This large, mirror-fronted bookcase with gothic trefoil mullions has one of the most colorful legends of any piece at Montpelier. Henry Knox’s grandson, Henry Knox Thatcher, claimed to a biographer of Knoxs that this bookcase once belonged to Marie Antoinette. This is a common story attached to many period pieces on the Maine coast. A sea captain in Edgecomb claimed to have been part of a plot to help the endangered queen escape the French Revolution and come to the United States. His job was to transport her and her belongings to a house being set up for her. Obviously, the queen did not escape, but according to legend the boat, fully loaded with her belongings, made it to the coast of Maine, and from there her possessions were dispersed. James Swan, wealthy Bostonian and the owner of the boat, was a friend of Knox. He is on record as having sold French aristocratic furniture in the United States during and after the French Revolution, including pieces said to be Marie Antoinette’s. However, the bookcase is very English in style and construction. The secondary woods used—juniper, tulip poplar, white pine,and yellow pine—suggest that it was made in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. From Knox’s financial papers we know that he shipped the bookcase from Philadelphia to Boston, then to Thomaston, in the spring and summer of 1796, which was followed up with repairs to the mirrors. It is likely that the bookcase is one of two purchased by Knox a month before he shipped his belongings. The bookcase appears on the probate inventories for Henry Knox, Lucy Flucker Knox, Caroline Holmes and Lucy Flucker Thatcher, and was subsequently passed down in the family. A fall-front over the fitted interior and the silver-plated candle scones are not original to the piece.
Donated to Montpelier by Henry Thatcher Fowler.
Henry Knox Papers, Collection 166 of the Maine Historical Society