Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Peyton Randolph's Secretary Desk

Accession #: 1938.2
Item: Desk with bookcase

Walking through Wilton visitors might notice the countless pieces of period furniture on display throughout the house. Due to our wonderful collection, the most frequent question asked during tours is always “Is it a Randolph piece?” Visitors might be surprised that Wilton only boasts one original piece of furniture belonging to the Randolphs, and that is Peyton Randolph’s Secretary Desk currently on display in the Study. His great-granddaughter, and the last Randolph of Wilton, Catherine Randolph Mayo, bequeathed the piece to her son Robert Randolph Mayo. Robert’s wife, Betty, sold it to her nephew, John Brander, where it left the Randolph family line. He in turn sold it to his brother, Thomas Brander. The Dames purchased it from him around [1938], where it later became a centerpiece for the Study.
The desk was made sometime around 1770-80 in New York and it is attributed to Samuel Prince. Some of the fine craftsmanship includes: scrolled and dentil carved pediments; adjustable shelves and a slant front lid; and four graduated molded doors. It was made in the Chippendale style and is constructed out of Mahogany. The desk has some Poplar and White Pine in it as well. Secretary desks were first used in the 17th century and mark the beginning of permanent storage spaces over portable traveling pieces, such as traveling desks.  (See example below)

Peyton could have possibly used this desk in the very same room it is today.  From the 1815 inventory of Wilton it is very likely this desk resided in this very room. Peyton Randolph would have written his correspondences from this desk as well as taken care of the business aspect of running Wilton. When the Marquis de Lafayette stayed in the house for ten days during the Revolutionary War he could have used this very desk as well.
Home Decorator's Collection. "'History of the Secretary Desk.'" Home Decorator's
               Collection, Decorating Ideas. Accessed July 1, 2011. Last modified 2011.
Wilton House Furnishing Committee. "Report from the Furnishing Committee." Letter to
               the Item file, October 27, 1939 Wilton House Loan File Item #1938.2.  
Wilton House Museum. "Item file # 1938.2." Wilton House Museum to Researchers of
               the Collection, 1938 Collection file.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Fry-Jefferson Map

Accession #: 1971.10
Item: The Fry-Jefferson Map
            The Fry-Jefferson Map, a real treasure of Wilton’s collection, was presented to us in 1971 as a gift from Mrs. Cabell Mayo Tabb, in memory of Cabell Mayo Tabb, Charles Alexander Gregory and Maria Theresa Ballou Brown.  Before Wilton became the fortunate owner of this Fry-Jefferson Map, it was displayed in the Baynton-Williams Gallery in London, England, followed by Swan Tavern Antiques in Yorktown, Virginia, where it was fortuitously purchased by the Mrs. Cabell Mayo Tabb. The map itself is of “the Most inhabited Part of Virginia, All of Maryland, Part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.”
            The map surveyed by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson circa 1755 was originally printed in London, on rag paper. The cartouche in the lower right-hand corner depicts a dockside scene with soldiers, African Americans loading hogsheads and a sailing ship in the background. On the map, Virginia is in yellow, North Carolina in Rose and the coast in green. A highlight of Wilton tours is being able to see the original location of Wilton on the map.
            Cartography in the 18th century was an occupation that required a lot of skill. Cartographers, the men who made the maps, were central figures in colonial society because they turned public land into private landholdings when making their maps. Surveyors were in general literate men who primarily learned the art from experience. Being a surveyor was a high risk job because it entailed traveling unexplored swamps and forests and battling mosquitoes, disease, and wild animals. While working on their maps surveyors consulted current landowners, county courthouses, colonial offices and Native American tribes to better determine the lay of the land they were mapping.
The true impact of the Fry-Jefferson map was realized when future mapmakers depended on it while creating new maps of the British colonies. The map was so popular that it was widely copied and several French additions were made, the first edition is currently on display in the study. The Fry-Jefferson Map was even so renowned for its accuracy that it was consulted by British Generals during the Seven Years War and then again during the Civil War.
            Many of our guests may be surprised that the map has a definite connection to the Randolph family. Peter Jefferson, one of the surveyors, was the husband of Jane Randolph. The mother of Thomas Jefferson, Jane was more importantly a great-granddaughter of William Randolph I of Turkey Island and a third cousin to William Randolph III of Wilton. The Fry-Jefferson Map is currently on display in the upper-passage in the exhibit “Get Found:
Mapping Place
and Time” which ends August 21, 2011, so come see it!
The Library of Virginia. "The Library of Virginia Exhibits." From Williamsburg to Will's Creek: The Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia, An Exhibition at the Library of Virginia. Accessed July 25, 2011.  Last modified 2011.

