William Beakes/Inscriptions

Several of the pencil inscriptions on the chest of drawers made by William Beakes III are faint and have wear associated with drawer bottoms running over drawer dividers. A question about a latin phrase in the last post prompted me to post images of that phrase and one other made with infrared photography. Wood is typically rendered lighter than it is in visible light and graphite and dark inks rendered darker. Infrared photography has been extremely helpful in our ability to read faint inscriptions on historic furniture. Perhaps these images will help readers of the blog to interpret the inscriptions.

Immediately under the large Beakes inscription is what may be a latin phrase. In a comment in the last post Jay suggests this reads “Scrip [indecipherable] Amicum” and noted “The first word has to do with writing and the last translates of a friend.”
The meaning is unclear to me. I did understand amicum to translate “of a friend” suggesting it has something to do the complex family relations in regard to the gifting of the chest.
This inscription, on the drawer bottom immediately below the the inscription illustrated above reads Ex: Dono (by gift) Thomas Foulks. (Or Foulke.) Thomas Foulkes (1665-1739) (the name was variously spelled by family members) was the father of Sarah Foulkes Thorne 1702- 1774). There is much to still decipher about the inscriptions and indeed who wrote what. For instance, research shows that Sarah Foulkes married Joseph Thorne (1700-1775) in 1723 but she is addressed by her husbands family name on a chest made in 1720/21. Did Sarah write the inscription to assert this was her chest she was bringing to her married life and should remain in her possession instead of her husband’s as some authors suggest? There were strong connections between Falls Monthly Meeting the Beakes’ attended and Chesterfield Monthly Meeting the Foulkes’ and Thorne’s attended. It is likely members of these families had ties in America for generations before the chest was made.

The next installment on the chest will be posted shortly and I plan to discuss the provenance of the chest in a t5hird post. Family members continued to inscribe the bottom boards of the two short drawers in the top tier of the chest for 250 years after its creation reminding us that furniture is never just furniture.

18 thoughts on “William Beakes/Inscriptions

  1. Chris,

    Seeing the inscription in infrared, I would suggest that it indicates that the purchase was paid fir with “scrip (as opposed to specie) by a friend.”

    One would have to establish that scrip was then available.


  2. Does the portion of the inscription with Beakes’s name appear to be in the same hand as the signatures and other inscriptions you have for him?

      • I haven’t given up my interpretation of a friend paying in scrip. However, as that term is written “scrip:” perhaps it was an abbreviation for a longer word.

        My original thought was that the inscription had something to do with “writing” and a “friend.” But, the closest Latin phrase would be written differently: scripsit amicus. That translates as “written by a friend.” Were that the meaning, then perhaps someone other than Beakes or Thorn was the author of the inscription. Could a professional scrivener be using a Latin phrase to indicate his handiwork? (I can think of no American joyner or cabinetmaker who inscribed anything in Latin.)

        Perhaps the inscription is a term of art no longer, or seldom, used. Hopefully, others will be able to shed more light on its use in this context.

      • There are two points that for now place on the side of thinking it was Beakes who wrote the large inscription. First, the date is specific to the day, not only the year or year and month. (I don’t recall seeing this done by a joiner before, year and month does occur though.) Second, Beakes has a history of inscribing objects. Besides this chest of drawers, there are two other chests that he signed, one includes the year. There is also one other unsigned chest that can be attributed to him. That’s a 3-1 ration of signed to unsigned objects extant. Unprecedented for this era.
        As you say, not just one, but two latin phrases on a drawer made in 1721. I need to look more closely at Sarah’s father Thomas Foulkes (1665-1739). He most likely purchased the chest from Beakes for his daughter and would have had an interest in its future.
        A plain chest, but a complicated text.

  3. With his permission, here is Adam Bowett’s comment:

    I have several thoughts about this.

    First, the indecipherable word is ‘Per’ – I see this quite often. The Line reads ‘Script: per Amicum’.

    Second, this line is part of the lower inscription, not the upper. It reads:

    Script: Pr Amicum
    Ex: Dono Thomas Foulks

    This translates as ‘Written by a friend as a gift from Thomas Foulks’.

    Third, how do we know that the Sarah Thorne for whom the chest was made in 1720 was the same as Sarah Foulkes Thorne who married Joseph Thorne in 1723? Sarah is a common name. Did Joseph Thorne have a sister named Sarah?

    • Yes, “Per” became visible with infrared photography.
      Thanks to Adam we may now have a good, workable translation of the gifting of the chest. I believe it is still unclear who wrote what, let alone why, though the context of most inscriptions are lost to us.

  4. In light of Adam’s observations, I stick with my first translation of “written by a friend,” and withdraw my second suggestion that this might have something to do with Colonial scrip given by a friend.

    I do wonder whether “friend” in this instance may refer to a Quaker, i.e., a member of the Society of Friends, rather than the more general usage of the term

    • I also wondered about “friend” referring to a Quaker, but discount it for the present, as I’m not familiar enough with contemporary traditions of addressing members of the Society of Friends.”

      • I have also run across the use of the term “friend” in Philadelphia-area wills of the Colonial period and wondered whether they referred to a Quaker. One example is the will of Willoughby Warder referring to his “friend” John Sotcher. Sotcher and his wife Mary were the stewards at Pennsbury, William Penn’s country estate not far from Warder’s property.

  5. As to Adam’s query as to whether Joseph Thorne had a sister named Sarah, in the link previously provided to earlier research on that family, Joseph Thorne, Jr. Is identified as having a sibling, but that sibling is not named.

    • Yes, I was unable to find other Sarah Thorne’s living in the area at the time. (Though we all know absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.) In addition several other family members who later signed and dated the chest were direct descendants of Sarah Foulkes Thorne and Joseph Thorne. Also, there are several partial inscriptions that include the name Foulkes. All these additional inscriptions are to be a topic of a later post.
      Research into the families recorded on the chest is on-going, hampered by the current restrictions of movement. Ultimately, what interests me about this object is the meaning it seems to have had for a family over time and what we might make of that. This chest and the inscriptions it bears opens the door to the potential of any object to affect an owner – or maker – or collector – personally.

      Jay, will you please find William Beakes’ account book so we can figure all this out?!!

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