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The Treaty Elm Chair: The seat of Pennsylvania history

September 1, 2015

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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The Treaty Elm Chair

Legend holds that this rush seat chair is constructed of elm wood salvaged from the Treaty Elm after a powerful storm knocked the tree down on March 6, 1810. The Treaty Elm Chair will be on display this fall at The State Museum as part of the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

The Treaty Elm was an enormous tree under which tradition holds William Penn met with Lenape Indian Chief Tamanend in 1682 and pledged a treaty of friendship. Whether or not the meeting actually occurred, the Treaty Elm came to symbolize Penn’s desire to live in harmony and peace with the Native Americans. Contrary to romantic descriptions, Penn made many treaties and not just a single ceremony under the great “Treaty Elm” at the village of Shackamaxon.

According to legend, this rush seat chair is constructed of elm wood salvaged from the Treaty Elm after a powerful storm knocked the tree down on March 6, 1810. Wood from the tree was crafted into furniture, canes, walking sticks and other objects that Philadelphians collected as prized relics. The chair, currently preserved at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, has a paper image applied to the center of the top rail depicting the famous treaty at Shackamaxon. Selected as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure by CAP curator Jenifer Gleim, the Treaty Elm Chair remains an intriguing relic of a much-loved symbol of Penn’s commitment to establishing a peaceful and harmonious relationship between all of Pennsylvania’s inhabitants.

Peg Ball Anderson and Mary Ball Plauche, descendants of the Ball family of Philadelphia, donated the chair to the museum. Their ancestor, William Ball II (1729-1810), was a merchant, planter and first Provincial Grand Master of the Ancient Order of Free Masons. It is unclear how the chair came into the family’s possession, but it was stored in the Ball home in Holmesburg, in northeast Philadelphia, for many years. The artifact is nearly identical to a second chair, which also belonged to the Ball Family. That chair is preserved at the Winterthur Museum.

The Treaty Elm Chair will be on display this fall at The State Museum as part of the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

 

About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.