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Borders & Frontiers (1800-1820)

Stephen Fairfield’s Writing Desk and Bookcase

Fairfield Desk

Stephen Fairfield's slant-front secretary bookcase

Stephen Fairfield was the fifth son in William and Abigail Fairfield's family of six sons and six daughters. He became the second generation owner of the Fairfield farm and homestead. Stephen and Maria Pruyn had married in 1799. In 1805, William gave Stephen 150 acres of Lot 37. After William's death in December 1812, Stephen continued the already established activities of farming and keeping a licensed tavern at the house. In 1816, he expanded his scope with the purchase of a schooner from Harman Pruyn, "Trader", of Fredericksburg. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

This slant-front secretary desk with bookcase stood in Stephen Fairfield's household in December 1820 when the Inventory of his estate was drawn up. The "Writing desk & Bookcase", valued at £12 and 10 shillings, appears on the fourth line below the listing of land. Several other possessions on this inventory remain in Fairfield House. Perhaps the loopback Windsor chair was among the "3 Dozen chairs", taken all together at £4 and10 shillings, and the tripod candlestand with the octagonal top is the "Candle Stand" grouped on the inventory with 7 Trunks.

The primary wood of the desk is cherry, with light wood stringing and inlay. One board used on the side of the desk is 19 1/2 inches in width. A grand-daughter of Stephen passed along to her niece that the desk had been made "by a great uncle of hers from cherry trees that grew in what is now [circa 1915] the principal street of Oswego, N.Y." The name of the maker and the place where he worked is not known.

Slides support the writing surface when opened. Within the top of the desk is a row of open front compartments topped by a row of small drawers and a larger central drawer with inlay decorating its face. The case of small drawers accessible when the writing flap is closed is a separate, removable component, as is the bookcase with solid doors. The book shelves have fixed vertical dividers.

The surviving front valanced skirt suggests the desk had bracket feet compatible with the style. The applied skirts had been removed from the sides, although one remained among the contents of the house. Pieces of heavy turning now serve as substitute feet, with just enough height for the front skirt to clear the floor. The stamped brass pulls cover the single holes that accommodated earlier hardware.

No matter how prized as a family heirloom, the Fairfields made the practical adjustments to this imposing piece of furniture. By the 1970s, the bookcase section had been relegated to the attic. The more useful desk and case of drawers stood in the entrance hall and stored many of the accumulated family documents.

Submitted courtesy of the Fairfield Homestead Heritage Association, Fairfield House, Amherstview

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