We believe that Hannah Barnard was born in the late 17th
century, probably in Hadley, Massachusetts. She was 31 (a "spinster") when she married John Marsh in 1715 and died shortly thereafter giving birth to her daughter, Abigail. We believe that this was Hannah's "marriage" or "dower" chest--a
fairly expensive piece of furniture she received or had made
specifically to be brought into her new household. Her press
cupboard stored precious household linens which were time-consuming
to make, and may have held silver or ceramics in the upper portions.
The colorful hearts, petal flowers, vines, and half-circles are characteristic
of a number of "Hadley-chests" made around Hadley, Massachusetts
nearly three centuries ago. Six of them include women's names painted on
the front, such as this. It is unusual for a piece of furniture to be decorated
with anyone's name, much less a woman's. Why was her name put on the front?
We're not sure. Perhaps, after thirty years as a Barnard, did Hannah
not want to forget her family name as she entered into marriage with
Mr. Marsh? Or did it mark the fact that Hannah was well aware that
while women could not inherit property, they could inherit
moveable furniture? Did she ask that her name be painted there? Or
was she surprised and embarrassed when she received it from her family
or her betrothed?
We can only speculate. What we do know is that
it is one of the few pieces of furniture that
we can say was made for, and used by a woman.
Barnard press cupboard is currently on
display in the Fully Furnished exhibit in Henry Ford Museum.