This beautiful drop-front desk and bookcase, newly installed in the Kelly Gallery at the Hingham Heritage Museum at Old Derby Academy, was built for Martin Gay (1726-1807) and Ruth Atkins Gay (1736-1810) upon their marriage in 1765 by cabinetmaker Gibbs Atkins of Boston, Ruth’s brother.
Called “the Old Tory” in acknowledgement of Martin Gay’s political leanings, the desk travelled to Nova Scotia with Martin upon the evacuation of Boston in 1776. Many Loyalists were unable to bring larger pieces of furniture when fleeing, but Martin Gay owned a ship which made it possible for him to move the piece such a distance. Because Martin was a deacon of the West Church in Boston, he was charged with protecting the church’s valuables during the British occupation. Martin filled the drawers and shelves of his secretary desk with linen and silver communion service for safe keeping while exiled in Nova Scotia.
In 1788, Martin made a trip to England with hopes of procuring an indemnity for his losses as a Loyalist. Once again, “Old Tory” made the trip with Martin as he stayed in England for two years. Upon his return to Boston in 1792, Martin brought “Old Tory” back with him, filled with the linens and silver communion service to be returned to the West Church.
When Martin died in 1807, Ruth moved to the Gay family home on North Street in Hingham and lived there until her death in 1810. The desk descended in the Gay family until Ebenezer and Diana Gay donated it to a grateful Hingham Historical Society in 2014.