Kiara Vazquez ’22 and Ellery Foutch (Winter 2021)
This circular medallion features hair plaited in a zig-zag, basketweave pattern under glass. Its borders are decorated with black and gold paint with Neoclassical designs, evoking the tendrils of a vine or vegetal growth. Two cracks cross the glass, and red pigment stains its surface, but we might imagine its dazzling appearance when it was new. A purposeful alteration has also been made on the reverse of the pendant: a carefully-cut circle of paper has been tipped in between the back of the hair and the glass, with a cursive inscription reading “Hair of Janet Young Warren your great-great-grandmother who was born 1797 died 1839.” It seems likely that the back of the medallion originally contained a decorative image or cover, possibly a painted miniature.
Who was Janet Young Warren? Our first clue was found in the pages of William Richard Cutter’s Genealogical and Family History of Western New York (1912, link); thanks to digitization, Janet Young Warren popped up in a keyword search. As a genealogy, this text focused on family connections, but it was key in helping us to identify Janet Young Warren and her kinship networks, linked by her marriage to Hastings Warren (1779-1845). As is so often the case for nineteenth-century women, the archival records are sparse, and the focus is persistently on her husband. Yet there are tantalizing suggestions about Janet Young Warren’s talents and intellect.
From Cutter’s brief biography we learned that from 1806 to 1815, Janet and Hastings had five children: William Young (born 1806), Jane Betsey (born 1808), Thaddeus Hastings (born 1810), Edward Stevens (born 1814), and Henry John (born 1815). Cutter devotes much of this entry to the military exploits of Hastings Warren; as he notes, “[Warren] was a man of commanding presence, of high honor and great energy. In the war of 1812, when there was a call for troops to defend the Niagara frontier, he raised a company, was elected captain, and marched to Plattsburgh” (Cutter, 683). Searching for Hastings Warren in Vermont vital records revealed that he and Janet Young married on Christmas Day, December 25, 1803: “State of Vermont Addison county: Be it remembered, that at Middlebury in said county, on this 25th day of December AD 1803, Cap. Hastings Warren & Miss Jannet Young both of said Middlebury were duly joined in marriage. By me Seth Storrs, Jus [Justice of the] Peace.”
Further research revealed that prior to his military service, Hastings Warren was a skilled craftsman and a talented cabinetmaker… and that he served as an apprentice to William Young, Janet’s father! It is likely then that Janet Young Warren played a key role in cementing their later partnership, and she could have become very knowledgeable about the business and craft of cabinetmaking from a young age. Although we aren’t aware of surviving objects crafted by William Young, the Henry Sheldon Museum owns several objects credited to Hastings Warren, including a simple breakfast table, an elaborate Empire-style secretary/bookcase, and Henry Sheldon’s own bed, with its elaborately turned bedposts.
We can see that even the breakfast table is deceptive in its simplicity. Its angular legs gently taper towards the floor, and it has a complicated geometry. When its leaves are raised, the table is an oval; when lowered, the surface is nearly rectangular, a subtle curve gracing either end.
Hastings Warren’s surviving furniture suggests a facility with a range of styles, from the subdued breakfast table to the elaborate ornamentation of the secretary and bed. An advertisement from the Middlebury Mercury indicates this range of styles as well:
“Hastings Warren INFORMS the Ladies and Gentlemen of this town and country, that he shall in future carry on the Cabinet and Chair-Making Business, In all its various branches, at the Shop formerly occupied by Young & Warren, where he has on hand, or will furnish at the shortest notice, the following articles, viz: Sideboards of all kinds, Commodes, Secretaries and Bookcases, Wardrobes, Bureaus, Card, Dining and Pembroke Tables, Wash Stands, Clock-cases of all kinds, Canopy, Field, Mahogany, and Common Beadsteads [Bedsteads], Sofas of all kinds, Cottage, Bamboo, Dining, and Common Chairs, &c. &c. Having received from Boston, a fresh supply of Mahogany and Hardware, together with the latest and most approved patterns, and having on hand the best of Cherry and Curly Maple, will furnish them with all kinds of Mahogany, and other furniture, made in the best and most fashionable manner. To those who have heretofore favored him with their custom, he returns his thanks; and trusts his work will be done in such a manner as to merit a continuance of their favors. –Most kinds of produce received in payment, and a liberal credit, where punctuality can be relied on.”
In this advertisement, Hastings Warren emphasizes not only the extensive array of products he offers, but also their design and good taste: “the latest and most approved patterns,” and furniture “made in the best and most fashionable manner.” We might try to find stylistic parallels between the hairwork locket and these large, functional objects, in their shared languages of rhythm and pattern.
Glenn M. Andres‘s “A Walking History of Middlebury” outlines the locations of William Young and Hastings Warren’s various businesses and homes, as well as the unfortunate fact that fires repeatedly destroyed their cabinet making shops. In 1805, William Young retired and moved to a farm in Leicester, Vermont (Robinson, 115); Hastings Warren and Janet Young Warren carried on the business. Janet seemed to be a key in keeping the family business together. Without Hastings, her father’s business could have ended in 1805, instead of in 1834 when Hastings finally shut down the firm. Hastings Warren’s military service and later business ventures in Augusta, Georgia, meant that he was away from the town of Middlebury and the cabinetmaking shop quite frequently and at length; as Cutter’s brief biography notes, “During these absences the care of his business interests in Middlebury and of his family of young children devolved upon his wife” (Cutter, 683). Janet Young Warren died in August of 1839, preceding her husband in death. It’s likely that Hastings was behind the making of this locket, commissioning it to commemorate her and their intertwined lives, to be passed down to their children and grandchildren and, ultimately, the Henry Sheldon Museum.
Other objects in the Henry Sheldon Museum are also linked to Janet Young Warren; in November of 1964, Mrs. George H. Buckingham (Helen Ripley Buckingham) of Brandon, Vermont donated “three early 19th-century caps and a lace fichu belonging to Janet Young Warren” (HSM accessions binder, “Gifts 1964”). Genealogical research indicates that Helen Ripley Buckingham was indeed the great-great-granddaughter of Janet Young Warren, so the locket might have been donated by her as well. Once archives are fully re-opened (after COVID-19 precautions have abated), it’s likely that even more material could be uncovered both in the papers of the Stewart Swift Research Center and possibly in the collections of the Bennington Museum.
– Kiara Vazquez ’22 and Ellery Foutch
Cite this essay: Kiara Vazquez and Ellery Foutch, “Janet Young Warren Medallion,” in Perspectives on Hairwork: Historic Vermont, ed. Ellery Foutch (Winter 2021): https://elleryfoutch.middcreate.net/hairwork/janet-young-warren-locket/
Andres, Glenn M. “A Walking History of Middlebury.” Edited by Anne Callahan. Middlebury, VT: The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, 2005.
Burks, Jean M. and Philip Zea. Rich and Tasty: Vermont Furniture to 1850. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum, 2015.
Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of Western New York; a Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912. link
Deveikis, Peter M. “Hastings Warren: Vermont Cabinetmaker.” Antiques (June 1972): 1037-1039.
Ketchum, William C., Jr. American Cabinetmakers: Marked American Furniture, 1640-1940. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1995.
Robinson, Charles A. Vermont Cabinetmakers & Chairmakers before 1855: A Checklist. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum, 1994.
Swift, Samuel. A History of the Town of Middlebury. A.H. Copeland, 1859.
With thanks to Tom Denenberg and Jamie Franklin for their insights about Vermont furniture!