The distinctive strapwork splats, workshop markings and family history all suggest that this pair of chairs and the en suite pair in the following lot were made by famed Newport cabinetmaker, John Goddard (1723/4-1785). As noted by Philip Zea, the splats on these chairs, comprised of interlocking C-scrolls and a pierced baluster body, relate closely to the celebrated corner chairs made by Goddard for John Brown in 1760 (fig. 1). On the chairs offered here, the C-scrolls are continuations of the crest with smaller scrolling volutes within whereas those on the corner chairs, lacking the integration with the crest, are each composed of two interlocking C-scrolls of equal size. The splat design appears to be a Newport interpretation of the designs of Thomas Chippendale and Robert Manwaring, which may have in turn been derived from the 1743 patterns published by De La Cour, a French engraver. Though less elaborate than the corner chairs and other casepieces and tables, these chairs illustrate the curvilinear style of Newport furniture of the 1750s and 1760s that Zea argues was largely the innovation of Goddard (Philip Zea, “The Serpentine Furniture of Colonial Newport,” American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, 1999), p. 262; Nancy Goyne Evans, “A Pair of Distinctive Chairs from Newport, Rhode Island,” The Magazine Antiques (January 1994), pp. 186–93).
All the chairs in this lot and the preceding lot display Roman numerals on the backs of the crests, a fastidious practice associated with Newport workmanship and Goddard’s shop in particular. The corner chairs discussed above have such numbers on the underside of the arms and a set with similar splats attributed to Goddard made for John Brown’s brother, Nicholas, have such numbers on the backs of the crests, splats, shoes, rear rails and rear stretchers (Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 (New Haven, 2016), pp. 336, 340, 342, 344, fig. 1).
Six other side chairs exhibiting the same splat design of these chairs are known. Like the chairs in this lot and the following lot, a slipper chair has a crest with solid triangular areas between the upper scrolls and may have been made to match these larger chairs. Three side chairs, possibly from a single set, vary primarily with voids in these triangular areas. A pair of chairs at Winterthur Museum also have pierced crests, but unlike all these others, are made of sabicu rather than walnut, have shaped rather than straight stiles and ball-and-claw rather than pad feet (Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF4956, RIF3610, RIF3990, RIF4955 and RIF1413). Interestingly, two of the three side chairs are inscribed Providence or an abbreviation of the same. As the chairs exhibit hallmarks of Newport construction, such as rounded tenons joining the side stretchers to the legs, also seen on the chairs offered here, such notations probably refer to a shipping destination. Furthermore, the “P” with a large full-height loop and left-leaning looped “d” is remarkably similar to the same letters in the word “Pounds” written by Goddard in his 1760 bill to John Brown (for an image of the Providence inscription, see Nancy Goyne Evans, cited above, p. 191, fig. 2; for the John Brown bill, see Kane et al., p. 334, fig. 1).
Further supporting a possible Goddard attribution, these chairs were previously owned by General Charles Tillinghast James (1805-1862) whose ancestors were related to known patrons of the cabinetmaker. The pair offered here descended with this family history, while one chair in the following lot has its slip-seat inscribed C.T. James in graphite, confirming a common origin. James’ maternal grandfather, Charles Tillinghast (1729-1775) married Abigail Allen (1732-1792) in 1761, around the time these chairs were made and this couple may have been the original owners. A high chest, dining table and tea table, variously attributed to Goddard or noted to be probably/possibly by his hand, descended in the Tillinghast family and their first owner may have been Joseph Tillinghast (d. 1777) or Thomas Tillinghast (Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF803, RIF1218 and RIF1387). These individuals were probably brothers Joseph (1697-1776) and Thomas (1742-1821), uncles of Charles Tillinghast. Born in East Greenwich, Charles moved to North Kingston where he married first Mercy Green (1729-1759) and secondly Abigail Allen. Around 1771, he moved to Quidnisset Neck and four years later was commissioned by the General Assembly to recruit soldiers for Washington’s army. He was apparently so successful in his duties that he became a target of the British forces. In November 1775, Tories broke into his household, kidnapped Charles and took him to Block Island where he died seventeen days later as a result of his injuries (Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties, Connecticut (Chicago, 1903), p. 332). Charles and Abigail’s daughter, Phebe (1768-1748) married Silas (or Simon) James (1788-1836), parents of General Charles Tillinghast James, from whom these chairs descended. A pioneer in the development of steam mills and rifled projectiles, Gen. James lived in Providence and served in the US Senate from 1850 to 1857. The chairs in the current lot are then noted to have descended in his family and at the time of their exhibition in Newport in 1953, were owned by Arthur B. Ladd (1868-1954), a jeweller in North Kingston, and his wife, Maude Lorie Cross (1874-1966). Arthur died the year after the exhibition and soon after, Maude gifted the chairs to Ralph Carpenter who obtained the matching pair in the following lot from a Connecticut dealer.