Benjamin Peabody, 1717–1794


joiner, shop joiner, cabinetmaker, lumber merchant


Newport, Rhode Island

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Benjamin Peabody (Pabodie, Pabody) was born in Little Compton, Rhode Island, in 1717, the son of William and Elizabeth Peabody.(1) He would have begun his apprenticeship about 1730 and completed it in the late 1730s, probably in Newport. In 1745 he married Abigail Lyon in the Second Congregational Church, Newport.(2) She was born in 1722 and baptized in the Newman Congregational Church, in what is now East Providence, but was then Rehoboth, the daughter of John Lyon (1698–1760) and Hannah Carpenter Lyon, and the sister of John Lyon, Jr., with whom Peabody would later be involved in business ventures.(3) Peabody maintained his affiliation with the Congregational Church throughout his life, serving as a deacon of the First Congregational Church of Newport in the 1780s.(4)

Peabody is first identified as a joiner of Newport in 1747, when he sold land in Little Compton to John Peabody, no doubt a relative.(5) In 1749 Benjamin Peabody was identified as a shop joiner of Newport when he again sold land in Little Compton. This deed was witnessed by the Newport joiner Handley Chipman.(6) Evidence of his relationships with other Newport furniture makers is provided by the Charter Party Agreement of 1749, in which the joiners John Cahoone and Constant Bailey along with Peabody rented the sloop Mary to ship furniture to North Carolina. The master and owner of the Mary was Peabody’s brother-in-law John Lyon.(7) Lyon and Peabody later engaged as lumber merchants.(8) But the engagement in the export trade, first revealed by the Charter Party Agreement, probably continued to be the focus of Peabody’s economic activities. Historian Thomas Hornsby, in his 1849 account of the Newport cabinetmaking trade, remembered Benjamin Peabody for sending furniture to Suriname:

All the cabinetmakers on Bridge and Washington Streets, employed a large number Hands, manufacturing furniture, for which a ready market was found in New York and the West Indies. The stores of David Huntington and Benjamin Baker were also on the point; both these men were extensively engaged in manufacturing furniture, which they shipped to New York, and the West Indies. . . .Benjamin Peabody, cabinetmaker who carried on a large trade with Surinam . . was an ingenious man.(9)

The inventory of Peabody's tools when he died in 1794 underscores that he maintained an active shop for it included 68 molding planes, 25 additional planes of various types, 15 saws, bits and bit stocks, augers, chisels, files, gimlets, gouges, holdfasts, benches, three lathes, patterns, unfinished furniture, and other assorted tools, as well as a work shop.(10) The inventory also included seven pieces for gunstocks. In 1750 Peabody was one of the executors of the will of Newport gunsmith Henry Tisdale, perhaps evidence of his long standing interest in supplying wooden gun stocks, a specialized aspect of the woodworking trade.(11) From 1763 through 1767 he served in the town office of surveyor of joiner’s lumber with John Goddard, Job Townsend, Sr., or Job Townsend, Jr., and Constant Bailey.(12) Many joiners in Rhode Island were paid for supplying coffins to the town poor, and in 1772 the Newport town treasurer paid Peabody for a coffin for Restcome Helme’s wife.(13) In the closing years of his life, Peabody may have had a business relationship with the Newport joiner Caleb Lyndon, since he served as an executor with him for the estate of the Newport merchant Elnathan Hammond.(14) Peabody died in Newport on April 15, 1794.(15)

Patricia E. Kane

1. Rhode Island Vital Extracts 1891–1912, 4:144.

2. Rhode Island Vital Extracts 1891–1912, 8:472.

3. Rhode Island Vital Extracts 1891–1912, 9:512.

4. John Warren, Newport, merchant, deed to Benjamin Peabody, Newport, shop joiner, Elisha Gibbs, Newport, house carpenter, and John Anthony, Newport, yeoman, a committee of the First Congregational Church in Newport, November 19, 1784, Newport Deeds, vol. 1, pp. 329–332, Newport City Hall, R.I.

5. Benjamin Peabody, Newport, joiner, deed to John Peabody, Little Compton, yeoman, deed, November 2, 1747, Little Compton Deeds, vol. 1, pp. 41–42, Little Compton Town Hall, R.I.

6. Benjamin Peabody, Newport, shop joiner, deed to Samuel Tompkins, Little Compton, yeoman, June 10, 1749, Little Compton Deeds, vol. 1, pp. 96–97, Little Compton Town Hall, R.I.

7. Margaretta M. Lovell, "’Such Furniture as Will Be Most Profitable’: The Business of Cabinetmaking in Eighteenth-Century Newport." Winterthur Portfolio, 26, no. 1 (Spring 1991), p. 59.

8. John Lyon, Jr, and Benjamin Peabody, both of Newport, lumber merchants, v, Benjamin Nichols, Newport, Esq., executor of the estate of Jonathan Nichols, Newport, Interior Court of Common, Newport County, Record Book, vol. E, p. 478, June term 1757, case 270, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

9. Thomas Hornsby, "Newport, Past and Present," Newport Daily Advertiser, December 8, 1849, cited in Jeanne A.Vibert Sloane, "John Cahoone and the Newport Furniture Industry." In New England Furniture: Essays in Memory of Benno M. Forman, p. 92. Old-Time New England 72, no. 259 (Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1987.

10. Inventory of Benjamin Peabody, July 5, 1794, Newport Probate, vol. 2, pp. 362–363, Newport City Hall, R.I.

11. Henry Tisdale, Newport, gunsmith, will dated May 5, 1750, proved June 4, 1750, Newport Town Council and Probate, vol. 10, p. 278, microfilm no. 0944999, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

12. All in the Newport Mercury: June 13, 1763, p. 3; June 11, 1764, p. 3; June 10, 1765, p. 3; June 9, 1766, p. 3; and June 8, 1767, p. 3.

13. Newport Town Council and Probate vol. 18, p. 208, microfilm no. 0941997, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

14. Samuel Sanford, Newport, gentleman, and Caleb Lyndon, Newport, cabinetmaker, surviving executors, estate of Elnathan Hammond, Newport, merchant, (Benjamin Peabody having deceased), deed to James Perry, Newport, mariner, October 25, 1794, Newport Deeds, vol. 5, pp. 353–354, Newport City Hall, R.I. See also Elnathan Hammond, Newport, merchant, will, Benjamin Peabody, cabinetmaker, Samuel Sanford , gentleman, and Caleb Lyndon, shop joiner, executors, Newport Probate, vol. 2, pp. 281–286, Newport City Hall, R.I.

15. Rhode Island Vital Extracts 1891–1912, 12:58.