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This high chest, originally owned by Colonel Josiah Quincy, is a remarkable survival. The chest was a suitable emblem of Quincy’s wealth and standing. It was first used in Quincy’s house in Boston, and was moved to his country property in Braintree in the 1750s. That house burned in 1759, and Quincy’s next country house also burned in 1769. The chest was saved both times. In 1770, Quincy built the present Quincy House and filled it with new pieces as well as the furnishings saved from his earlier homes. The chest descended through the generations. Its history was recorded by Eliza Susan Quincy in the late nineteenth century. It is one of roughly three dozen extant “japanned” pieces made in Boston in the early 1700s. The decorative finish was meant to imitate Asian lacquer in a style that was known as “japanning” or “japan work.”
Four Generations of Josiah Quincys
This daguerreotype shows four generations of Quincys, all named Josiah, and all descended from two previous Josiahs. The seated figure on the left is Josiah Quincy III, who saw to the improvements of the marketplace now known as Quincy Market while he was mayor of Boston, and later became a longtime president of Harvard. His son, Josiah Quincy IV, was an author and also mayor of Boston. Josiah Phillips Quincy, who had his name legally changed to differentiate himself from his predecessors, was a well-known author. His son, Josiah Quincy V, was a state legislator and a mayor of Boston. This remarkable photograph survived within the family and while the original is too fragile to display in the house, a copy hangs in the dining room of the family’s former country estate in the city that bears their name.
Game Box with Counters
In the tumultuous years following the American Revolution, the China Trade held out the promise of untold wealth. The first American ship sailed to China in 1784. On board was Major Samuel Shaw, one of the first Americans involved in direct trade with the Chinese. On Shaw’s third trip to China in 1792, he purchased this lacquer game set for his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Abigail Quincy. Her initials are painted on the lids of the set’s boxes and carved onto the mother-of-pearl counters. The game set, which was made for the western market, holds variously shaped counters which were used for betting in games like quadrille, loo, and whist.
This ring memorializes Josiah Quincy Jr. (1744-1775), who died at the age of thirty-one, at sea on his way back from pleading the patriots’ cause in England. The ring was probably commissioned by a close family member after his death, or possibly even by Josiah himself. The inscription reads “Oh! Save My Country,” which were purportedly Josiah's last words. According to a biography of Josiah Quincy Jr. that was probably written by his granddaughter, Eliza Susan Quincy, his father, Colonel Josiah Quincy, wore this ring throughout his life, and in his will, dated 1784, it is mentioned: 'I bequeath to my grandson, Josiah Quincy, my mourning ring, given me by his dear father, wishing the motto engraved upon it may never be forgotten or neglected by him.'
The monitor at the top of the Quincy House afforded a clear view of Boston Harbor, and Colonel Josiah Quincy apparently spent hours there watching troop movements during the American Revolution. On October 10, 1775, he scratched “Governor Gage sail'd for England with a fair wind” into one of the windows of the monitor roof. This pane of glass was carefully preserved by the family. Although General Gage had departed, the war was not over and Quincy’s observations continued. Colonel Quincy shared what he saw in the harbor in letters to John Adams and General George Washington. His watch over the harbor continued until shortly after the British evacuated Boston. Some of the British fleet remained in the harbor for some time. Washington was concerned about their presence, and asked Colonel Quincy to hire a dozen or more “honest men” to question suspicious characters. Quincy was happy to oblige, and in the same letter in which he accepts this duty, provided Washington with an hourly log of his observations of the harbor.