Albemarle Adventures. "Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia." Albemarle Adventures. Accessed August 1,    2011. Last modified 2011.

Museum Studies Students at VCU. "Get Found Mapping Place and Time, April 15 - August 21.  Wilton House Museum." In Get Found: Mapping Place and Time, edited by Wilton House Museum Staff. 2011.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Rieux Wedding Rings


Accession #: 1962.4.1
Item: Wedding Rings

This week's post comes from Savannah, who spent a week of her summer with the staff and interns of Wilton gaining some "valuable" insight into the world of the small museum.  Savannah spent the week researching for her blog entry, inventorying the collection, and firing a musket.

           On October 14, 1780, Justin Pierre Plumard Comte de Rieux exchanged thin, gold weddings rings with Maria Margarita Martin in the royal court of France.  These late 18th century rings are considered “damiani” style due to the engravings on the outside.  Justin Pierre de Rieux wore his ring with his wife’s name, “M Maria Martini” engraved on it, while “JP de Rieux” and the wedding date are on Maria’s ring.
            The Rieux couple wore their wedding rings on the third finger of their left hand for the entirety of their marriage.  This custom started with the Ancient Egyptians about 4800 years ago.  In Egyptian hieroglyphics a circle means eternity, which is why they used a ring to symbolize the never-ending bond between husband and wife during marriage.  The Egyptians also started the tradition of wearing weddings rings on the ring finger because they believed the vein that carried sentiments began in the third finger and ran straight to the heart.  

Unlike the Egyptians, 18th century Europeans used wedding rings simply to represent the husband’s possession of his wife.  When Maria and Justin got married a strong patriarchal society still existed, so their wedding most likely had more to do with hierarchy and economics than love, thus the rings probably resembled the same concepts.  Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm this theory because only a limited number of documents exist about Mr. and Mrs. Rieux.
We do know that Maria Margarita Martin was born in England in 1762 to Maria Petronille and Joseph Martin.  Maria’s mother later married Philip Mazzei in London.  Mazzei moved to Virginia in order to introduce vines, silkworms, olives and citrus trees to America, where Thomas Jefferson was instrumental to his success.  Jefferson gave Mazzei 193 acres of his own estate, Monticello, which Mazzei used to create their family estate called Colle. Mazzei’s success was displayed when prominent Virginians such as George Washington and Thomas Adams received Mrs. Mazzei and her daughter upon their arrival to America.  After Maria Martin and Justin le Compte de Rieux’s wedding, Mazzei gave them Colle where they lived with their five children until Maria’s death in 1852. 
Francois Guyon Leroy and Pierre Justin Deriuex had Justin Pierre Plumard de Rieux on March 10, 1756 in Nantes, France.  Justin de Rieux later became le Compte de Rieux when he served as Captain of the Guard of Louis XVI.  He met and married Maria during her visit to France in 1780.  They moved to Colle in 1783 where Thomas Jefferson again assisted the family with legal advice, supplies, and more.  Justin Pierre de Rieux died in 1824 in Virginia. 
The thin gold rings that Mr. and Mrs. Rieux wore throughout their long marriage were donated to Wilton House Museum by Ms. Lancaster and Mrs. John Guy because of the Rieux’s friendship with Thomas Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson was directly related to the Randolphs through his mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson.  The rings can be viewed during the “My Love Ten Thousand Times: Love and Courtship Since the 18th Century” exhibition at the Wilton, opening February 4, 2012.


"Justin Pierre Plumard Comte De Rieux (b. March 10, 1756, d. December 23, 1824)." N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jul 2011.  <>.

“Letter Book of Thomas Jett.” Thomas Jett, The William and Mary Quarterly. Vol. 17, No. 1 (Jul., 1908), pp. 20-26. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. <>.

"Philip Mazzei." The Jefferson Monticello. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jul 2011.

"The Dereuix Family of Virginia." 21 Jul 2001. Web. 29 Jul 2011.

 "The History of Wedding Rings." Italian Wedding Designer. Web. 29 Jul 2011.

"The Wedding Ring: Brief History." The American Wedding. Web. 29 Jul 2011.

"The History of Wedding Rings." The History of Wedding Rings. Web. 29 Jul 2011.