Time for a little some thing different—a piece of furniture. Several years ago, I was in Dedham, Massachusetts at the Dedham Historical Society, where I was able to see the Metcalf chair. Michael Metcalf, the owner of the chair, was my 8th great grandfather. I thought it was a pretty impressive and attractive antique chair. However, when I searched for information about it, I learned a great deal more. According to The American Promise (2012), the carvings on the back of the chair are like those on a gravestone—wings symbolizing the soul’s ascent into heaven, Michael Metcalf’s initials and the date. In addition, there is a storage compartment under the seat of the chair, presumably for the storage of books and the sides of the chair are solid, which makes the chair warmer than if the sides were open. Something that would be important in New England winters.
So just who was Michael Metcalf? A little online research gave me a great deal of information about him. He was born in Tatterford, England about 1590. In 1616 he married Sarah Elwyn and together they had 11 children. Michael was a successful dormix (damask cloth) weaver, employing over 100 people. More importantly, he was a Puritan and was persecuted for his beliefs by Bishop Wren, who took away his property and charged him with treason.
In his own words:
"To all the true professors of Christ’s Gospel within the city of Norwich:
. . . I was persecuted in the land of my father’s sepulchres, for not bowing at the name of Jesus, and observing other ceremonies in religion, forced upon me, at the instance of Bishop Wren, of Norwich, and his chancellor Dr. Corbet, whose violent measures troubled me in the Bishop’s Court, and returned me into the High Commissioner’s Court. Suffering many times for the cause of religion, I was forced, for the sake of the liberty of my conscience, to flee from my wife and children, to go into New England; taking ship for the voyage at London, the 17th of Sepr 1636; being by tempests tossed up and down the seas till the Christmas following, then veering about to Plymouth in Old England, in which time I met with many sore afflictions."
"Leaving the ship, I went down to Yarmouth, in Norfolk county, whence I shipped myself and family, to come to New England; sailed 15th April, 1637, and arrived three days before midsummer, with my wife, nine children and a servant."
"…my enemies conspired against me to take my life, and, sometimes, to avoid their hands, my wife did hide me in the roof of the house, covering me over with straw."
Michael Metcalf and his family made their home in Dedham, Massachusetts. He signed the Dedham Covenant, was made a freeman, and was elected a selectman. Between 1656 and 1661, he was the town school teachers. Michael Metcalf died on December 1664.
If I were able to talk to Michael Metcalf, I would have several questions for him. Who made the chair? Where did you get it and how much did you pay for it? I also would like to know what he kept in the compartment of the chair and if they were books, which books they were. I also would like to know his experiences as a teacher in Dedham.
The American Promise, Volume A: A History of the United States: To 1800
By James L. Roark, Michael P. Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, Sarah Stage, Susan M. Hartmann