Thanks to Mimi Miller, Executive Director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, for her years of research on Robert Stewart, which laid the foundation for this project. Candice Roland Candeto is a Lois F. McNeil Fellow in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. 1 The author credits Betty Stewart’s extensive work on her family history, partially compiled at the Historic Natchez Foundation, for contributions to Robert Stewart’s biography. 2 “The Cabinet Business,” Catesby Minnis and Robert Stewart ad, Natchez Gazette (Mississippi), January 31, 1818. 3 Cincinnati City Directories, 1829, 1831. 4 R. & M. Stewart ad, Daily Gazette (Cincinnati), February 26, 1835. 5 Natchez Court Records at the Historic Natchez Foundation document the timeline of the legal names under which Robert Stewart’s business operated as well as changes in partnership. 6 Account with Buckner Darden, December 13, 1834. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1836, Robert H. Stewart Family Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 37, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University. 7 Account with H. Hamerton, September 23, 1848. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1857, Robert H. Stewart Family Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 38, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University. The bookcases were documented by the Classical Institute of the South in 2013. 8 Account with William Harris, March 29, 1834. Ledger, Furniture Accounts, 1834−1836, Robert H. Stewart Family Account Books, Mss404, 4742, Vol. 37, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University. 9 “Robert H. Stewart, successor to Stewart & Burns,” Natchez Daily Courier (Mississippi), February 9, 1861. cherry, a local wood, is consistent with Mississippi manufacture. Stewart and his competitors employed it for everything from coffins to case pieces, but the wood was rarely imported. This ample table has fourteen legs; the center four of cypress are turned in a straightforward style, but the outer legs are twist-turned. Stewart’s account books note that he purchased furniture parts, like bedposts, throughout his career. For this fascinating table, the use of two different styles of turnings may be evidence that Stewart imported twist-turned legs—which required a machine lathe—as the basis for the table and then constructed the top locally, adding the simpler center legs to extend the length to fit the room. Ongoing work on this unique piece will help shed light on the nature of the furniture industry in Natchez and the networks of trade that connected the town socially, politically, and economically with the rest of the country. In 1861 Stewart’s son Robert Hill took over the business. 9 His decision to emphasize fine imported household wares and metallic burial cases demonstrates the continued influence of geography on the Natchez economy: retailing came naturally along the river. With his son continuing the business in Natchez, the elder Robert purchased a cotton plantation across the river, worked by dozens of enslaved laborers, having finally achieved the Southern dream he had furnished for others for decades.
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