Stephen Badlam, 1751-1815, furniture maker

No. 10533 Silhouette of Stephem Badlam by M. B. Miller.

Stephen Badlam was born on May 7, 1751, in Stoughton to Deacon Stephen Badlam and his wife Hannah whose children included Hannah, Eliza, Stephen and William. Deacon Stephen’s wife Hannah died on March 16, 1756. He married again but died in only a few years, leaving his children to an uneasy childhood.

During the Revolutionary War Stephen Jr. Joined the American Army in 1775. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and was promoted quickly to 1st Lieutenant and then Captain. He met Washington, whom he admired greatly. He met Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, who presented him with a sword. The regiment was ordered to Canada, and Badlam sailed up Hudson’s River in command of artillery at which time he was made a Major. On July 4, 1776, he took possession of a rise of ground opposite Fort Ticonderoga, and on July 18th, he named it Mount Independence, a name subsequently confirmed by General Gates.

Stephen contracted a serious fever and was forced to resign from the army. In 1777 he and his wife Mary settled with a newborn daughter, Polly, in Dorchester near the paper mill of James Boies who, from 1760, owned the mill that had been started in 1728 on the old Plymouth Road, now River Street, near Washington Street. They had six other children: Stephen, Abigail, Nancy, Lucretia, John and Clarissa, all of whom grew to maturity except Abigail who died at 11. Mary died on July 26, 1794.

After his return from the War, Stephen went into cabinet making. On March 3, 1785, he advertised “Mahogany Desks, Tables, Bureaus, Chairs, Bedsteads, and Cabinet Work of various Kinds, made and sold on reasonable Terms, By Stephen Badlam, of Dorchester near Milton Bridge, when any person may be supplied with good Work for shipping or other use, and have it delivered at any Place required.”

No. 3229 Badlam Houe and furniture factory, photo taken in the 19th century long after Badlam lived there.
No. 2051 Chest on chest by Stephen Badlam, 1791, mahogany veneer on chestnut, eastern white pine and red pine. Yale University Art Gallery.

Yale University has this chest on chest by Badlam: the lower chest has chamfered corners on the front side that are carved; the upper chest has Doric columns on the front corners. Three female figures, two reclining, and the central figure standing, surmount the chest on chest. It is said that these figures were carved by the Skillins of Boston.

No. 14883 Badlam clock case exhibited at Willard Clock Museum

Stephen Badlam, Esq., was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1791, a commission that was renewed five times. He was much involved in the gathering of the Second Church in Dorchester. He was vigorously opposed to Unitarianism and Universalism, both of which he felt were quite ungodly. In 1798 he was married a second time to Elizabeth Turner. He was active in the affairs of Dorchester, opposing the annexation by Boston of Dorchester Neck, and in 1804 was chosen to a Committee to the General Court to remonstrate against this idea. School had been kept in his own house from 1793 to 1799, and he served on a committee to erect schoolhouses.

No. 12316 Card table made by Stephen Badlam, owned by Dorchester Historical Society.

Badlam’s furniture is recognized by collectors for its fine quality. His chairs were similar in type to those of George Hepplewhite.  His known chairs, which were signed S. Badlam, had graceful shields on the backs. The seats were of the saddle-seat variety and curved outward slightly in the front. Foliated carving above fluting ornamented the tapered front legs.

Source: Nash, Susan Higginson. “Badlam Famed Dorchester Cabinet Maker.” In The Boston Sunday Herald, Jan. 26, 1958, Section III.

Also: The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Oxford Press, US, 2006.

Stephen Badlam


description of a rate transitional Chippendale-Neoclassical carve and figured mahogany side chair attributed to Stephen Badlam

Sothey’s Americana auction 553 22 January 2006

This rare and important chair, and three others apparently from the same set, are among the most ambitious early examples of adaptations by provincial American cabinetmakers of the latest English neo-classical styles.1 The elaborate shallow-relief carvings incorporate a virtual catalog of favorite neo-classical images – the ruffled bow with pendant tassel, wheat-ears, and strings of bellflowers. Yet these are applied to what is clearly a conservative traditional rococo or “Chippendale” style frame, probably inspired by the English pattern for “Ribband Back Chairs” illustrated in Chippendale’s Director.2 Although neo-classicism had predominated as the preferred design impetus in England beginning in the late 1750’s and 1760’s, the decade of our Revolutionary War and the ensuing decade of economic depression conspired to delay its adoption in American for almost thirty years.

