The Autobiography of Allen Gawthrop – A Chester County Cabinetmaker – Part I


I was born in London Grove Township, Chester Co., Pa. about one mile West of Avondale, which was then called “Miller’s Run,” or “Stone Ridge,” on the 22nd of sixth month 1810.

When I arrived at the age of seventeen in consulting with my father and my older brother, it was concluded that I could be spared from the farm and as my lameness would disqualify me for being a farmer: it was decided that I should learn a trade. Some one mentioned the cabinet making business and wondered if Ziba Moore would want a boy. This was some two miles distant and as he was a steady, respectable man, my father thought it would be a suitable place provided I could get in. I asked him to go with me but he declined and said he wanted me to go and make my bargain and learn to shift for myself–I recollect when I got near the place I was much horrified at seeing the hearse standing in the yard, one of the old fashioned kind, the body in the shape of a coffin and the thought that I would be obliged to go to making coffins was very unpleasant to me, but I thought that after I learned the cabinet business I could do as I pleased about making coffins.

I found the proprietor of the establishment at home and made my business known to him, and found that he had but one apprentice (his brother) and that he had been thinking of taking another soon. We talked over the terms: he said he was willing to take me on trial for a short time, and if we liked each other, he would be willing to take me on same terms as he had with his master, which were about as follows: He was to furnish board and lodging, washing and mending, find my everyday clothes, one month schooling a year and allow me two weeks in harvest &c. So on the 1st of seventh month 1827 I left home for the first time and spent four years at the cabinet business and found my new home a pleasant one–my master and I always getting along in perfect harmony.

After I had been there awhile my better clothes got rather shabby and as I had a natural inclination to go into company, I soon found according to the bargain I had made, I would soon need funds to enable me to procure clothes to suit the society I wished to mingle with, but on appying to my father he gave me to understand I need not look to him, but that I must get along the best I could from my own resources–I had not been at my trade a year when I found I could handle tools well enough to make chests, stands and many small articles, and by looking around, I found that by charging a little less than the usual price I could get a good many little jobs to do and by working late at night and early in the morning I soon earned money enough to buy myself a suit of better clothes.

After I had been at the trade something over two years I took to working at task work: my master allowing me so much time to make a pair of bureaus, a pair of tables, stands &c and all the time I gained I had to myself. This I always thought was very generous in my master, but I believe it was an advantage to us both, particularly was it so to myself, for I acquired the habit of timing myself and soon got into the way of working to the best advantage and making the best use of time. We had a good run of custom and hands being scarce and not desiring to increase the size of the family my master offered me and his brother Sharpless (who was an apprentice was a little my senior) low journeyman’s wages for all the work we could do in the time we gained at task work and in this way we made considerable spending money.

The time of my apprenticeship expired on the 22nd day of 6th mo. 1831.

Allen Gawthrop’s autobiography is in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society and was reproduced in Furniture and Its Makers of Chester County, Pennsylvania by Margaret Berwind Schiffer.

Part II will cover Gawthrop’s Cabinet Business.

Ziba Moore, Gawthrop’s master, was born January 16, 1800 and was a cabinetmaker and owned a farm in London Grove.  In the tax records he was active as a cabinetmaker from 1820 to 1835. Moore died in January 1846. Four of Moore’s pieces are in the gallery below.

Suzanne Ellison

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9 Responses to The Autobiography of Allen Gawthrop – A Chester County Cabinetmaker – Part I

  1. Shannon Troester says:

    I love these historical accounts.


  2. Paul Smith says:

    Very interesting read!


  3. I grew up on a farm in Chester County, not far from Gawthorp’s area. I know the roads like the back of my hand. I learned from an old cabinetmaker by the name of Moore as well – Townsend Moore. I’ll be up there tomorrow visiting my parents, in their 90’s.
    Fascinating reading. Thanks for posting.

    William Francis Brown
    Forest, VA


  4. Deniseg says:

    Yes, much more please.


  5. shopsweeper says:


    “…but on appying to my father he gave me to understand I need not look to him, but that I must get along the best I could from my own resources…”

    Maybe this is why our homes are full of adult children in their 30s. Maybe we need to direct children to: ‘get along on their own resources’? I will start rehearsing tonight.


  6. 61chrysler says:

    Thank you


  7. Very interesting, please post more!


  8. It’s not such a common name, I wonder if…?


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