Robert Stevens, worked 1736 - 1752; died 1781


Occupation

upholsterer

Location

Newport, Rhode Island

Biography

Robert Stevens had a long career as a Newport upholsterer. Born in Boston, he was the son of John Stevens (1671–1721) and Grace Gammon, who were married by Reverend Cotton Mather on June 6, 1694. His paternal grandparents were Erasmus and Elizabeth Stevens of Boston.(1) Stevens may have completed his apprenticeship Boston, but it is also possible he trained in Newport, where he was practicing his trade in 1736, at the age of twenty-three.(2) In 1738, he married Anstis Elizabeth Wignall (1723–1802), the daughter of John Wignall and Mary Rogers of Newport, at Newport’s Second Congregational Church. The couple had at least fifteen children.(3) A portrait of Mrs. Stevens is now in the collection of the Newport Historical Society.

Stevens may have been responsible for training at least two Newport upholsterers. The upholsterer Kendall Nichols, Jr. (b. c. 1722–1774) acted as a bondsman for Stevens and Newport joiner Nathaniel Baker in 1743.(4) Given that Nichols was around twenty-one at the time, it is possible that he was apprenticing with or working for Stevens. Caleb Gardner, Jr. (1729–1801) may also have trained with Stevens. When Stevens was sued in 1750 by Thomas Ward, the sheriff unsuccessfully attempted to find and arrest him, instead confiscating "a small Knife & fork in a Sheath Delivered to me by Caleb Gardner jun as the Estate of ye Deft."(5) The fact that Gardner delivered Steven’s property suggests that he may have been at the upholsterer’s home or shop when the sheriff arrived, an indication that the twenty-one-year-old Gardner worked for Stevens.

Stevens’ trade in seating furniture is documented in three accounts. In October 1739, he was paid 46.10.0 for providing chairs to the South Kingstown, Rhode Island, courthouse.(6) The other two accounts are reciprocal invoices between Stevens and cabinetmaker John Goddard and record several occasions on which they collaborated. The bill from Stevens to Goddard includes a 1776 charge of 14.0.0 for covering a chair, and a 1768 charge of 61.6.0 for "Chairs that you Recd the Money for Sum Not Carried out." Stevens also supplied the cabinetmaker with leather and fabric.(7) The other bill details seating furniture supplied by Goddard to Stevens from 1764 to 1781, including two easy chairs in March 1764, "8 Black Walnut Chairs" in July 1766, and "6 Mahogany Chair Frames" in October 1773. Several other items related to Steven’s trade were charges for bed cornishes and "a cornished Bed."(8)

In addition to practicing his upholstery trade, Stevens was a shopkeeper and merchant, activities in which he partnered with his son Robert, Jr. (1743–1831). In addition to having a shop in Newport’s Brenton’s Row, he co-owned a ship with fellow merchants William Vernon and Robert Crooke by 1760.(9) Despite these other pursuits, Stevens continued in the upholstery trade until his death in 1780. He is referred to as an upholsterer in a court document relating to his estate, and, according to his inventory, he had two pounds worth of curled hair in his kitchen at the time of his death.(10)

JNJ and PEK


1. Eugene R. Stevens and William Plumb Bacon, Erasmus Stevens, Boston, Mass., 1674-1690, and His Descendants (New York: Tobias A. Wright, 1914), 65. For the marriage of Stevens’s parents, see A Report of the Record Commissioners Containing Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths, 1630-1699 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1833), 218.

2. A 1736 court case is the earliest known record of Stevens being in Newport. See Robert Stevens, Newport, upholsterer v. Daniel Underwood, Newport, hatter, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. A, p. 415, November 1736 Term, case 12, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

3. Stevens and Bacon, Erasmus Stevens, 70–71; James N. Arnold, Vital records of Rhode Island, 1636-1850. First series Births, marriages and deaths. A Family Register for the People. Volume 8: Episcopal and Congregational (Providence: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company 1896), 453.

4. Benjamin Pitman, mariner, Samuel Pitman, bricklayer, and Moses Pitman, fellmonger, all of Newport v. Robert Stevens, Newport, upholder alias upholsterer, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. B, p. 704, May 1745 term, case 253, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The note, dated December 1, 1743, is in case file 253.

5. Writ, October 24, 1750, in case file, Thomas Ward, Newport, gentleman v. Robert Stevens, late of the same Newport, upholder, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. C, p. 595, November 1750 term, case 347, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

6. "Account for Sundry Necessaries at the Court House in South Kingstown," February Session 1739/40, Accounts Allowed 1716-1740, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.

7. Account, November 1764–January 1780, Channing-Ellery Papers, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence.

8. Account, Estate of Robert Stevens to the Estate of John Goddard, March 1764–November 1781, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. J, p. 672, November 1791 term, case 23, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

9. Samuel Pease, Glastonbury, Connecticut, mariner v. William Vernon, Robert Crooke, and Robert Stevens, Newport, merchants, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Providence County, Record Book, vol. 4, p. 391, December 1760 term, case 106, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

10. For the complete inventory of Robert Stevens, see Nicki Hise, "Gentility and Gender Roles Within the 18th-Century Merchant Class of Newport, Rhode Island" (master’s thesis, paper 22, University of Massachusetts Boston, 2010), 106–108, http://scholarworks.umb.edu/masters_theses/22.



Bibliography

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