A similar stylistic transition is found on the great iconic chest-on-chest at the Yale University Art Gallery which was first attributed to Stephen Badlam by the inveterate early scholar Mabel Swan in the early 1930’s.3 Swan was the first to discover two bills in the Elias Hasket Derby family papers, one from Badlam to Derby “to a case of Draws exclusive of the carving” charged at £19. She thereby shook up the museum world by removing the prior incorrect association of the carving with Samuel McIntire, which was at the time a heresy, especially for a museum outsider. The second bill is from John and Simeon Skillin, Boston carvers, for £6.15.0 for “carv’d work done for a chest of draws pr bill given in.” Swan concluded that the handwriting on Badlam’s bill matched precisely the handwriting found on shipping labels pasted to both upper and lower cases of the Yale chest, and therefore Badlam’s bill must have been for this particular chest-on-chest.4  And she concluded the Skillin bill also applied to Derby’s chest. The attribution has been accepted by scholars now for seventy-five years without serious question. 

Numerous pieces of furniture were stamped by Stephen Badlam with an iron stamp “S. Badlam”, providing a considerable body of known work to compare unmarked examples to. The present chair and others from the set are attributed to Badlam based on a number of elements which relate closely to “S.Badlam”-stamped examples.5 The combined use of serpentine crest rail and straight Marlborough-type legs6, triangular glue blocks in the inner seat frame, the exceptional modeling of the carving, and the combined use on the stile of carving and stop-fluting all are found on other examples of his marked chairs. The last feature is described by Charles Montgomery as “almost equivalent to a signature.”7

Stephen Badlam (1751-1815) was one of the most fascinating and successful Boston-area cabinetmakers of the later 18th and early 19th centuries. Born to a long-established family of yeoman farmers, innkeepers and joiners, he was orphaned at the age of five after his mother’s death in 1756, then again after his father’s in 1758, then raised for nine years by his great uncle and aunt, Captain John and Mehetable (Billings) Crehore. They lived in western Milton, Mass. near Paul’s Bridge in the family’s “mansion house”, still standing and well-known as a subject of a This Old House PBS television restoration series. Although Stephen’s father was called a “Joiner” and “Cabinetmaker” and his estate inventory included numerous carpenter’s and joiner’s tools, it was during his upbringing in the Crehore family that Stephen had the best opportunity to receive his earliest training. The Crehores were a prolific family of master craftsmen, the clan including cabinetmakers, chairmakers, clock case makers, a piano forte and bass viol maker, a carver, housewrights and joiners. From 1766 to 1770, Stephen joined his sister Elizabeth and lived at the Dedham farm of their Badlam grandparents.

The present author and co-researcher Bill Maurer were intrigued by a reference in Ethel Hall Bjerkoe’s The Cabinetmakers of America.8 In discussing Badlam, she states that “It is apparent from his account books that Badlam did a great deal of turning for other cabinetmakers…..” This led to a many years-long search which eventually succeeded in tracking down his surviving papers in the family of a descendant. Among the most extraordinary is his personal diary, which includes the following entry for Nov. 12, 1770  –  “Removed to Dorchester to Live with Brother Ezra to Learn a Cabinet Makers Trade.” His brother Ezra had served been working in the Framingham, Mass. and Dedham, Mass. areas for cabinetmaker Timothy Snow, but had moved back to Dorchester Lower Mills to open his own shop by 1765. After his apprenticeship with his brother, Stephen and Ezra worked as partners from 1773-1775 with Younger brother William Badlam an apprentice to them  until the Revolutionary War broke out. All three brothers enlisted. Ezra served with distinction the entire period of the war from 1775-1783. Stephen came home seriously ill in 1776 and did not return. William died at Skeensborough, NY of bilious fever. Despite Stephen Badlam’s relatively short career, he evidently made a name for himself, drew the notice of several officers, and learned the rudiments of surveying. The military contacts he made would serve as a principal network of contacts throughout the rest of his life.

