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This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020/21 Issue of the Tennessee State Museum Quarterly newsletter.
This summer, the Museum was very fortunate to acquire a desk and bookcase built by Tennessee’s earliest documented cabinetmaker, Moses Crawford. Made of walnut and yellow pine, this piece of furniture dates between 1790 and 1800. As with much of Crawford’s work, it features a five-part cornice including an applied dentil and scalloped molding and fluted quarter columns.
The desk and bookcase are important additions to the Museum’s collection, not only for its fine craftsmanship, but also for the story of Crawford himself. After likely training as a cabinetmaker in the Shenandoah Valley, Crawford, like many other early settlers, probably migrated down the Great Wagon Road to the area that would eventually become East Tennessee. Although he probably arrived in the 1760s, he first appears in the record in 1775. While living in the Nolichucky River Valley, he witnessed a land treaty between a neighbor and five of the Overhill Cherokee leaders. Just a few years later, he experienced firsthand the high tensions and suspicion of the American Revolution as communities tried to determine who was loyal to the Crown or their new country. In 1779, Crawford was formally accused of being a Loyalist. To avoid being jailed, the court ordered him to take an oath of allegiance to the State of North Carolina and pay a bond of ten thousand pounds.
Image: Desk and Bookcase by Moses Crawford, 2020.50.1 and .2
By 1800, he moved to the Knox County area and continued to make furniture for his clients, who were often friends and neighbors. When he died in 1819, his cabinetmaking tools were listed in a probate inventory, further cementing his profession as a craftsperson in early Tennessee. More about Crawford’s life and craftsmanship can be found in C. Tracey Parks’ 2013 article “Moses Crawford: Tennessee’s Earliest Cabinetmaker Revealed” in the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts.