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Portrait of Jonathan Sayward
Jonathan Sayward's portrait remains in the parlor of his house, where it was hung roughly 245 years ago. The artist has not been identified. Conceivably, Sayward had his and his wife's portraits painted in Boston, perhaps when he was serving on the General Court in the 1760s. The portrait shows him at the height of his career and clearly conveys an image of a successful, unpretentious merchant, the ships in the background indicating the source of Sayward's wealth, or perhaps his role in transporting militia to the siege in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1745. Very few colonists had their portraits painted; this painting is evidence of Sayward's elevated position in colonial society.
Jonathan Sayward's Tall Clock
Tall case clocks were luxury items for colonists in eighteenth-century New England, and few but the wealthiest could own one. This one may well have been Sayward's most valuable belonging. Most likely made in Portsmouth, and purchased early in the 1770s, the clock represented the latest English fashion. Sayward placed it in the corner of his sitting room, the most public room in the house, screwing it into boards that still support it today. Because the clock was too tall to fit into the low-ceilinged house, Sayward cut down the base, removed the central finial, and shortened the two flanking finials. When he removed the central finial, he placed it in a drawer nearby. It remains in the room to this day.
Portrait of Mrs. Nathaniel Barrell
In 1761, Jonathan Sayward commissioned Joseph Blackburn, then residing in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to paint a portrait of his daughter Sally. Trained in England, Blackburn worked in Bermuda beginning in 1752 before moving to Boston in 1755. In 1758, he moved again, this time to Portsmouth, where he worked for five years before returning to England. Like most portrait artists working in the colonies, Blackburn moved often. Exhausting the pool of available subjects in one town, artists moved on in search of new clients. Blackburn's invoice to Sayward survives and indicates that his fee for the portrait was ten guineas, approximately the cost of a very expensive piece of case furniture.
Sally was Saywards' only child. At the time her portrait was painted, the twenty-three-year-old and her two-year-old daughter were living with her parents while her husband, merchant Nathaniel Barrell, was in the midst of a three-year business trip to England. The painting shows a typically idealized image of eighteenth-century womanhood, with Mrs. Barrell loosely holding a basket of roses over one arm and a rose bud in the other hand.
Incredibly, much of Jonathan Sayward's furniture survives, often in its original condition. Apparently Sayward furnished his home in two phases, the first in the 1740s when he purchased a number of walnut pieces, and the second during renovations in the late 1750s and early 1760s when he purchased more expensive mahogany furnishings. Sayward's urge to upgrade his furnishings to better reflect his own growing wealth and position is a desire that still holds today and then, as now, fueled an important luxury market. Sayward purchased three sets of six chairs each made in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1760s. Two of the sets were of mahogany, upholstered in wool damask and used in the parlor; the third set was walnut, apparently originally upholstered in leather and used in the sitting room. Typically, eighteenth-century homes among the well-to-do were abundantly furnished with chairs, reflecting, one assumes, an ongoing commitment to entertaining. Remarkably, most of Sayward's mahogany chairs, including the one pictured, retain their original upholstery, a testament to the frugal nature of Sayward's descendants.
Jonathan Sayward purchased this small tea chest in 1758 from Boston importer John Scollay. Despite his loyalty to England, most of the furniture that Sayward bought came from his own town of York, nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, or Boston. This item is English. Tea chests were a specialty item, and perhaps few were made locally. Like so many of the Sayward furnishings, the tea chest survives in its original condition, retaining the tin canisters for two kinds of tea and the original velvet and silk braid lining the top.
Porcelain Dinner Plates
Most of the glass and ceramic dinner wares in the Sayward household were imported, as the production of these wares was still rare in the colonies. Sayward's prominence called for him to entertain frequently, and therefore he needed appropriate tools.
A set of Chinese dinnerware, consisting of hexagonal plates ornamented with Chinese water buffalo, was purchased in England by Sayward's son-in-law, Nathaniel Barrell, during his three-year trip to England in the 1760s. New Englanders' only access to Chinese ceramics during this period was through European markets, as English trade regulations prevented direct trade between the colonies and China. By purchasing this set directly from an English merchant instead of through Boston, Barrell had a greater choice. Sayward's granddaughter believed this set was the first set of Chinese porcelain imported to Maine.