Deacon John Moore, Community Craftsman

Document box detail. Oak, pine, c.1680-1700. On extended loan from Grace Episcopal Church in Windsor. On display in WHS’s Bridging Centuries, Bridging Cultures exhibit.

At the age of twenty-one, John Moore (1614-1677) was a freeman. Having just completed his apprenticeship and not yet married, he set out from his English hometown of Southwold, intent on joining a nonconformist congregation that three Puritan ministers—the Reverends John White, John Warham and John Maverick—were gathering in the late 1620s. In 1630, Warham and Maverick set sail with about forty individuals and families, including John Moore, for Dorchester, Massachusetts, where they planned to establish a religious community. When Warham’s group clashed with other English immigrants in Dorchester, Roger Ludlow, Warham’s principal financial backer, secured a land grant on the banks of the Connecticut River north of Hartford. In 1635 many members of Warham’s church relocated here. They named their new settlement Dorchester after the hometown of the aged Reverend John White, who had stayed behind in England, but just two years later, the Colony of Connecticut renamed the town Windsor.

John Moore married fellow Windsor settler and Devonshire immigrant, Abigail Pinney (1618-1677) in 1637, and the next year Abigail gave birth to the first of five children. As a father, church member, master of a dominant woodworking shop, and a town officeholder, Moore involved himself deeply in the life of the community from the outset of settlement. Town records reveal that Windsor’s freemen reelected Moore to consecutive two-year terms of office as one of five selectmen from 1653 to 1674, and that he served as moderator from 1660 to 1674. Twice yearly, from 1653 to his death in 1677, they also chose him as one of Windsor’s two representatives to the Connecticut General Court at Hartford. In 1653, he was ordained a deacon of the church, serving alongside fellow woodworkers William Gaylord (1612-1656) and John Loomis (1662-1688). According to unofficial church scribe (and woodworker) Matthew Grant (1601-1681), Moore oversaw church affairs and administered the sacraments.

John Moore benefited personally from his service to town and church: he received many town contracts, including “work upon the school house” in 1668 and twelve separate orders, over seventeen years, for repairs to the town ferry boat that crossed the Connecticut River. These contracts were awarded by town committees upon which he sat as selectman. In 1668, he contracted to frame the meetinghouse, and between 1668 and 1676 he supplied lumber for finishing the building and carried out unspecified “work on the meetinghouse.”

The 17th-century Deacon John Moore house, c1897. At the time the photo was taken, this house was attached to the rear of the William Loomis house (built 1805), located on the corner of Broad St and Elm St. That house was later moved to 31 Elm St., and the Deacon Moore house was detached and given its own lot at 37 Elm St. WHS collections 2017.1.14. Photo by William S. Leek.

Cash poor, but land rich, the town—directed by committees upon which Moore sat—repaid Moore with grants of land. In March 1662, for example, he was allotted 200 acres of town land on the east side of the Connecticut River. These town contracts and land grants enabled him to build up a sizable personal estate. By the time he died he ranked among the top ten percent of Windsor’s wealthiest inhabitants.

Through his choice of apprentices and through his sister’s and his children’s spouses, Moore solidified his connections with other woodworking families. In 1648 his sister Hannah (1616-1686) married woodworker and Devonshire immigrant John Drake. Moore not only helped secure a substantial land grant for Hannah and John in what would become the town of Simsbury, but also collaborated with fellow woodworker Benjamin Newberry (1614-1688) to frame a house for Drake’s woodworking son Job (1651-1733).

Peter Follansbee of Plimoth Plantation examines a table and chests attributed to the Moore shop tradition, Windsor, Connecticut. Photo by Connie Thomas.

In 1640, Moore took Thomas Bissell (1628-1689), the son of Windsor farmer John Bissell, as an apprentice. Fifteen years later, Thomas followed a well-established pattern among Windsor’s woodworkers of apprentices marrying their masters’ daughters when he married Moore’s daughter, Abigail (1639-1728). Twelve years after Thomas’ apprenticeship began, Moore took as an apprentice Thomas’ brother, Nathaniel (1640-1713). Nathaniel followed Thomas’ lead and promptly married Moore’s daughter Mindwell (1643-1682) the year after completing his training.

In 1657 Moore began to train his son, John Jr. (1645-1718), and in 1663 Moore took on his final apprentice, Josiah Barber (1653-1729), who had been orphaned the previous year after the death of his father, woodworker Thomas Barber Sr. Three years after completing his apprenticeship, Josiah Barber married Moore’s granddaughter, Abigail Loomis (1659-1700).

Deacon John Moore was at the center of a nexus of important woodworking families that extended through four generations to include the Drakes, Bissells, Loomises, Barbers, Griswolds, Stoughtons and others. Together, these families largely controlled the woodworking trade in the region until the middle of the eighteenth century.

By Joshua Lane

This article is adapted from the publication, The Woodworkers of Windsor: A Connecticut Community of Craftsmen and Their World, 1635-1715 by Joshua Lane, formerly the assistant curator of furniture at Historic Deerfield, Inc., and Donald P. White III, 2003. This article is republished courtesy of Historic Deerfield Library, Deerfield, Massachusetts.

2018-04-24T14:59:06+00:00