Born in London in 1747, Harrington first traveled to Jamaica before settling in South Carolina, near the Pee Dee River. Harrington was a large plantation and slave owner who was successful in exporting indigo and cotton to England. He had two large homes in Richmond County, "Beausejour" and "Oak Hill", and was very active in community politics. In October of 1776, he was commissioned Colonel of the North Carolina militia and in June of 1777 he was promoted to Brigadier General. In addition, Harrington served on the North Carolina General Assembly and as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons. After the war, General Harrington continued to play a major role in North Carolina politics, serving as a member of the senate in succeeding General Assembly sessions and serving his community as one of Richmond Academy's trustees and later one of the first trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Harrington and his family had strong ties to their community; his wife Rosanna Alud had been raised in nearby Anson County. In 1780, due to the brutal elements of guerilla warfare during the revolution, Rosanna Harrington, under her husband's orders, packed up her children, possessions and slaves and left their home for that of her father's in Maryland. However, upon reaching Mountain Creek, her party was stopped by Tories. Rosanna managed to escape and swim the Pee Dee to safety with her two young daughters, Rosanna (three) and Harriet (ten months). Due to little Harriet's exposure to the elements, she contracted pneumonia and died on September 16, 1780.
This desk-and-bookcase exhibits several distinguishing elements, particularly the carved rosettes that are quintessentially Charleston in style and the mullion pattern, which which Raushenberg and Bivins refer to as "the earliest known piece of American furniture with this pattern of Chinoiserie mullions" (The Furniture of Charleston 1680-1820, [Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 2003] pp. 128). This desk-and-bookcase shares important details of style and construction with a group of four other case pieces considered to epitomize the peak of Charleston cabinetmaking, illustrated in The Furniture of Charleston 1680-1820 (Rauschenberg and Bivins, Jr., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 2003), cat. nos. cc-23 to cc-28. These five pieces illustrate the subtle differences between Charleston shops that nonetheless combine in a clearly defined regional style.