Surviving in pristine condition and exhibiting the rare two-drawer form, this Hadley chest is an exceptional example of one of the most celebrated groups of early American furniture. Richly carved and brightly painted, such chests would have been vibrant additions to an early eighteenth-century home, but few retain their original paint seen on the example offered here. Since the writings of Henry Wood Erving in 1883, Hadley chests have been extensively acclaimed, examined and reinterpreted and their histories and workmanship continue to provide an abundance of evidence for scholarly investigations. Defined by the use of tulip and vine template, Hadley forms were made along the Connecticut River Valley, from Suffield and Enfield to Northfield, then all part of Hampshire County, Massachusetts from the late seventeenth century through the first few decades of the eighteenth. Named after an example found in Hadley, Massachusetts, the center of production of the type illustrated by the chest offered here appears to have been the Hadley-Hatfield-Deerfield area. According to the latest estimates approximately 250 examples survive today, making the Hadley forms the largest group of American joined furniture. For more on Hadley chests, see Clair Franklin Luther,The Hadley Chest (Hartford, 1935); Patricia E. Kane, "The Seventeenth-Century Furniture of the Connecticut Valley: The Hadley Chest Reappraised," Arts of the Anglo-American Community in the Seventeenth Century, Ian M. G. Quimby, ed. (Winterthur, Delaware, 1975); Philip Zea and Suzanne L. Flynt, Hadley Chests (Deerfield, Massachusetts, 1992); Frances Gruber Safford, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I Early Colonial Period (New York, 2007), pp. 227-232; Susan L. Buck, "Early Polychrome Chests from Hadley, Massachusetts: A Technical Investigation of Their Paint and Finish," American Furniture 2009, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2009).
Like most Hadley chests, this example was made for a young woman prior to marriage and thus the chest's initials, LM, refer to her maiden name. Genealogical research reveals three women with these initials born in Hampshire County, Massachusetts between 1680 and 1720: Lydia Moore, Lydia Morton and Lydia Moseley. Lydia Moore (1715/16-1761), of Northfield, was the daughter of Benoni (1669-1753) and Mehitable Allis (1677-1757) and married Colonel Eleazer Patterson (b. 1716) in 1736. Her maternal grandfather, Samuel Allis (1647-1691), along with his brother and nephews, John (1642-1691), John, Jr. (b. 1682) and Ichabod (1675-1747), were all woodworkers who have been associated with the production of Hadley chests (see Ethel Hall Bjerkoe, The Cabinetmakers of America (New York, 1957), pp. 24-27; The Patterson & Pattison family association: a contribution of genealogical records to old in the research on the names of Patterson (1963), available at ancestry.com). Lydia Morton (1715-1800) was born in Hatfield, the daughter of Ebenezer (1682-1760) and Sarah Belding (1687-1749) and married Joseph Bardwell (b. 1712/13-1791) in 1735. Her mother's grandfather and uncle, Samuel Belding, Sr. (1633-1713) and Samuel Belding, Jr. (1657-1737) were furniture makers allied with the Allis family and also proposed makers of Hadley chests (Bjerkoe, pp. 39-40; James William Hook, comp., Lieut. Samuel Smith His Children and One Line of Descendants (n.d.), pp. 181, 182, 257, 258). The third woman with the initials LM born during this era in Hampshire County was Lydia Moseley (1714/15 or 1716-1787). She was the daughter of Lieutenant Consider Moseley (1675-1755) and Elizabeth Bancroft (b. 1682) of Westfield, Massachusetts, her father noted to have been one of the most prosperous and influential residents of the town. In 1734, she married Israel Dewey (1712/13-1773), a successful farmer and miller and the family later moved to Great Barrington, Massachusetts (Rev. John H. Lockwood, Westfield and Its Historic Influences 1669-1919, vol. 1 (Printed by the author, c.1922), p. 384; Benjamin W. Dwight, Elder John Strong of Northampton, Mass., vol. 1 (Albany, New York, 1871), p. 371).
The chest was owned by Mrs. William E. Wheelock when Clair Franklin Luther examined the piece in 1933. She was born Emily Charlotte Hall (1861-1938) and in 1885 married William Efner Wheelock (1852-1926) (fig.1), a noted collector of American antiques. Luther recorded that the chest was "From Connecticut, cir. 1890," indicating that Wheelock acquired the chest in Connecticut around this time. Though known for collecting in the vicinity of East Hampton, his summer residence, Wheelock certainly ventured further a field and in addition to the chest offered here, owned another Hadley chest, which he purchased about ten years earlier also in Connecticut (Luther, pp. 75, 138, nos. 17, 51). The son of a wealthy banker, Wheelock graduated Yale University in 1873 and his career was a series of ventures in the fields of medicine, law and botany. Upon the building of his summer house in East Hampton in 1891, Wheelock sought to furnish the interiors with early New England furniture and in addition to two Hadley chests, his collection included a variety of forms primarily from Eastern Long Island and Connecticut. While the chest offered here passed to his son, the noted poet John Hall Wheelock (1886-1978) who sold it at auction in 1942, the bulk of Wheelock's collection was given by his son to the East Hampton Historical Society in 1977 (Jay A. Graybeal and Peter M. Kenny, "The William Efner Wheelock collection at the East Hampton Historical Society," The Magazine Antiques (August 1987), pp. 328-339. Since its sale in 1942, the chest has been part of two prominent New England collections: Those assembled by a private family in Old Lyme, Connecticut and Mr. and Mrs. Eddy Nicholson of Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.