According to a note dated 1905 adhered to the desk's interior, this desk was owned by Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847) of Earlham Hall near Norwich. The son of John Gurney, a successful banker and member of the Society of Friends, Joseph Gurney became a prominent Quaker minister and reformer. He pioneered several campaigns against societal injustices, including prison conditions, capital punishment and slavery. He travelled extensively and in the course of an anti-slavery campaign, visited America where he met his wife, Eliza Paul Kirkbride (1801-after 1881), a fellow Quaker minister. The couple married in England in 1841 and after his death in 1847, she removed back to America and as the note states, brought this desk with her.
Like her husband, Eliza P. Gurney was an ardent reformer and upon the outbreak of the Civil War became a spokesperson for her sect's drive for peace. In 1862, she visited President Lincoln to plead her cause and impressed with her views, he later requested her advice through letters. Writing from her home, and possibly on the desk offered here, she wrote several letters to the President, one of which was in his breast pocket when he was assassinated. Eliza Gurney died childless and after her death, the desk passed down in the family of her sister, Harriet (Kirkbride) Howell. Owner of the desk in 1905, Harriet's grand-daughter and namesake wrote the note describing the desk's history (Mott, ed., Memoir and Correspondence of Eliza P. Gurney (Philadelphia, 1884).