The “Lincoln Chair” has returned to Hingham after a sojourn in the Arts of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Tradition holds that this joined armchair, made of red oak with walnut inlays, belonged to Thomas Lincoln “the cooper,” one of Hingham’s original settlers. It was long thought to have been constructed in England, but microanalysis of the wood in the early 2000s revealed that the chair was made in North America. This information makes the chair even more of a rarity than formerly believed, as only about two dozen examples of 17th century New England joined chairs exist.
Of a type often called a “wainscot” chair, the Lincoln Chair has a plank seat and carved panel back. The series of elongated S- and reverse S-curves are thought to have been inspired by classical design.
The chair descended in the Lincoln family until 1914. In 1908, as the Town’s 275thanniversary approached, a national campaign was launched to raise funds for a bell tower in memory of Hingham’s first settlers. When the Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in November 1912, an interior chamber, the “Peter Hobart Room,” was created and furnished with furniture and artifacts from mid-17thcentury England. Hingham’s Lincoln family donated the chair to the Memorial Bell Tower to furnish the Peter Hobart Room.
The chair was moved into Old Ship Church in 1933 and remained there until 2008, when it was loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts for display with other First Period furniture.
But now, the Lincoln Chair has returned home to Hingham. We are grateful to the Town of Hingham and Hingham’s First Parish for their stewardship of the chair over many years and for their decision to loan the Chair to the Society for display at the Hingham Heritage Museum.
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.