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

Chest by Allen Gawthrop, maple and cherry with mahogany trim.

Chest by Allen Gawthrop, maple and cherry with mahogany trim.

Allen Gawthrop wrote his autobiography when he was 70 years old and divided his story into three parts. At the end of Part I he was 21 years old and had finished his four-year apprenticeship with cabinetmaker Ziba Moore.


I worked journey-work for a while at the old shop, made a clock case for my father and did some other little jobs. Then in the fall I went to Baltimore and spent the winter at my trade and boarded with my aunt Elizabeth Taylor. In the Spring following I received a letter from my brother Daniel saying that my father was anxious that I should return home, that Robert Good, who was then carrying on the Cabinet business in Penn Township, said he would like to sell out his stock and quit the business. My father thought it would be a good chance for me and wished me to come home and see about it. I therefore packed up my tools and some materials I had selected and took the steam boat for Port Deposit, where my brother Daniel met me and took me home.

After a few days I went to see Robert Good. I found he had a small stock of materials on hand and had been doing a small country business and had an apprentice who had been at the business something over a year: and had a few jobs engaged. He said he would rent me the shop, board myself and the boy, sell me the small stock he had at cost and throw in the good will–So I took him at his offer. We made an inventory of the stock on hand and commenced business, not however without doubts as to getting enough work to keep myself and apprentice both busy.

In a few days we found that we needed many small articles such as varnish, locks, screws, springs, glue &c to complete some jobs on hand, and not having any capital of my own, I saw I must look for help from some source–As my father seemed to encourage my starting in business, I naturally concluded that he would give me the needful assistance. So I borrowed R.G.’s horse and wagon and started one morning for Wilmington intending to call on my father. I found him at home and with some misgivings I introduced my business, told him the prospects seemed fair, that our stock needed replenishing, that I had no means of my own, and that I was under the necessity of asking him to assist me. After a little while he arose, went to his desk and got a ten dollar note and handed it to me. At first I hesitated about taking it and told him I had but five dollars and that fifteen dollars would be very little to get the number of articles we needed; but I knew there was no use in arguing the matter, but as before, with the clothes, he wanted me to shift for myself.

Now I look upon this as one of the most important turning points in my life. It was not over one hundred yards from the house down to the road and I had a very short time to make up my mind whether to turn to the left and go on to Wilmington and do the best I could with the fifteen dollars or turn to the right and go back home and give up the business and start out into the world as a journeyman cabinet maker and live as I found I could independent of my father or any one else. But as good fortune would have it I turned to the left and went on to town, procured only such materials as I would need to finish some jobs  I had on hand, and got no more than I had money to pay for. . . I never yet have had cause to regret the turn I made that morning “to the left.”

I do not wish to be understood as thinking hard of my father for the course he pursued. I have reason to think he loved his children as much as most parents do, and that he desired my prosperity in every way, but his object evidently was to give me a lesson in economy and prevent me from branching out beyond my means, as too many do to their own injury and loss by others. It became necessary that I should have a horse, and my father very generously offered to furnish me with money to buy one. I probably shall never know the influence these cautionary lessons had on my after life, but I do know that I have always acted with caution and have been careful never to go in debt beyond my means to pay; and although I have never at any time made money very fast, yet I have always found, at the end of each year, my circumstances gradually getting easier.

Within a year I found it necessary to increase our force of workmen. Our shop soon became insufficient and there was a chance for boarding only in R. Good’s family for  the hands and as it did not suit them very well to take more boarders, I began to see the necessity of making a change, so one day in conversation with R. Good he in half earnest proposed for me to buy him out and then I could enlarge the shop. I asked him what he would take for the farm. After a little consideration he named a price and on consultation with my father and brother they both advised me to take him up at his offer, which I did the next day. He wanted a few days to consider the matter and the next week there was a public sale of a farm in London Grove township which he attended and finding it sold for so much more than he expected, he flew from his offer and so all my hopes for a time were frustrated.

Coming up in the third and last part. . .love is in the air.

Suzanne Ellison

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4 Responses to The Autobiography of Allen Gawthrop – A Chester County Cabinetmaker – Part II

  1. Two roads diverged in a wood…….


  2. Tim Raleigh says:

    I loved this. Thanks.


  3. tsstahl says:

    Would there be measurements for the pictured chest of drawers available?


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