John Nichols White
JOHN NICHOLS WHITE
Chair Maker and Painter
By Mrs. Mary Grace Canfield
Who was John White, where did he live, was he the ancestor of the various White families in the neighborhood? These questions and others like them have been asked many times. He was not the ancestor of anyone, for he and his wife, Mary, had no children. They are buried in the River Street graveyard. He died Sept. 3, 1865, aged 62 years. She died August 3, 1870, aged 64 years. On their lot are seven graves. One must be that of his father, Francis White, who came to Woodstock from Groton, Mass., and died here in 1836, an aged man. Two women, apparently sisters, both unmarried, born before 1800 and dying early, are buried there. There are also three small headstones, two of them having only initials.
My direct stories about John White came from two men who had vivid personal memories, Oscar Farwell and John Eaton.
Oscar Farwell and a couple of other boys were swimming back of the Asa Jones house, which is the long, low house on the upper end of River Street, on July 4, 1854 when a signal of fire was given. The beautiful courthouse, located just east of the south end of the middle bridge, was burning. Mr. Farwell said, “We boys ran down the street, pulling on our trousers as we ran, to get to the fire. In the river stood John White with a small pump, trying to force water onto the building without avail.” The building was consumed. A big celebration that day out south had left the village bereft of men. John White and Asa Jones were the only men, and the few small boys were the only creatures of the male persuasion left here.
John White lived on what we call High Street and his chair shop was there also. And here he made the chairs which in these days are so much sought after. He made both rocking and straight-back chairs. They were made on honor. Those of us who own some of them find them to be still perfect. I owned eight of them, two rockers and six straight-backs. We bought them of Joanna Doton of Pomfret about 1903. Her family had gotten them directly from White. I have talked this week with a man in the village who owns six of them, bought by his great-grandfather. The decorations on mine are the original ones, lovely delicate coloring in greens and gold. This past fall, this decoration was copied for a set which had not had the care bestowed upon ours, and the new owners went forth to Connecticut with their treasures.
When one has learned the lines of the real genuine White chairs, no other chairs can be substituted. Not long ago I heard a young woman glibly say, “That is a John White rocker.” Well it was not. It had none of the graceful and perfect lines of the White rockers. It beats the Dutch how much some people know which has no foundation in fact or truth.
The tombstone of John says he was 62 when he died on August 3 [sic], 1865. The vital statistics report that he died Sept. 8 and was 69 years old. Which dates are correct I know not and it matters little in the present hour.
At a probate court held in Woodstock on the fourth day of October, 1865, State of Vermont, Hartford District, with Judge John Porter present, the estate of John N. White was probated. At the request of his widow, Mary H. White, Ovid Thompson was appointed administrator. The court allowed one year for the settlement of the estate and the payment of the bills. Nathan Churchill and George Fisher were appointed a committee to appraise the estate and conduct the necessary business.
At the probate office, I copied all the legal terms with their aforesaids and whereofs relative to the settlement of this White property. I spare the reader these repetitions and give a few plain facts. The shop and adjoining land were appraised for $550. He was everlastingly buying and selling real estate, a lot of it on High Street, some of it on Elm Street and other scattering spots. I have read in the books containing the deeds these varied transactions, but when he died, he owned but little real estate.
The personal property listed at the probate office included household furniture and equipment, stovepipe, wrought iron, cast iron, his iron bench and screws, iron kettle, iron pot, bar lead, a manure fork, raw oil, paint mill, paint and varnish brushes, graining tools, wood saws, iron squares and wrenches, a short jointer, a “fore plain”, a try square, a half barrel of Paris white, soap, and a revolver. The most expensive items were the Colt revolver appraised at $15, a brass clock valued at $12, his chest of tools appraised at $20, the raw oil valued at $8. All the articles amounted to $760. The appraisers signed their names. L.A.Marsh, registerer, also appears.
At a session of the probate court held April 17, 1866, the commissioners reserved claims against the estate, examined and made adjustments. The claimants were Edwin Hazen, E.L. and C. White, George Fisher, Lorenzo Richmond, Henry M. Cobb, Dexter Anderson, Charles Wentworth. The claims amounted to $117.42. Two of them were discounted, the payments made were $107.50.
The administrator appeared to make his final report Nov. 7, 1866, but it was postponed until the 28th of November. He credits the sale of real estate and personal to the sum of $726.69 and charges it $20 for two gravestones, fees, care of property, taxes, advertising $52, which left in his hands $521.80. No issue was left, and upon application, “the residue of the estate , as it does not exceed the sum of $1000, is decreed and assigned to the widow, Mary H. White, and her heirs and assigns forever.”
I have searched the records to see if Francis White, who I am sure was his father, owned any property here, but there is no mention of him. I do not know whom John married. The tombstone and records say only Mary H. White. There were no children. John Eaton told me that John was short in stature and fat. He did not believe in war, consequently the period of the war between the states was a difficult time for him. He employed some workmen. Mr. Eaton told me the story of one of his workmen who lost a finger by too close contact with the buzz saw. John described the accident to a friend and vigorously declaimed against such carelessness while waving his hand at the saw – when with a bit of emphatic profanity he said, “There goes my finger.”
As a man he has become a mere tradition. As a workman he has left beautiful and graceful chairs which are treasured by those of us who are fortunate to own some of them.
Published in The Vermont Standard, Thursday, January 13, 1944, page 6.