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Side chair

Probably Wilmington, Delaware




Credit Line

Historic Odessa Foundation, gift of H. Rodney Sharp

Accession Number



“XVIII” is chiseled into the front rail indicating this chair in number 18 of a large set.  “Dr. JOHN McKINLEY / FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE / ORIGINAL OWNER” is engraved into a later brass plaque attached to the outside of the rear seat rail.

Condition Notes

The laminated knee bracket on the side of the left front leg is missing.  The front bracket of that leg is a replacement, as is the side bracket of the right front leg.  The knee bracket on the front of the right leg appears to be original.


The brass plaque on this chair and a typewritten label on one of the Delaware Historical Society chairs from the same set indicates ownership by Dr. John McKinley (also spelled McKinly) (1721-1796) and his wife Jane “Jenny” Richardson (1727-1805), who were married in 1761.  She was a daughter of Richard Richardson, owner of the Richardson mill.  The McKinleys lived in Wilmington, had no children, and were members of the First Presbyterian Church.


The side chair has a yoked crest that attaches to shaped stiles with flat faces and a scratch-bead around the outside edge.  The chair back encloses a sold, urn-shaped splat with unusual shallow spurs near the top. The trapezoidal seat rails have rounded tops and are not tenoned through the rear stiles in the customary Philadelphia regional manner.  The front cabriole legs end in rounded feet with three raised panels that rise to ankle level.  The four legs are joined by a shaped H stretcher.  There is no rear stretcher.  The rear legs are square in cross-section and have very light chamfering on the back edges. The knee brackets flanking the front feet are thin laminations on the front and side seat rails; the rear ends of the side seat rails have small integral brackets.

The slip seat frame is modern.  It is presently covered by a faded green fragment from a linsey-woolsey quilt, probably of 18th century origin. 

Two chairs from the same set, numbered “III” and “VIIII,” are published in Deborah D. Waters, Delaware Collections in the Museum of the Historical Society of Delaware (Wilmington, Del.:  Historical Society of Delaware, 1984), cat. 1.  The catalogue entry reports the content of a typed label on one of the Historical Society chairs that claims original ownership by Jane Richardson, McKinley’s wife.  Although very possible, that particular history has no further supportive evidence.

The McKinley chairs have been likened to chairs labeled by William Savery (c. 1722-1787) of Philadelphia, but they differ in several critical details:  the shape of the splat differs, they have no rear leg chamfers, and the front knee brackets are made differently.