November 21: an American story

2012/11/21 § 1 Comment

During this month in 1759 William Buckland was released from indenture.

The English system of indenture, which was founded sometime in the middle ages, was a means by which one party would promise service in some sort of manual activity for a set number of years (usually three) in exchange for a lump payment in some non-monetary manner from another party: a piece of land, a voyage across the sea.  The latter was arranged by countless immigrants to the New World, including Buckland (1734-74).

Buckland had served an apprenticeship as a joiner (a fussy sort of carpenter) under his uncle in Oxford and came to the colony of Virginia with George Mason’s brother Thomas in 1755.  After completing his indenture agreement with Mason, he established his independence as a joiner and master.  He had already established a reputation not only as a skilled mechanic responsible for the interiors of great houses like Gunston Hall (George Mason’s house) but also for the design of the fine interiors made by the crew under his supervision.  With his reputation for exhibiting taste and managing execution, and the growing wealth of his business that allowed him to accumulate a few choice books, it was an easy matter for Buckland to establish himself as an architect and to be accepted as a gentleman.  Two very different achievements–the former much more common in colonial America than the latter–, both of them are captured in Peale’s portrait of the finely-dressed, superbly-bewigged gent with his drafting implements at the ready.

Image: William Buckland, portrait by Charles Willson Peale (from this source)

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