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Old Makemie Desk

The Old Makemie Desk, as the mahogany desk pictured on this page is called, may be the only existent relic of Francis Makemie. The treasure is currently housed in the Rare Books Room of The William Smith Morton Library of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, USA.

Rev. Bowen details how he came to be in possession of the desk in a short article in A Sketch of Rev. Samuel McMaster (Jersey City: Doan, 1900.). He states that during a pastoral visit to a family near Pocomoke City, Maryland, when one of the gentlemen present mentioned his possession of a "wonderful mahogany desk" which once belonged to the Presbyterians. This gentleman explained to Rev. Bowen that he had bought the desk for $2.50 at Mr. Samuel McMaster's auction.

The desk is mentioned in Francis Makemie's daughter's will wherein she leaves it to her Reverend Samuel McMaster. At Rev. McMaster's death, it became the property of his son, Samuel McMaster, Esq. After this, the desk disappeared, though the reverend's son, John T. McMaster M.D. knew the desk well from his childhood.

Old Makemie Desk Old Makemie Desk

Below is an article from the Presbyterian of the South, by John S. McMaster, published 16 August 1916, and available online at the Virginia Chronicle. the article describes the circumstances of how the desk was "rediscovered".

Another Makemie Discovery

By John S. McMaster

The readers of this paper seemed so much interested in my account of the identification of the grave of Rev. Francis Makemie, our founder, that I feel impelled to give the history of another important "find".

Makemie bequeathed to his daughter, Madam Anne Holden, a mahogany desk, which she bequeathed to her pastor, my great-grandfather, Rev. Samuel McMaster, who bequeathed it to his son Samuel, my grandfather, at whose vendue, after his decease, it was sold and disappeared--my father John T. B. McMaster, M. D., and the other heirs then being too young to know its value. Afterwards my father was on the alert for it for many years.

Dr. L. P. Bowen, author of "The Days of Makemie," becoming pastor of my father's church, also tried in vain to trace this only relic of Makemie. Visiting one day at the home of one of his flock in Somerset county, Maryland, a descendant of the Rehoboth pioneers, Dr. Bowen was telling some of his late discoveries. Mr. John White, an elderly Baptist, whom he had never met before, was present and listening closely, had not spoken. Finally he said: "All this sounds familiar. I have heard from my boyhood about those things. And, more than that, I have at my house a very remarkable piece of furniture which belonged to those ancient Presbyterians."

Dr. Bowen questioned him all about it, and asked where and how it had come into his possession. "I bought it at Mr. Samuel McMaster's sale." Dr. Bowen went home with him and saw its secret drawers, etc., and hurried to town for my father, asking him if he would know that desk. "Yes," he said, "anywhere in the world."

They returned at once and my father recognized the desk and proved his recognition by showing all the hidden springs and secret hiding places. There in two miles of our home--now Pokomoke City, Maryland, near the line of the eastern shore of Virginia and by which farm my father had ridden thousands of times, this sacred old treasure had remained undiscovered.

Dr. Bowen offered for it over ten times what it had cost Mr. White, but the good old Baptist concluded he had a bonanza and declined. The Presbyterian Historical Society of Philadelphia was ready to give at least $50 for this desk. Fortunately, Mrs. White urged her husband to let Dr Bowen have it. The latter, returning to Missouri, got the promise of "the refusal" in case of sale and asked my father to keep his eye on it.

After two years, Mr. White died, and his widow, his executrix, secured Dr. Bowen's address and wrote that she wanted him to have the desk at his original offer of $30--its appraised value £6 in the inventory and appraisment of Makemie's estate. Mrs. Bowen bought it and made her husband a present of this treasure. "The Days of Makemie" was largely written at that desk.

Madam Holden left her father's and mother's portraits--oil paintings--to Samuel Wilson of Somerset County, Maryland, and he gave them to Dr. Balch, pastor at Snow Hill, Md. The latter moved to Virginia; his house was burned, and those priceless pictures destroyed. Dr. Bowen felt his own wrongful risk of the desk—the only remaining souvenir of our apostle. To intensify the matter a house next to his burned.

Watts Hall and Spence Library
Watts Hall and Spence Library from a postcard around 1901-1907. Source: "Watts Hall and Spence Library, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia," VCU Libraries Gallery, accessed October 28, 2016, https://gallery.library.vcu.edu/items/show/1571.

At a meeting of the Louisiana Synod in Dr. Bowen's church, the brethren enthused over the old relic, and Dr. Mallard, of the Southwestern Presbyterian, wrote it up. Dr Smith, of the Central, saw this and wrote to Dr. Bowen an appeal, that when disposed of, the desk might come to the fire-proof rooms in the Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Va. Finally the desk was accordingly resented to this Seminary by Dr. Bowen in honor of his sainted wife.

It was exhibited in Philadelphia in 1906 at the two hundredth anniversary of the Mother Presbytery, organized by Makemie. Also at the Jamestown, Va., Exposition.

The Presbyterian Historical Society was very anxious to possess the desk, but as Makemie was a Virginia and his dust rested there Dr. Bowen, the discoverer and owner, felt that the desk should stay in Virginia.

Philadelphia, Pa.
(Note.--This desk is one of the most highly prized treasures in the Spence Fire-proof Library, at Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Va.--Editor)

Citation: McMaster, John S. "Another Makemie Discovery." Presbyterian of the South, Volume 85, Number 31 (16 August 1916): pg 4 (616); image copy, Virginia Chronicle: Library of Virginia (http://virginiachronicle.com/cgi-bin/virginia?a=d&d=PS19160816.1.4# : accessed 28 October 2016).

Note: Photographs of the desk used with permission of Dr. Paula Skreslet, William Smith Morton Library, Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia.