They All Made Things
I am still under the gun for deadlines, so this will be light and short.
Because of the research I have been doing for a book, I now get regular little email “hints” from Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org about possible family members or records relating to them. Inevitably, this leads me to sorting through my notes and reminding myself of things I already knew but have forgotten. So just now I stumbled on some notes my mother took after she discovered the still-living daughter of great-uncle Pierce Glover. This was Anna Cora Glover, who had married a man named Hendershott, and lived in the nearby village of Wilsonville. Anna Cora still owned several pieces of furniture her father had built. “Oh, they all made things,” she said, speaking of the Glovers.
I knew this in a general sort of way, having grown up amid other bits of furniture and the family legends. By the mid-1800s, the Glovers were mostly clustered in farms near the hamlets of Windham Centre, Vanessa, and Scotland. My great-grandfather Jacob Glover (1817-1899) was a farmer, carpenter, and cabinet maker. He built the Methodist (later United) Church in Vanessa, where he and my parents are buried, along with masses of other relatives. The building was destroyed in the tornado of 1979 and rebuilt out of brick. The brick version was condemned at some point, and lay unused for years. The last time I was in the church was the day of my father’s funeral in 1984. My mother’s interment ceremony took place outside.
I have a wooden box full of Jacob’s woodworking tools, forged in Auburn, New York. He built the tall pine, white-painted wardrobe in my parents’ bedroom, where my mother’s dresses used to hang, redolent still of their scent. There is also a pine utility cabinet he built, used for storing games and toys.
But the prize Jacob Glover relic is a little black rocking horse named Rainbow that he built for my grandfather Herschel Glover (1871-1945). As long as I can remember it has stood in what we always called the “big living room” and generations of kids have ridden him. Norfolk County in the 19th century was well-known for its furniture-makers, books have been written about them, but Jacob Glover’s name has never been mentioned. He was a stealth craftsman.
Besides Jacob’s work, we have several bits and pieces of furniture that descend from my mother’s side, the McCalls of St. Williams, who owned McCall and Company, an impressive woodworking factory on Queen Street. It was founded by Daniel Abiel McCall (1831-1893), my great-great-grandfather, a shopkeeper’s apprentice-turned-entrepreneur.
Daniel McCall didn’t build things himself, but he accumulated a team of fine woodworkers, many artists in their own right. One was a man named Curley Wolven. We have a little Curley Wolven table in the “big living room,” carved from a single round of walnut, scalloped around the edges, and signed underneath.
But most of the McCall pieces are anonymous. My mother would say, “That came from the factory.” They are scattered around the house where I grew up, mostly unnoticed by me at the time and often coming to grief in spectacular ways due to the presence of small boys. (Once, I brought a lovely McCall chair and matching ottoman to live with me. But after Jonah broke its leg, I took the ottoman back to the farmhouse to be restored and protected. Even Rainbow is not what he once was.)
What is most fascinating about this ottoman is that it’s a copy of piece of Scottish furniture brought to Canada by my great-great-great-grandfather Andrew McInnes (1809-1891). Andrew immigrated in 1836, but he made one extended trip back to Scotland in 1847 to secure an inheritance, so I am not sure when he brought the furniture. More than likely it was the 1847 trip when he had some spare cash. I like to imagine him racing around Edinburgh, shopping for chairs and tables and the grand piano that always stood in the spacious central hall of their home in Canada. He had wealthy aunts, uncles, and cousins whose style he no doubt wished to emulate.
The McInneses settled in Vittoria, in the midst of McCall country. The families intermarried (Daniel Abiel McCall married Annie McInnes, one of the daughters; his cousin Alexander married another), and the McCalls adopted several pieces of McInnes furniture as models for the factory. This was as per the usual colonial settlement pattern. Newcomers tried to replicate their former homes; high style and taste emanated from the Old World.
Here is another McInnes-McCall pair, a so-called slipper chair.
There is more to tell, but I’ll stop for now. After my mother died, I had a dealer come in an evaluate the furniture for insurance purposes. Not surprisingly, it was not worth much. The fad for collecting has passed, houses are smaller, and apartments are better served by Ikea products. But this evaluation only threw into relief the different ways people value objects. These bits of furniture are more valuable as mnemonic devices, objects to tell stories with, than they are on the market. A sobering thought, as memories fade.
More than that, it’s just something to be in the presence of a past that you can identify and imagine. So and so made this rocking horse, rested in this chair, served tea on this table, lived their lives among the objects, just as I do today. We are not so far apart after all.
Here’s a map to help you visualize where all this is. We’re in Norfolk County, Ontario, along the north shore of Lake Erie, pretty much due north of Erie, PA. The Glovers settled in Windham Township at the north end, the area circled in light blue. The farm where I grew up is just outside the blue line, a red star marks the spot. Notice how close we are to the Six Nations Iroquois Reserve in the upper right corner of the map. Nearer the lake, stretching from Vittoria, where Andrew McInnes settled, to St. Williams, is the area settled by the McCalls and McInneses. The McCalls and Glovers (and the Iroquois) were United Empire Loyalists who left the United States (New Jersey, to be precise) after the American Revolution. The Glovers were New Connexion Methodists and Congregationalists. The McCalls were Scots, descended from a Highland soldier who fought with Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec in 1759.
As if by fate, my mother and father met exactly between the two familial homelands, at the Officer’s Mess in Simcoe after the Second World War. I like to think of them as two sturdy veterans decompressing at the bar suddenly noticing one another and thinking…
My cousin William Yeager published the definitive book on Norfolk County furniture makers. The Cabinetmakers of Norfolk County, The Norfolk Historical Society/Fanshawe College, 1976.
Here is a link to a recent exhibition of McCall and Company furniture at the Waterford Museum.
Jonah describes it as one of those “why did I ever have children” moments. It was early morning. He was filming himself pretending to be Steve Irwin in an encounter with the elusive, ferociously savage house cat, aka Hobbes. Jonah and Hobbes were racing around, Hobbes hid under the sacred McCall ottoman, Jonah picked it up and swung it above his head, and then I appeared. Jonah dropped the ottoman, the leg snapped off, and his college fund automatically reverted to zero.