Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A One Of A Kind Desk

Daniel Takawampbait's Pulpit Desk
The museum of the Natick Historical Society isn’t the biggest space. We sometimes don’t have room to display all the unique artifacts from Natick’s past. Furniture in particular can sometimes be a problem. There is one piece however, that we always are sure to make room for. Daniel Takawampbait’s pulpit desk is one of the most special artifacts in our collection and rightly, gets a place of honor right in the center of the museum.  Today the pulpit desk sits at the center of our museum space in a case focused on the lives of John, Eliot, Daniel Takawampbait and other members of the early ‘Praying Indian’ community in Natick. The piece is not only a connection to an important figure from Natick’s history; it’s also a unique example of early American furniture.


Desk Foot, Shaped
Like a Deer's Hoof
The pulpit desk was made by Native Americans in Natick between the years 1676-1678.  Very few example of furniture made by Native Americans in this period survive. The desk is distinctive for a few reasons. The upper portion of the pulpit desk is removable and was designed so that it could be detached and carried as a small speaker’s podium. The sides of the pulpit desk are patterned with symmetrical lines, an unusual pattern for furniture made in the 17th century. The feet of the desk are carved to resemble deer hooves, another distinctive feature on wooden furniture from this period. Because few pieces of furniture made and designed by native people exist from the early years of European settlement a desk like this one is an interesting example of Native American craftsmanship and aesthetic.

Daniel Takawampbait, the previous owner of this desk is a fascinating figure from Natick’s past. Daniel Takawampbait was a Native American from the Nipmuc tribe who converted to Christianity and initially moved to a praying Indian village near Natick. Following the King Philip’s War in 1675, Takawampbait, like many ‘praying Indians’ was displaced from his community. Many of these displaced Christian Native Americans moved to Natick, where the Christian Indian community was able to mostly survive the bloody conflict which had displaced them. Takawampbait became integrated into the community and became an important leader in Natick. In 1681 he was ordained as a minister, the first Native American to become a puritan minister in North America. He took over the pulpit as leader of the congregation in South Natick after John Eliot passed away in 1690. Daniel Takawampbait remained minster in Natick for twenty six years, until his death in 1716. During his tenure as minister Takawampbait preserved a number of elements of native culture and language despite the growing incursion of English settlers. He was buried in South Natick and his headstone still stands, though it was moved in the 1980s to be in front of the Eliot Church of South Natick.
Daniel Takawampbait's Headstone

The desk was later used by Natick ministers Stephen Badger and Oliver Peabody. Today the desk is owned by the First Congregational Church, the spiritual successor to Eliot’s original meetinghouse, who have been kind enough to loan it to us so that it can be displayed and studied here in the museum.






For anyone interested to learn more about historic New England furniture be sure to come to our upcoming program on Sunday October 23rd! Professor Brock Jobe will be speaking about four centuries of furniture in Massachusetts. The talk will be at 2pm at Boswell Hall at the Walnut School in Natick. This talk is sponsored by the generous support of the Natick Cultural Council. 



We hope to see you there!