The Janvier family of cabinetmakers of Odessa, Delaware

Sharp, L. Corwin
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University of Delaware
Thomas Janvier, the first of the family in America, landed at Philadelphia in the early summer of 1686. He had come from France by way of Plymouth, England. Shortly after his arrival in this country he moved to New Castle, Delaware, and married the daughter of an old Dutch family. John Janvier, a grandson of Thomas, was born in New Castle in 1749. After spending his childhood in the village, he left for Philadelphia in the early 1760s to establish his career. In Philadelphia he was apparently apprenticed to a master cabinetmaker and served the usual seven year term. In 1770 or 1771, John, having finished his apprenticeship, moved to Head of Elk, Maryland, where he set up shop as a cabinetmaker. He remained at Head of Elk for only a short time. In 1772, he married Elizabeth March of St. George’s Hundred, Delaware, and by 1775 had built a house for his growing family on Main Street in Cantwell's Bridge (now Odessa, Delaware). John worked as a cabinetmaker until his death in 1801. The cabinetmaking enterprise that he had established was continued by four of his nine children. John Janvier, Jr., the elder John’s third son, took over the directorship of the Cantwell’s Bridge shop after his father’s death. He was assisted by tnree of his brothers until the beginning of the second decade of the nineteenth century. By 1813, all of the Janvier children, with the exception of John, Jr., had left the village and the cabinetmaking craft to seek employment in other fields in the adjoining states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. John continued as a cabinetmaker in Cantwell’s Bridge until the mid-1830’s when he too found other endeavors more to his liking, more profitable, or both. ☐ The two generations of Janvier cabinetmakers at Cantwell's Bridge produced simple though well made furniture in the Chippendale, Federal, and early Empire styles. They tended to over-construct their furniture and the finished product was often somewhat behind the popular fashion in Philadelphia. The Janviers dealt with a conservative clientele. Many of the residents of Cantwell's Bridge were Quakers and much of the Janvier furniture seems to have been made with their tastes in mind: of the best sort, but plain. ☐ Several articles have been written in the past about the furniture produced by the Janviers. This thesis concentrates on the people who made the furniture and most importantly illustrates how the Janviers related to their community. Undoubtedly, the socio-economic relationship between the Janviers and the Cantwell's Bridge community had a profound effect on the nature and extent of their enterprise. To no small degree, the inception, flourishing, and eventual demise of the Janvier cabinetmaking tradition mirrored the rise and fall of Cantwell's Bridge as one of the major eighteenth and early nineteenth century trading centers of northern New Castle County.