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

Portrait of Allen Gawthrop

Portrait of Allen Gawthrop

As Part II ended Allen Gawthrop’s business had grown and he was in desparate need of a larger shop and housing for himself and his workmen. At this point he was all of 23 years old.


By this time I not only wanted more shop room, and boarding for the workmen, but I had occasionally been visiting a young woman for whom an attachment of something more than common friendship seemed to exist, and I hoped to some day to become worthy of her undivided affection and esteem. After looking around the country for some time, I found a small lot of about five acres, not over half a mile off, on which was a small log cabin, and adjoining which was about eight or ten acres more of wood lots, all of which I found could be bought at a reasonable price: but how I was to get the necessary buildings erected, that was the question. I had no way of boarding the workmen and it seemed board could not be had in the neighborhood so the only alternative seemed to be to move into the old house temporarily until we could build a larger one. But here a new difficulty presented itself, for to expect the young lady before mentioned to leave a large comfortable home and move with me into such a cabin was rather too much. However I summoned up sufficient courage to lay my troubles before her– she evinced interest in the matter and on my giving her a description of the house and its surroundings, I found that she would rather go with me into a small house that we could call our own than to go with another family. . . I purchased the property and began preparation for building a shop. One day I accidentally discovered traces of an old dam and race where water of a small stream had been taken around and into my lot for irrigating the meadow, and I saw that by purchasing two or three acres more land of my neighbor I could have a nice little water power to utilize in our business–so I went right away to my neighbor and found him willing to sell me as much land as would give me the power together with the water right at the same price per acre that I had paid him for the other five acres I had purchased of him. This would make me a lot altogether of about sixteen acres of land with a water power on it just what I had been looking for so long. Instead of putting up a shop as intended a few days before (near the house) we dug tail race, built a shop, fixed up the dam, got some 20 feet head and put in a 16 feet overshot wheel which gave ample power for lathes, saws &c. We made good use of for nearly twenty years afterwards. . .

On the 31st day of the seventh month 1833 I entered the marriage life with Mary Ann Newlin. . . Of New Garden Township. . .on the 22 day of the eighth month following we moved into the little log cabin in which we lived four years. Although the house was small and we had a pretty large family of apprentice boys and journeymen yet we made out to live quite comfortably and in just four to a day from the time we moved into the old house, we had a new one built and moved into it and were much more able to appreciate its comfort and conveniences than if we had never lived in the old one.

With ample shop room and water power business increased and soon the great trouble was to fill the orders. . .

Gawthrop's ad from 1846.

Gawthrop’s ad from 1846.

Our business seemed to take a change; although we continued the furniture business yet the greater portion of my time was occupied in making and putting in rams…we built a foundry to make our own iron and brass casting (in 1847) we concluded to move to Wilmington and go into the plumbing and gas fitting busines. . . and moved on the 9th of 3rd month 1854. . .

19th c. water ram.

19th c. water ram.

Addenda by Gawthrop’s son Henry:  The  narratative of my father’s life shows that he was strong in the imaginative. He was a skilled and skillful worker in wood, a hint of which is given in the desk made by him late in life, at which I am writing. He established a successful cabinet business and then following the needs of the time he changed to a metal worker. . . the narrative of his life was written in 1880 in his 70th year. He died 6th mo. 23rd 1885 and is buried at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

That concludes the autobiography of Allen Gawthrop. In a page from a 20th century family geneology I found this little note:


Suzanne Ellison

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10 Responses to The Autobiography of Allen Gawthrop – A Chester County Cabinetmaker – Part III

  1. Fascinating. To just up and leave a successful furniture business whilst at the top of his skills, speaks a lot to the ability and confidence of this man. I think it speaks of the time as well – folks could do just about anything they set their mind to.
    I used to live in the tiny hamlet of W. Martinsburgh in upstate NY. The church across the street from my house was built in the early 1800’s on the side of a massive plateau which was very difficult to access by horse and cart. The church is a majestic towering structure and a tribute to classical proportion and aesthetic. And it was all done by local farmers. I doubt it could be done today with all our power tools, cranes, etc. It’s a matter of the heart, not the technology.


  2. kendewitt608 says:

    Thank you for this history, enjoyed the story of life back then.


  3. Bill B says:

    HI Suzanne,
    I enjoyed your work. What a comparison to these times.
    I’d like to see/read more.
    Bill B.


  4. Paul Smith says:

    I enjoyed the tory very much. Thanks


  5. Ryan McNabb says:

    Absolutely delightful. Imagine having all those diverse skills…


  6. Toolnut says:

    Good stuff!


  7. tpier says:

    In the first paragraph he talks an un-named young lady into moving into a cabin with him. In the nect paragraph he marries Mary Ann Newlin. Allen had game!


  8. Ron Brese says:

    interesting read


  9. As others have said, simply fascinating reading! Thanks for putting it up and I only wish there was more! Though short, the depth of each entry had me wishing to have the ability to time travel and visit the shops, then the mill and finally the metal business. Great stuff!


  10. Tracing the tangled web of Gawthrop immigrants in the US is something my family hasn’t quite been able to do conclusively, but it’s very probable our English ancestors at least were common, if not something more recent. It is nice to be in the family business, more or less. 😀


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