Commodore Rodgers was one of the most important figures in the early history of the American Navy. In 1805, after making a name for himself fighting Barbary pirates, Thomas Jefferson promoted Rodgers to the rank of Commodore, the highest rank in the service. As chief commander of the American fleet during the War of 1812, Rodgers continued to serve his country heroically and with distinction. At the end of the War, Rodgers returned to Sion Hill, his Maryland home, which he and Minerva proceeded to furnish splendidly. The reputation for the quality of the furnishings at Sion Hill was widespread and one contemporary account reveals that Mary Boardman Crowninshield, wife of New England merchant and then-Secretary of the Navy, asked her husband, Jacob, to examine the furnishings to find out "Is the furniture handsomer than ours?"
This sofa has descended in the Rodgers and Meigs families and has remained at Sion Hill since the time it was purchased by Commodore and Mrs. Rodgers. Their daughter Louisa married Montgomery Cunningham Meigs, who was a general for the Union Army during the Civil War. They had six children, one of whom is the ancestor of the current owner of the sofa.
Sion Hill, situated on 60 acres overlooking Havre de Grace, Maryland, is a town located at the point where the Susquehanna River widens into Chesapeake Bay, and was well-placed to take advantage of travel and trade and the area saw tremendous growth and development starting in the mid-eighteenth century. The estate was established in 1787 by John Ireland, who built a three-part Flemish bond brick house with a gable-roofed central building with shed-roofed wings. Classical in appearance and design, it was built on a central axis grounded by an elaborate entrance. Ireland was an Episcopal minister and designated the west wing to his Sion Hill Seminary. The use of Sion Hill as a seminary was short-lived, however, and Ireland sold the estate to Gideon Denison, a New England merchant, in 1795. When Denison died in 1799, his widow, Jerusha, lived on at Sion Hill until ownership of the house passed to her daughter, Minerva Denison (1784-1877), who married John Rodgers (1773-1837) in 1806.
This sofa is virtually identical to one in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in Davidson and Stillinger, The American Wing: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York: Knopf, 1985), pp. 158-159, Fig. 246. Shared elements include the serpentine crest rail, inlaid brass Greek-key ornamentation on the seat rail and gilded dolphin supports. Both sofas derive from the 1802 edition of the London Chair-Makers' and Carvers' Book of Prices for Workmanship; however, these sofas represent a distinctly American interpretation. Another sofa of similar design is in the permanent collection of the White House, illustrated in Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings & First Families, (New York: Abbeville, 2000) p. 245.