tea, kitchen, twilight, breakfast, frame, dressing, and backgammon tables. The seventeen desks that Job, Jr., made during the same period accounted for 20 percent of his furniture credit income. For this form, the descriptions specify wood use and, like the tables, the desks were either of mahogany or maple. Another 19 percent of Job, Jr.s, furniture credit income came from tea boards, cases of drawers, chairs, and bedsteads. Revealing standardized practices, tea boards were made in large numbers and priced, according to his own list on the front page of his account book, by size. Comparable in price to desks, cases of drawers are rarely mentioned and comprise only three examples: one made of mahogany, one made of maple, and a Neast of drawers. The remainder of the furniture forms include chests, cradles, firescreens, a variety of boxes, bottle stands, and unusual items such as a quadrant case, bird cage, and checker board.5
The accounts of Job Townsend, Jr., indicate that he made several expensive forms. Although the number of references to furniture in the ledger is far fewer than the number recorded in the daybook, Job Townsend, Jr., made a greater number of expensive forms during his earlier years. Since these were among his least lucrative years, it appears that the production of ornate, labor-intensive forms was less profitable than the production of cheaper objects that could be sold to the middle market or as venture cargo.6
Only two surviving forms can be tentatively attributed to Job Townsend, Jr. A blockfront chest with carved shells has a faint chalk signature on its bottom drawer that appears to contain the same distinctive scooped J seen in the account books and in the signature on the desk discussed below (figs. 1, 2). This chest may be the mahogany case of drawers debited to Katherine Gould on July 17, 1763 (fig. 3). Priced at £315, it is the only mahogany case of drawers listed in the daybook and the second most expensive item listed in the account books. The carved shells (fig. 4) and pierced brass pulls (figs. 5, 6) and escutcheon plates were options available on the most expensive Newport furniture. Similar brasses occur on contemporary pieces made by other Newport cabinetmakers. Some are numbered like the pulls and escutcheon plates on the Townsend chest. These numbers probably refer to brass patterns illustrated in Birmingham trade catalogues.
The second piece attributed to Job, Jr., is a signed slant-front desk (fig. 7). Though previously attributed to his father, the desks graphite signature (fig. 8) also closely resembles the handwriting in Job, Jr.s, accounts. Unusual in its combination of two primary woods, the desk has a carved mahogany interior and a maple case, fallboard, and drawer fronts. In 1763, Job, Jr., charged John Warren £18 for staining of a desk. The use of stained maple as a cheap alternative to mahogany was relatively widespread in eighteenth-century New England. In 1763, Job, Jr., charged approximately £75 for a maple desk and over £240 for a mahogany example.7
With many specific references to woods and craft skills, the account books further describe the priorities, capabilities, and limitations of Job Townsend, Jr.s, shop. As mentioned above, he used either maple or mahogany as the primary wood for the vast majority of his furniture. Although size and degree of decoration also accounted for price differentials, maple tables and desks were generally one-third to one-half the cost of the same forms made of mahogany. There are only five references to other primary woodsa pine desk, a red cedar desk, six black walnut chairs, a black walnut close stool, and a red cedar dressing table. For his secondary woods, Job Townsend, Jr., presumably chose from the chestnut, poplar, cedar, and pine boards he bought in stock. Demonstrating the high rate of infant mortality, the listing of coffins usually only describes the deceased; however, when the wood is specified, they were made of red cedar and, for the more expensive examples, mahogany and black walnut. Unfortunately for furniture historians, decorative details are rarely specified. One reference indicates that Job, Jr., was capable of carving; in 1762 he made a bedstead with claw feet. He was also a turner. There are several references to turning balls for architectural elements, billiard balls, legs, and bed posts.
Although some of these debits were simply itemized listings for a form completed by Job Townsend, Jr., others indicate that he occasionally produced and sold parts to other cabinetmakers such as Gideon Lawton and David Huntington. With relatively few credits listed in the daybook, it is impossible to determine if Job Townsend, Jr., received ready-made parts; however, the ledger includes a credit from cabinetmaker Constant Bailey for a set of maple legs, thus raising the possibility that Job, Jr., commissioned others to supplement his work on an occasional basis. The account books reveal no information regarding Job, Jr.s, employment of apprentices or journeymen. Since his only son, Job E. Townsend (17581829), became a cabinetmaker and recorded his own accounts in the same journal kept by his father, it is highly likely that the son trained in his fathers shop after about 1768. The single reference to a collaborative commission (fig. 9)with his brother and fellow cabinetmaker, Edmund Townsendindicates that Job, Jr., rarely worked with others.
With each debit citing the name of the purchaser, the account books provide considerable information regarding Job Townsend, Jr.s, clientele. Among those debited are the most prominent shipping merchants of colonial Newport such as Stephen Ayrault, Charles Cozzens, Aaron Lopez, Jonathan Remington, John Wanton, and Governor Joseph Wanton. Although these individuals and others commissioned furniture for the export trade, evidence in the account books suggests that the majority of Job Townsend, Jr.s, wares were made for local use. In contrast to the accounts of John Cahoone, Job, Jr.s, books rarely list large quantities of furniture in a single debit and never specifically refer to furniture consignments on shipping ventures. Entries clearly indicative of the export trade include red cedar and maple forms made with cases, including a red cedar dressing table to Thomas George of Jamica, tea boards and bottle stands made in volume, and debits to shipping companies. Even considering the probability that several other entries indistinguishable from those referring to locally used products may also include furniture made for export, Job Townsend, Jr.s, reliance on the export trade was minimal. Studies have shown that the forms most frequently exported from Rhode Island in the eighteenth century were desks and secretaries, and unlike John Cahoone who specialized in these forms, Job, Jr., made considerably more tables. Job, Jr.s, clients also included a number of Newport joiners and cabinetmakers. For these craftsmen, he supplied lumber, bartered goods and tools, and provided services such as turning and repairing tools. The accounts also detail the form of payment for products and services rendered by Job Townsend, Jr. They largely consist of cash payments, furniture hardware, lumber, bartered goods, and orders placed by a third partys shop.8
Recorded by his son in the account book, Job Townsend, Jr.s, death coincided with the British occupation of Newport and the end of the citys era of prosperity during the eighteenth century. Evidence from the account books points to the enormous impact of the arrival of the British upon Newports economy. Job Townsend, Jr.s, only reference to events beyond the day-to-day activities of his own shop occurs in 1776 with, December ye 6 the Brrithish Troops Landded at Newport, and the transactions recorded in 1777 and 1778 reveal a significant decline in output and credit income. At the same time, his own ill health may have contributed to a decline in business. Dated April 7, 1778, his final entry is followed by his sons notation, Job Townsend Died/ November the 5 AD 1778/ at 10 Clock in the morning.
The Accounts of Job Townsend, Jr.
Account Book Appendix
Account Book Pages 1-9
Account Book Pages 10-21
The Daybook of Job Townsend, Jr., 17621778