Nicholas Easton, 1752–1825


Occupation

cabinetmaker

Location

Newport, Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island

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Biography

Nicholas Easton was born on July 4, 1752 to John Easton and Patience (Redwood) Easton (1717/1719–1772).(1) John and Patience were married in 1735 in Newport, their marriage uniting two prominent Newport Quaker families.(2) The Eastons were descendants/relatives of Nicholas Easton (ca. 1593–1675), one of the founders of Newport, and the Redwoods were landowners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as of a sugar plantation on the island of Antigua. Patience’s half-brother Abraham, Nicholas’s half-uncle, would go on to found what is now known as the Redwood Library in Newport in 1747. Nicholas the cabinetmaker was the namesake of the immigrant Nicholas Easton (ca. 1593–1675).(3)

Nicholas’s name appears written in ink on a chest-on-chest (RIF630) labeled by Thomas Townsend, son of Job Townsend and first cousin to John Townsend.(4) This evidence suggests that Nicholas trained with Thomas, a possibility reinforced by marriage records. In 1723, Patience Easton (1703–1789), possibly Nicholas’s aunt or a cousin of his father John, married Christopher Townsend (1701–1787), Thomas Townsend’s uncle.(5) Such familial ties often led to master-apprentice relationships.

In 1782, Nicholas married Abigail Earle (1757–1801) of Newport, daughter of David and Abigail Earle.(7) Nicholas and Abigail moved to Providence soon after their marriage and were settled there by the time that Elizabeth, their first child, was born in 1783. Four other children followed Elizabeth: John in 1785, Abigail in 1786 (who passed away in 1795 at the age of nine), and Mary and Mehitable at unrecorded dates.(8)

When he relocated to Providence, Nicholas followed a number of other craftsmen who had begun moving into the city as early as the 1750s to take advantage of commissions and opportunities in the growing city. Two other joiners, Jonathan Wallen and Townsend Goddard, moved to Providence at around the same time as Easton.(9)

Surviving papers from the Harris family provide a sampling of some of the kinds of work that Easton produced. In 1788, Easton billed Stephen Harris (1753–1817) of Providence for a number of pieces of furniture including a mahogany fly table (3.0.0), a mahogany Pembroke table for (3.0.0), a maple tea table for (0.12.0), a mahogany stand with a turned top (1.4.0), and a "sett cradle rocker".(10) This volume of furniture suggests that Harris may have been a newcomer to Providence as well and in the same life stage as Easton considering his order for cradle rockers. Easton filled another order for Harris in 1797, unfortunately this time providing a coffin for Harris’s daughter. Harris remained a patron of Easton’s as late as 1799, when Easton billed him for repairing a table and stand, quite possibly some of the same furniture he had made for Harris eleven years before.

A few real estate transactions in 1797 and 1798 give some clues about Nicholas’s financial situation and business associates. In 1797, Nicholas sold a shop in Providence (on land owned by a third party) to George Champlin of Newport for $250.(11) That same year a plot of land with a dwelling house located in Charlestown, Rhode Island, was also sold to George Champlin by Nicholas Easton, cosigned with his wife, Abigail, suggesting that the property belonged to her.(12) The following year, Easton leased part of a shop on Main Street in Providence from an Arthur Fenner, who was acting as an agent for George Champlin.(13) Champlin was one of the wealthiest and most successful merchants in Newport at the time and business involvement with him, while it may not necessarily signify personal closeness, does seem to show that the Eastons were well-positioned enough to do business with influential individuals.

Abigail, Nicholas’s wife, died in 1801 of a "lingering disorder."(14) Easton worked at least until 1809 when he was identified as a cabinetmaker in a notice for being an insolvent debtor.(15) His 1825 death notice suggests that he may have turned his attention to state politics later in his life. In the notice, he is referred to as "Nicholas Easton Esq?formerly a Member of the General Assembly, and a man highly respected."(16) Nicholas’s descent from the Easton and Redwood families and his furnituremaking business would have positioned him well to enter state politics at a time of transition in the state of Rhode Island and in the United States.

CAE and PEK


1. Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850: Town and Church Records, vol. 7, p. 57. Accessed online at American Ancestors, http://americanancestors.org.

2. John and Patience’s marriage is recorded in Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850: Town and Church Records, vol. 4, p. 26. Accessed online at American Ancestors, http://americanancestors.org.

3. There were several Nicholas Eastons alive in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Rhode Island, requiring attention when tracking specific individuals. For example, the Nicholas Easton, Esq., referenced as a landowner in Newport in a 1763 newspaper advertising the sale of two windmills is not the Nicholas Easton believed to be the cabinetmaker, who would have been only eleven years old at the time. Newport Mercury, June 27, 1763, p. 4. Accessed online at America’s Historical Newspapers, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

4. Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 198.

5. Heckscher, 2005, 48.

6. Newport Mercury, September 21, 1762, p. 4. Accessed online at America’s Historical Newspapers, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

7. Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850: Town and Church Records, vol. 7, p. 268. Accessed online at American Ancestors, http://americanancestors.org.

8. Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850: Town and Church Records, vol. 7, p. 251. Accessed online at American Ancestors, http://americanancestors.org.

9. Patricia E. Kane, "’Faithfully Made of the Best Materials'" in Patricia E. Kane, et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2016), 53.

10. Joseph K. Ott, "Recent Discoveries Among Rhode Island Cabinetmakers and Their Work", Rhode Island History 28:1 (Winter 1969): 20. Stephen Harris was continuing family tradition of patronizing Rhode Island craftsmen as he had inherited from his father, David Harris (1714–1797), a tall case clock (RIF2320) and a card table attributed to John Townsend (RIF2632).

11. Sara Steiner Research Notes, Providence Land Book 26, p. 589, Rhode Island Furniture Archive, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

12. Sara Steiner Research Notes, Providence Land Book 26, p. 107.

13. Lease, Christopher Champlin Papers, Rhode Island Historical Society, MSS 20, Box 9, Folder 14. Cited in Joseph K. Ott, "Recent Discoveries Among Rhode Island Cabinetmakers and Their Work", Rhode Island History 28:4 (November 1969): 117.

14. The Providence Gazette, October 3, 1801, p. 3. Accessed online at America’s Historical Newspapers, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

15. Columbian Phenix, July 8, 1809, p.3.

16. The Providence Patriot, November 30, 1825, p. 2. Accessed online at America’s Historical Newspapers, http://infow