Each piece in this suite bears the name of the original owner, the ship captain Lewis Barnes (1776-1856). Born Jacob Ludwig Baarnhielm in Sweden, he came to America in 1790. Jumping ship in Salem, Jacob was taken in by Elias Hasket Derby. Changing his name to Lewis Barnes, he moved to Portsmouth in 1800, where he made a modest fortune in trade.
With its square backs, button finials and distinctive seat construction, this elegant settee and matching chairs relates to a set of chairs owned by James Rundlet, the prominent Portsmouth merchant. Other related examples of painted seating furniture include two sets owned by New Hampshire governor John Langdon (Jobe, cat. no. 99B) and the Wendell family, now in the collection of Strawberry Banke Museum and illustrated in Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America (New York, 1913), figs. 604 and 635. While the existence of so many comparable examples would suggest they were made in Portsmouth, the use of unusual woods, including sweet gum and citrus wood, may indicate manufacture in either New York or Philadelphia.