After recovering from his wartime disease, Stephen Badlam worked at his own shop in Dorchester Lower Mills from 1776 to his death in 1815, eventually becoming by far the most successful and wealthiest cabinetmaker in all of Dorchester. He showed himself particularly adept at building networks and connections which could serve his interests, and not incidentally, become his clients for cabinetmaking. These networks encompassed circles of military, church, legal, political, and merchant interests. It is extraordinary to think, for example, that the richest merchant in Salem, Elias Hasket Derby, would hire an outsider like the forty-year-old Stephen Badlam from a small semi-rural hamlet 25 miles South of Salem. Why not a prominent Salem or Boston cabinetmaker? Badlam also became a Justice of the Peace, first of Suffolk, later Norfolk County; official US Census taker; Deacon of the conservative Congregational First Church of Dorchester; property surveyor and developer; mortgage lender; and more. He eventually re-tooled his business after about 1797 to become principally a gilt looking glass maker, presumably because they were luxury items which sold at a premium, and could be easily shipped and wholesaled both domestically and abroad.

Perhaps the most extraordinary information in Stephen Badlam’s diary is his listing of the thirty-one apprentices he formally contracted to train during his long career. These include several names of men who later went on to become successful cabinetmakers or gilders/looking glass makers in and around Boston and Dorchester. A large percentage of them turn out to be related by kinship to Badlam. If he was loyal to his networks of fellow military and churchmen, he was even more faithful to his family and larger network of kin. He also employed journeymen who didn’t necessarily train with him but were related by blood.

Among men in both categories were William Samuel Fisk, Joseph Crehore, Abiel White, and William Hitchings. Their role as journeymen working for Badlam explains the stamped initials “ W.F ”, “ S.F ” ” I.C ”, “ A.W ” , and “ W.H ”, often found on furniture also stamped by Badlam. Ongoing research by the authors may demonstrate the working theory that Badlam used each man to make one furniture form only – the Fisks for chairs, Joseph Crehore for tall clock cases and possibly for carving, and Abiel White for oval waiters (trays).

The present chair has fine-quality carving that is distinctive and recognizable – very shallow-relief but beautifully modeled. Study of the related carving on the Yale-Derby family chest-on-chest reveals they employ related motifs, but appear to be from very different hands. The Skillin’s receipt for carving of the chest is not specific about whether they carved just the three-dimensional figures on the pediment, or perhaps also the low-relief carving on other surfaces. Gerald War’s analysis attributes only the large figures to the Skillins. But Badlam appears to have used someone else for this chair.

One candidate of Badlam’s circle of craftsmen-kin is Benjamin Crehore, a bit of a jack-of-all trades genius. He has been widely noted by scholars of American musical instruments as the maker of the first bass viol and the first pianoforte in America.9 While no account book entry or receipt has been found documenting Benjamin Crehore as carver for Badlam, we know he was working as a carver in the correct period, and we know Badlam principally hired kin as journeymen who were located in nearby villages or towns. Future research may prove or disprove this theory, but Crehore fits the pattern of employment.


Robert Mussey and Bill Maurer are at work on a monograph on Stephen Badlam and his circle of apprentices and journeymen, which is forthcoming.

The authors express particular gratitude to the owner of Stephen Badlam’s surviving papers for so generously allowing us to publish extracts here.

1. A pair was offered for sale by Sothebys in Sale 7253, Jan. 16-17, 1999, lot 808, pp 298-300; a single chair was sold at the on-site auction sale of the collections of Mr. Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch at Pokety Farms, Maryland, (Sotheby Park Bernet Inc., May 25, 1980, sale H2, lot 1150), formerly in the collection of noted dealer Harry Aarons. 

2. London, 1762, pl. XV.

3. Mabel M. Swan, “A Revised Estimate of McIntire”, Antiques 20, no. 6 (December 1931): 341.

4. The chest and its history are reviewed in detail in Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Grady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven: Yaley University Art Gallery, 1988), cat. no. 82, pp 171-177.

5. The present chair retains its original underupholstery, therefore, not every secondary surface could be inspected for presence of a stamp – it may have one, but not be visible. Most typically, Badlam marked his chairs on the outside surface of the rear rail, but sometimes on secondary surfaces instead.

6. A pair of Badlam-stamped chairs for example is at the Willard Clock Museum, Grafton, Mass.

7. Charles Montgomery, American Furniture, The Federal Period (New York: Viking Press, 1966), no. 30, pp. 86-7.

8. New York: Bonanza Books, 1957, pp 34-5.

9. Darcy Kuronen, The Musical  Instruments of Benjamin Crehore”, in Journal of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 4 (1992): 52-77.




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May 1, 2020