Written by Diane Mitton
The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
weekly news release.
You may view previous news releases here...
3/6/08 - James Chase, Cabinetmaker; A man of mystery
Gilford's Thompson- Ames Historical Society has copies of two account books of James Chase, a cabinetmaker who resided in the Upper Parish of Gilmanton/Gilford in the later part of the 17th and early 18th centuries.. Oddly, except for his own records, little is known of him. However, an Internet search turned up an article written in 2005 by Chloe Johnson, a staff writer for one of Foster's daily newspapers. In her story, she speaks of a tall case cherry clock which was then for sale by a couple in Osippee, N.H. for $35,000. According to the sellers, "Gilmanton, New Hampshire, 1797" was penciled inside the clock's door and the clock was known to have a long association with that town. Johnson quotes Charles Parsons in his book, "New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers" as saying that James Chase, a cabinetmaker from Gilmanton sold nine clock cases between 1797 and 1802 to Charles and Noah Ranlet (Rundlet), clockmakers of the same town and says that at least one of those cases was made from cherry. Chase's account books cover the period dating from 1797 to 1812 in which the sale of these clock cases are recorded - two of them made of cherry. The most expensive was of 'charitree' and sold for $16.67.
Accompanying the pages copied from the original account books, is a summary and analysis prepared by Parsons, perhaps for the above mentioned book, in which Chase's work volume is compared with that of other N.H. cabinetmakers from Goffstown, Bedford, Henniker, Plymouth and Salisbury. Chase's numbers substantially exceed that of the others. The account books reveal that the items of which he made the greatest number was chairs, followed by beds and tables. The fewest were clock cases (13) and desks (13). His customers read like an inventory of the early settlers of Gilmanton, Gilford and other local areas. Although most of his customers resided in Gilmanton, Gilford and Meredith, there is occasional mention of other towns, such as Belmont, New Hampton, Center Harbor, Sanbornton and Sandwich..
So who is James Chase? The name of Chase appears only a few times and I could find no reference to a James Chase in any Gilford history except for a brief sentence in The History of Gilford, Belknap County, N.H. which says, "The Chase family is represented as early as 1806, and by the individual names of Mark, Green, James Jr. and widow Nancy." A family genealogy says that he was born in Stratham, N.H. in 1737, was living in Gilmanton as early as 1790 and died in Gilford in 1812. It is not known exactly where in Gilmanton/Gilford he lived. He had 6 sons, apparently none of whom followed his trade, and two daughters. The New Hampshire Gazette, November 10, 1812 contained notice of his death and the naming of his wife Nancy as his Administrix.
Parsons poses the following questions. "Where and from whom did Chase learn cabinetmaking? Did he teach others the trade? Can examples of his more important works be found?" It appears that he did not sign his pieces. "Was James Chase the maker of the group of Secretary/Desks with Gilmanton histories and as owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Currier Gallery of Art and mentioned in the "Antiques" Magazine, October 1965.
Parson's summary of the account books indicate that Chase was a prolific and skillful cabinetmaker . In addition, he was skilled in a number of other areas, among them the ability to make and install windows. He decorated some of his furniture and did painting for others - in 1797 he painted "the chetchen flore" and in 1804 he was appyling wallpaper. Among a variety of miscellaneous small items that he made was a needle box, a riben box, and a shuen box, a picture frame, a flax bench and the turning of wood nubs (knobs). He supplied wooden parts for tools such as planes, hamars (hammers), saws, mallets, and shars (shears). He also supplied or repaired equipment for other craftsmen. When Chase was 71 years old, he ran a tavern as verified in the book, "On The Road North of Boston: Taverns and Turnpikes, 1700 - 1900" which states that "James Chase, a tavern keeper of Gilmanton, continued in his profession of cabinet maker". In addition to all this, he maintained a farm.
James Chase often accepted the work of other craftsmen in payment for the work which he provided. Abel Hunt, a skilled cabinetmaker in his own right, worked in 1806 for Chase for 18 days.. Thomas Bartlett, a joiner , settled his account in 1800 by performing a variety of tasks such as "turning 21 dozen of Char stuff" and by " maken a winder frame". At various time he had working for him: blacksmiths, coopers, tanners, hatters, shoemakers, clockmakers, and tailors. He sold nails, brads and paint. Occasionally Chase rented his horse or himself and the horse. He hired the labor of others to help on the farm and he rented his own labor to others. It is apparent that "much of his furniture was paid for by services on the farm and the produce of others. The size of his farm, while unknown, seems to have been sufficient, with his varied skills and interests, to provide Chase and his family with a good living. It seems odd that, although his name occurs in a few isolated sources, little is known of him accept what is learned from his own account books. He was active, but not in public affairs, a man of good substance, but not of wealth, not well educated (judging from his spelling), but successful in his business endeavors, skilled in his profession, but not well known . Was he the hard working, successful but apparently unpretentious man whose $16.67 clock case was, 200 years later, on the market for $35,000? If so, what he would think of that!
Like all historical societies, Gilford's T-AHS is grateful to those who revere and preserve their ancestor's documents and artifacts; to those whose interest in history cause them to research, study, analyze and publish and, most especially, to those who contribute these items to societies and museums. Without them we would know nothing of people like James Chase whose contributions make them deserve to be remembered.