Grave obsessions

Jeremiah Day’s “Highboy Chest of Drawers”
Was Jeremiah Day really the maker of the "Jeremiah Day Highboy Chest of Drawers?"
Updated 8/5/21

Helen (Freeman) Grant wrote to her cousin, Elsie (Day) Hansen about the 

"Jeremiah Day Highboy Chest of Drawers"

Jeremiah Day.  Yeoman.  And, some say, cabinetmaker?

I first learned of this beautiful piece of furniture which Jeremiah reputedly crafted on the Yale University web site, and quickly found that documentation for the Highboy's provenance and history was at my nearby Winterthur library!   Included in the library's files were photocopies of letters, pictures of the Queen Anne Mahogany piece, and documentation of the transfer of ownership in December 1964.  

Included was a letter penned by Helen F. (Freeman) Grant, from which we learn the provenance of the Highboy.  

Helen (Freeman) Grant wrote to her cousin, Elsie (Day) Hansen about Jeremiah Day's Highboy Chest of Drawers

Helen (Freeman) Grant wrote to her cousin, Elsie (Day) Hansen about the 

"Jeremiah Day Highboy Chest of Drawers"

Helen describes how her great grandmother, Sarah Day, used the chest as her original housekeeping furniture, and then gave it to her daughter Abigail Day, whom Helen calls “Aunt Nabby.” It was Abigail who in turn gave the piece to Helen, and in 1910 Helen entrusted the cherished family heirloom to her cousin, Elsie (Day) Hansen. Helen’s letter describing the history of the Highboy and its provenance is transcribed in its entirety below:

Manchester Maine Aug 13, 1911 

My Dear Elsie Venner,

I received a nice long letter date June 1st from you, and should have answered directly but for my negligence – a great fault of mine! Was glad you had found the Old “High Case of Drawers” as our old people used to call it and hope they are now all dressed anew and gracing or furnishing your Dining room; I would love to see them.  I miss their familiar presence have not yet got anything to take their place.  I was sorry you found them so much an article of expense to move to your home.  Mabel’s did not cost her as much and were considered more valuable wood.  However, yours, I liked better. I did not place any record of the date when or by whom made as you wished me to do – but will prepare a copy for you to now place inside some drawer as on back, one of great grandmother Sarah Day’s brother, was a “Cabinet Maker.”  (Also an Uncle of hers) and I always heard the old aunts say “Uncle Aaron” made the drawers.  I think their mother’s brother but am not positive.  However they must be considerable more than a hundred years old as the drawers were part of her original housekeeping furniture while in “Old Ipswich Mass.” These drawers were presented to me by our great Aunt Abigail or “Aunt Nabby” Day a sister of my grandfather Aaron Day and your great grandfather Francis Day.  She receiving them directly from her mother (great grandmother Sarah Day).  I have a chair (one of Capt. David Days, who lived in Hallowell (brother of great grandmother Sarah, whose furniture came from same source, and same make given me by a friend for wedding present.) However I will look up papers and find dates which can place the building of Highboy somewhere near correct. 

Well Elsie you will think me rather stupid.  I am so and the other day while looking over some newspapers I found a letter written to you last Jan. and which I supposed was mailed and you had received months ago.  It’s old!  But I send it to you today that you may know I wrote you, it’s shameful!  I have aged in looks very much since you were here, my hair is now getting so white, hardly any gray hair, last year at the time time.  Am better of lameness but have lost my quick step now – when try to hasten I tremble so so move about rather slowly.  Have not been a bout much this summer, to church but once, to city 2 or 3 times was to brother Edwin’s 50th anniversary June 30th.  Have not been there since, only 2 ½ miles away.  Was over to Henrietta’s in July while Waldo & Mabel were there.  Mabel desired a visit from Will C. and I this month but I don’t feel like taking the trip a get so very tired, am going much and wish the summer could be longer.  Have enjoyed being out of doors most of time.  Had lots of very warm weather but such lovely shade in our yard could stay out much of time. There is no “Place like Home” and the dear “Old Day Homestead” is an ideal home for me.  Wish you could stop in every day and enjoy awhile with me. 

I think over & over again of the pleasure of your visit last summer you & Charles T and some of our pleasure trips, out on the lake with [Buk Farr?] for one, and the auto ride about Augusta also our call in the establishment of Buzzell & Weston of Weston disagreeableness.  So hateful in him; his father is living very low, with heart trouble (if alive) Dr. said yesterday was doubtful if he rallied from this attack. I received a beautiful letter from your father other day, so descriptive of Montana the part he is visiting, and I am so glad they (J.B.P. & Sophie) can be out there this summer and enjoying visiting with all the children together.  So nice, and for you too, to have privilege of meeting there with them, when I wish to you want Chas T. to have a share with you too.  I think of him with love, also as with you, and hope to see him again sometime if life is spared.  Have got to be [illegible] of page, think have written enough will write your father soon. Now with great [illegible] and much love for you & Charles S. [illegible],

- Helen F. Grant

Helen points to a couple of candidates that may have crafted the Highboy Chest of Drawers, but first, let's review the family to better understand their relationships:

Day family diagram2

John Day, son of Jeremiah, married Sarah Day, daughter of Aaron Day.  The two were first cousins, and their fathers, Jeremiah and Aaron, were brothers.  Sarah also had a brother named Aaron.  When Helen talks about "Uncle Aaron," the reference is most likely in reference to John's uncle, Sarah's father, whose occupation was cabinet maker.  While the beautiful heirloom has more recently been attributed to John's father, Jeremiah, that seems quite unlikely as he was a "yeoman" or farmer.  Additionally, nowhere in Helen's letter does she mention Jeremiah as cabinet maker or crafter of this furniture.  However, Elsie, to whom the above letter was written, later documented that Jeremiah was the crafter of the Highboy, but the attribution is certainly quite suspect in light of Helen's description of its provenance and the occupations of both Jeremiah and his brother, Aaron.

Where's the highboy now?

Regardless of its craftsmanship, we know the Highboy was given to Sarah Day as her wedding gift.  Below are some of those through whose hands the treasure has passed:

  • Sarah Day (1751-1845), married her first cousin, John Day, 22 December 1774.  
  • Abigail "Aunt Nabby" Day (1779-1852) is given the Highboy by her mother
  • Helen F. (Freeman) Grant (1836-1920) presented Highboy by Aunt Nabby
  • Elsie (Day) Hansen (1871-1967) receives from Helen, her 2nd cousin 2x rem.
  • Lois S. Pritchard (1891-____), Los Angeles, CA, owner of record, 1964
  • David H. Stockwell (1907-1996), Wilmington, DE, purchased December 1964
  • Sold in 2017 by Fairfield Auction, based out of Connecticut.

Perhaps one day we will connect with the current owner of this invaluable family heirloom!

More about Helen


Helen Frances (Freeman) Grant
Photo provided courtesy of Jeffrey Gorman, who purchased the item with other labeled pictures in a photo album containing additional Freeman family members.

Helen was the third holder of the "Jeremiah Day Highboy."  Helen was unmarried for much of her adult life.  (Many of the women in the Day family remained single, beginning in the late 18th century.)  It appeared that Helen was going to continue this trend as well, but at the age of 55, married William C. Grant, 24 years her junior.  She continued to live on the “Old Day Homestead,” originally settled by her great grandparents, John & Sarah (Day) Day.  She was surrounded by her family’s heritage, enjoying nature.  I think I would have been quite fond of Helen.

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