Joseph Pitman, 1695 - 1731




Newport, Rhode Island


Joseph Pitman, son of John Pitman (1663–1711) and Mary Saunders (ca. 1666–1711), was born on Harbor Island in the Bahamas.(1) John Pitman moved the family to Nassau on the Bahamian island of New Providence. He settled on land previously occupied by his father, Henry Pitman (ca.1640–c.1684), one of the first settlers of Nassau, and erected a shipyard where he built several vessels. The land was officially granted to John Pitman by the island’s Lords Proprietors in January 1699. After his house was burned during a 1703 raid by Spanish and French forces, he relocated his family, first living on Current Island and Thesa Island in the Bahamas, and finally settling in Newport in 1710.(2)

Joseph Pitman married Mary Whaitman on December 19, 1717. She may have been the daughter of Samuel Whaitman, who was appointed guardian to Joseph and two of his brothers, Benjamin (1697–1762) and James (1700–1769), on January 7, 1712, shortly after the deaths of their parents.(3)

Joseph Pitman died on March 21, 1731.(4) Little is known about his life, but his inventory, presented at a June 1731 town council meeting, reveals details about his work as a chairmaker. His shop, valued at 35, included "Working tools 5.5," "Chaires made 6.18," "flaggs 2," "Stuff partly Worked 20/," "3 Barrells Lam[p]black 4.5," a "grind stone & winch 10/," and "Timber 35/."(5) Flags were a type of vegetable fiber, and would have been used to make seats for slat- or banister-back chairs. Lampblack was a black pigment made from soot, which could be used for finishing furniture.(6) The reference to "Stuff partly Worked" probably referred to partially made parts for chairs.

Several members of the Pitman family were involved in the woodworking trades. Joseph Pitman’s nephew John Pitman (ca. 1726–1768) was a chairmaker, and had sons who were also craftsmen: John Pitman, Jr. (1757–1809), apprenticed as a joiner and is later referred to in land deeds and court records alternately as a carpenter and a housewright, and Benjamin Pitman (1766–1811) was a housewright. Another of Joseph Pitman’s nephews, James Pitman (1700–1769), was a Newport joiner, and his sons James (1740–1784) and William (1746–1784) were both Newport shop joiners. Another Benjamin Pitman, who was working in Newport as a joiner in 1745, may have been Joseph Pitman’s brother.

Jennifer N. Johnson and Patricia E. Kane

1. Charles Myrick Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman: The First of the Name in the Colony of Rhode Island (New York: The Trow & Smith Book Manufacturing Co., 1868), pp. 7–9.

2. Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, pp. 7–8. After the death of John Pitman in 1711, the Nassau estate was leased within the family. The lease had apparently expired by 1762, when the family began to collect evidence to support their claim to the property. Disputes arose, however, and they failed to act in time. The Revolution began and the estate was lost under the British statute of limitations. See Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, p. 9.

3. Thurston, Descendants of John Pitman, pp. 10–11.

4. Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission website,

5. Joseph Pitman Inventory, June 7, 1731, Newport Probate Miscellaneous Inventories, 1721–1748, microfilm no. 0942000, p. 90, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

6. A "1/2 barrel of Lamp black" was listed in the 1715 inventory of New York chairmaker and joiner Jean Suire, see Neil D. Kamil, "Hidden in Plain Sight: Disappearance and Material Life in Colonial New York," American Furniture (1995), accessed online,