“Go down, into the parlour that my arms hang and bring me up a pistol.” Captain John Macpherson

Researching the historical record pertaining to Mount Pleasant can sometimes cause confusion when specific rooms are being discussed. In earlier posts I have used names for spaces in the main house as they are currently interpreted by the staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Several years ago, after a close reading of Thomas Nevell’s account book and John Macpherson’s publication, A Pennsylvania Sailor’s Letters, the names used to describe rooms in the house were revised to more accurately reflect their eighteenth century designations.

The names in use in 1926 when the house opened to the public were codified by scale drawings produced in 1932 that are now part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

Plans of the first and second stories of the main house at Mount Pleasant drawn in 1932.

The large room on the first story running the full depth of the house was designated the “Parlour” in the 1932 drawing. Throughout the twentieth century this room was interpreted as a general living space where various family activities would take place. The smaller room across the hall was interpreted as the “Dining Room”. The large room on the second story was termed the “Great Chamber” presumably to reflect its importance in the hierarchy of ornament in the house. By the early 1960’s, a large bookcase and a desk were installed in the “Great Chamber” and it was interpreted as Captain John Macpherson’s library.

Back to back credit and debit entries for December 7, 1764 in Thomas Nevell’s account book provide an insight to how Nevell himself described rooms in the house. Extraordinary work in three spaces was credited to individual carpenters, debited to Macpherson, and measured by third parties separately from the general run of millwork in the rest of the house. Nevell’s journeymen Samuel McClure, John King, and James Brown are credited for the “Workman-ship of the Dining Room and Hall” and King and Brown are each credited for one pediment in the “Drawing Room”.

Thomas Nevell account book entries for December 7, 1769. Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center

The first story hall, with the enormous amount of labor in the fabrication of the Doric entablature containing scores of triglyphs and metopes and thousands of lathe turned guttae, or drops as Nevell called them, can now be documented as the work of McClure, King, and Brown.

First story hall, facing east. August 2009

The most labor intensive pediments in the house are the two associated with the cupboards on the south chimneypiece wall in the large room on the second story. In addition to the extraordinary work of the interrupted pediment mouldings with frets, there was additional labor needed to hand carve the curved elements of the frames and doors. The “Great Chamber” is now interpreted as the drawing room on the basis of the account book entry.

South wall of the drawing room. August 2009

There is no extraordinary carpentry work in the small square room on the first story previously interpreted as a dining room. By process of elimination, the dining room Nevell refers to must be the large room on the first story previously called the parlor. Among the extraordinary work in this room fashioned by Nevell’s journeymen are the elaborate chimneypiece, pedestal high wainscot with returns at the windows, and dentils with “eyes” in the interrupted cornice. Future posts will elaborate on suspected missing elements that would originally have made this space more opulent than it stands today.

Dining room, facing west. August 2009.

In A Pennsylvania Sailor’s Letters, Macpherson recounts a sensational episode that occurred at Mount Pleasant in May, 1769. Part of the story takes place in the main house with Macpherson referring to the three rooms left unnamed by Nevell. On the second story, at the foot of the attic stairs, Macpherson knocked on his “wife’s bed-chamber”. He then refers to the other chamber as his eldest son John’s room. In the last reference to a room at Mount Pleasant, Macpherson orders pistols from his parlor be brought to him in the second story hall, alluding to pairs of both pocket and large pistols. The small room on the first story is currently being interpreted as John Macpherson’s parlor.

The 1932 HABS plan with room designations as interpreted today.

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