Work believed crafted by Kenelm Winslow (1599-1672)
In the 17th century the joiner was the same person as the cabinet maker. That is, the word
carpenter was far less common then. The same person who built a house built its furniture.
This persisted to as late as 1800. "The [first] mechanic specially engaged as such by the
Pilgrim Fathers was [20-year-old] John Alden [with no formal training; he] was followed by
Kenelm Winslow in 1639. One or the other built this chest" and the cupboards below (Nutting 19).
Chests were usually made to order and sometimes they might be initaled when bestowed as gifts.
This is what, according to Wallace Nutting, gives "individuality, romance and charm to old
furniture." Furniture was not only custom built for the buyer, it was designed for a specific
house and was "to be used for a very specific purpose." It is unusual for us to know who the
piece was built for or exactly who built it (36). These chests all vary slightly, as do the
cupboards of the same time period. "There is the feeling that the cabinet maker and his patron
coincided in the thought of giving individuality to each piece. (53)"
"These chests are of the highest importance for several reasons. They constitute, together with
the serrated Plymouth Court cupboards, the main contribution of Plymouth Colony to our important
and stately furniture of the seventeenth century... Eight or ten of these chests still exist. ...
All are traced, as far as they can be traced at all, to Plymouth Colony or to Plymouth itself
The chest above "is an elaborately carved oak chest owned (in 1965) by Mr. William B. Goodwin
of Columbus, Ohio...has been restored. It is fair to say that its American origin has been
challenged. The very early date of the chest, however, which is conservatively given
[as 1650-1670] may fairly account for its resemblance to English and continental designs.
Made at so early a period, there was no reason for a marked divergence from the foreign pattern.
The effect is that of a low relief carving, the edges being rounded and the foliage being of
varying depths, following the styles of the previous century, and producing a handsome effect.
The carving on the styles and top rail depart very markedly from what we are accustomed to
seeing in colonial furniture," which is more in the nature of that of the bottom rail which
belongs to the tradition of Celtic motive. "The pannels also are of high character, those at
the sides being of the tulip blossom and bud design, whereas the central design shows in its
upper part a three leaf pattern. (32)" The tulip blossom design came from Dutch influence and
all over carving was fashionable there ca1620-1630; Kenelm Winslow spent his formative years in
Holland during this period as part of John Robinson's ex-patriot colony before the Pilgrims
migrated to New England. He may very well have apprenticed there. Alden did not spend any time
in Holland, being instead from London. There is no proof that either of these craftsmen, Alden
or Winslow, were ever formally trained; however there is a period of nearly twenty years
unaccounted for with Winslow (before 1639), where there is no such possible period of training
for Alden. Alden's work was probably very rustic.
"This chest came to Mr, Goodwin through the descendants of Kenelm Winslow, the official coffin
maker of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. It is believed by Mr. Goodwin to have been made by Kenelm
Winslow. The bottom, as found, was of butternut; the lid was of yellow poplar (two American
woods). [The lid] has been replaced with old pine, The body is believed to be of American white
The chest to the right is an example of a serrated (having notched toothlike projections)
Plymouth chest; this one in 1965 belonged to M. A. Norton. These chests are important because
they, along with the serrated Plymouth cupboards, are the main contribution of the colony to
American furnishings. Eight or ten of these chests still exist. Ultimately more drawers were
added and they became the American chest of drawers. They are identifiable because of certain
similarities according to Nutting (60):
serrations, like Norman carving, along one or more of the oak moulding bands running the full
ample (left) is unique because it is the only one with an arched central panel. This fact is
more important "since it bears on the question whether American chests and cupboards with
arched pannels may not be challenged as old importations" rather than American origionals.
There is such a strong American feeling in these Plymouth pieces that we feel the arch settles
the matter. (60)" This chest was identified in the Connecticut River Valley where a number of
second and third generation Pilgrims settled.
This beautiful cupboard (right) is one of only six to have survived and was built by Kenelm
Winslow. The other six are so similar that it seems obvious that they were built by Kenelm
Winslow rather than John Alden. It now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York;
it certainly is fit for a ruler and was built for the second governor of New Plymouth, Thomas
Prence. Of the rest, one was found in New Jersey, one in Boston, one in up-state New York and
one in Bridgewater, Massachusetts which completes the list. These are called Plymouth serrated
cupboards because four of the six pieces can be reliably traced to New Plymouth. "...This style
had its home there and nowhere else." All of the six have the oversized turnings. The fronts of
the cupboard section also vary for the sake of that individuality which we have mentioned as a
feature of Pilgrim furniture. (200)"
This piece is called the Prince-Howes Plymouth "court" cupboard (ca1660-70). Unusually its
story has survived. "Thomas Prence (Prince) came to America aboard the Fortune in 1623. By 1634
he was governor of Plymouth Colony. He married Patience Brewster, the daughter of Mayflower
passenger "Elder" William Brewster. In 1635, having become a widower, he married Mary Collier
of Duxbury and relocated there living next door to John Alden. By 1644 they had moved to Eastham
(then "Nauset") where he stayed until 1665. In 1657 he was elected governor for the 3rd time,
but by 1665 things were deterioratinfg in Plymouth Colony and permission of the governor to live
away from Plymouth was cancelled. He was granted "a seat" one mile north of Plymouth at Plain
Dealing. He continued as governor until his death in 1673. In his will dated 13 Mar 1673,
Governor Prence wrote his will which says in part, "My will is that Mary, my beloved wife shall
have such household goods of Any kind as were hers, before we married, Returned to her again. ...
