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-- Manuscript Group 84, John Hewitt (1777-1857), Cabinetmaker Records, 1800-1814

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Manuscript Group 84, John Hewitt (1777-1857), Cabinetmaker Records, 1800-1814, 0.1 linear feet / 1 volume

Call Number: MG 84


Summary:

Financial records and invoice receipts kept by cabinetmaker in Belleville, New Jersey and New York City.  Includes some sketches of his work.

Gift of Mrs. Alex M. Linnett, 1921.

Biographical Note:

John Hewitt was born on January 8, 1777 in Penkridge, Staffordshire, England.  Although he learned his father’s trade of cabinetmaking, he became a machinist at the nearby Boulton & Watts engine works in Soho.

John Hewitt immigrated to the United States in January of 1796 and soon gained employment at Nicholas J. Roosevelt’s foundry along the Passaic River in Belleville, New Jersey.  In the early 1800s, he left the foundry and opened a cabinetmaking shop in the same town.  By 1802, he had established a branch office with Benjamin Ansley in Savannah, Georgia, and by 1805 had moved from his Belleville shop to one at 191 Water Street in New York.  During the next seven years he expanded, employing journeymen and apprentices and shipping his furniture to South Carolina; Savannah and Augusta, Georgia; New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts; Havana, Cuba; England; Curaçao; and Madeira.  He frequently accepted promissory notes or exchanges for general merchandise, and though successful, was often short on cash.

With the embargos and loss of foreign markets during the War of 1812, Hewitt lost not only his foreign markets, but also his southern ones.  In addition, in late 1816, his shop and warerooms with furniture, shop equipment, and lumber were lost to a fire.  Hewitt recovered and rented a smaller space in New York, using his skills as a machinist to manufacture wheels and cotton gin parts, and to deal in lumber. In 1819, however, after backing a friend who was later convicted of defrauding the government, he was finally financially broken.

At this time, the Hewitt Family left New York City for Haverstraw, New York where Ann Hewitt, John’s wife, owned a small farm.  The family planted crops and lived in a small log cabin for a number of years before being able to return to New York.  Once back in the city, Hewitt worked variously as a baker and shipper of mahogany.  In 1827 he patented a "folding bedstead with superior spring and such tight joints as to exclude insects or bedbugs" and opened a manufactory to produce his product.  He finally returned to furniture making, going into business with his eldest son, Francis Hewitt (b. 1809).

Around 1802, John Hewitt married Phoebe Tiemann, the mother of his first two sons, John and James, both of whom died in infancy.  Phoebe Hewitt died soon afterwards and John married a second time on October 31, 1808 to Ann Gurnee.  John and Ann Hewitt had seven children: Francis (b. 1809), Sarah (b. 1811), Thomas (b. 1813), John (b. 1817), Abram Stevens (b. 1822), Charles (b. 1824), and Anna (b. 1828).  John Hewitt died in Trenton, New Jersey on May 30, 1857.

Sources:

Nevins, Allan. Abram S. Hewitt, With Some Accounts of Peter Cooper (Harper & Brothers: New York, 1935), pgs. 3-16.

 

Provenance Note:

The record book was donated by Mrs. Alex M. Linnett through Dr. William S. Disbrow in January of 1921.  At the time the book was accessioned, it was separated from four record books used by Caleb W. Bruen, a Newark distiller and cabinetmaker.

 

Scope and Content Note:

The Records consist of one volume containing daily entries of furniture orders, credit accounts for craftsmen, and invoices of shipments from John Hewitt’s cabinetmaking business in Belleville, New Jersey and New York City.  Large portions of these transactions are undated, however the volume dates from 1800-1814.

The largest section of the record book is the list of daily furniture orders.  The entries specify customer, piece of furniture ordered, and occasionally, price, and name of the craftsman.  A few entries also include a sketch and measurements for the piece.  Most of the orders are crossed out as completed, and some mention shipping orders or locations (such as Savannah, Richmond, etc.).  These entries are rarely dated.

The invoices, which start at the other side of the volume, date from the earliest time period of Hewitt’s furniture making business, 1800-1803. The invoices are from such men as Caleb Bruen, Matthias Bruen, and Caleb Parkhurst and deal with shipments of furniture, shoes, cider, spirits, and other items to New York and Savannah.

The final section of the record book contains credit accounts for the craftsmen working at Hewitt’s shop: Abraham Baker, Elijah Barnes, Nathan Beers, Thomas Constantine, William Crement, James Devow, John Donnagha, Peter Doughty, Abraham Edgerton, Rodney Heeley (or Hely), John Linera, and Henry Wallis.  The accounts are marked as "cr by work" and specify the job completed and money earned. These records date from ca. 1808-1814.

 

Related Collections:

Manuscript Group 1508, Stoudinger-Alofsen-Fulton Drawings

 

Processed by Kim Charlton, April 2000 as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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