Item: I give onto my said loving wife my best bed and the furniture thereunto appertaining, and
the Court Cubbard that stands in the new parlor with the Cloth and Cushen that is on it. (200)"
Thus after the governor had specified that his widow should have such household goods as she
brought him, he adds the bed and cupboard. The inference is clear that these articles were not
a part of her dowery. This is important since it is the tradition in the Howes family that Thomas
Howes brought the cupboard from England, The mention of the "new parlor" evidently refers to an
extension of the governor's house, made between 1665 and 1673. His fourth marriage occurred not
long before August 1st, 1668. The cupboard may therefore be assigned to the period, 1665-1670.
The widow returned with her legacy to Dennis that had been her home, and her grown son Thomas
Howes lived there. Her inventory dated Dec 23, 1695, mentions "an old chest and a cupboard at
Prence Howes's." [Note: Dennis was separated from Yarmouth 1793. Yarmouth was the center of the Winslow family; between 1665 and 1673 Kenelm I, the
joiner, lived in Yarmouth. It would be unlikely that such a heavy piece of furniture would be
ordered from Alden's workshop in Duxbury some 54 miles away even if transported by a costal
trader, when a joiner of some repute lived in the same town. Undoubtedly, this piece was built
by Kenelm Winslow, I in Yarmouth between 1665 and 1673. Alden would have been 67 years old in
1665, and Winslow 66; but these seem the work of a mature craftsman.] Various additional minute
details of evidence were published in Antiques October, 1922. The "Prence Howes" last above
referred to was Mary's grandson. There is a fascinating record of inter-marriages and
relationships. He died in 1753.
The Howes family retained this cupboard, which was about a hundred years old on Lisbon earthquake
day, and about a hundred years after that Joshua C. and Polly Howes restored the cupboard in
some degree, and attached a legend to the inside of the doors. The author purchased the
cupboard from a lady of the Howes family who had inherited it. No other member of the family
seemed to be in a position to hold it. In this particular case all the eight panels of the back,
the interior divisions and shelves, and the upper outside panels, are of yellow pine in
addition to the pine parts already mentioned as common to all this type. The pillars shown
in detail [below] are, it is noted, reversible, being alike at both ends. We have not noticed
another instance of this sort.
The piece when found had all its upper orniments but one. The applied drops on the lower section
had been lost It is probable that a large single drop existed on the feet but we have hesitated
to restore it...
The characteristic feature of the Plymouth cupboards is the serrated mouldings [mentioned above],
which appears on this piece in seven lines on the front, reckoning from the top to the bottom.
The wood is cut away to form these saw teeth, quite similar to Norman cathedral work. All these
pieces that we know also have heavy modillions on the canopy. Thre is also a "pencil and pearl"
ornament repeated on various sections. The carving also in part extends around the ends. The
large oak moulding is attached by wooden pins. The top is separable from the base.
Another feature of the Plymouth serrated pieces, both chests and cupboards, is the pair of short
drawers, the upper set on the base, or in case of an open cupboard, the only pair. In the chests
whether there are two ranks of drawers or only one, the drawers are all only half length on the
front. We do not remember seeing this feature elsewhere except in the Parmenter court cupboard/.
Size: 51 inches across the front, 56 inches high, 225/8 inches deep, over all. (205-6)"
There are no known close associations between the Howes or Prence families and that of John
Alden, however, Joseph "Hawes" Howes married as his 2nd wife Bethia Hall the widow of Kenelm
Winslow, 3rd, the grandson of the joiner. Joseph "Hawes" Howes' 1st and 3rd wives were daughters
of the Thomas Howes with whom the widow Prence lived after the death of the governor. So it
seems certain that the Howes/Prence's and the Winslow families were socially close at the time
this cupboard was built.
(Right, Plymouth Court cupboard, 1660-70.) This serrated Plymouth "court" cupboard is in the
Metropolitan Museum's basement "colonial room" collection. The high importance is its central
panel in the form of an arch which some have claimed was "a certain English stamp," "If anything
was made in America, these cupboards were."
(Below, serrated Plymouth Court cupboard, 1660-70) This cupboard, according to the Tracy family
story came on "The Ann" in 1622. Patience Brewster daughter of "Elder" Brewster was also aboard.
It was she who married Thomas Prence mentioned above. Their daughter married Stephen Tracy's son
John. His descendants moved to Hartland, Vermont and took the cupboard with them. It was brought
back by a direct descendant of John in 1878.
Of course the tradition is that it came in "The Ann" but that's "impossible owing to the style
and construction." The strong presumption is that John Alden or Keneln Winslow built these
cupboards and chests. Plymouth, the town was very small; it was so reduced in the 1660s that
there were fears it would be abandoned. No other master carpwnters or woodworkers except these
two. Further, one of the cupboards has passed through the Alden family (206).
The origin of the table (below) is unknown. Called "Unique table, Court Cupboard Style,
1660-1680" in Nutting's book, this oak table is unique among those known to have been made
in the "Pilgrim Century." It is "reported to have been found in an attic on the North Shore"
(466). It sure looks a lot like the pieces above, alike enough, to have been a set.
Nutting, Wallace. Furniture of the Pilgrim Century (of American origin) 1620-1720. NY:Dover,
1965. © Edward A, Cooper, 1999