INSCRIPTION: Underside of seat has the initials “N.P.” carved in large letters. The initials stand for Nathaniel Peterson (1869-1938) who was the son of Karsten Petersen’s son James and his wife Martha Virginia Vogler. This chair descended in the Petersen family and was given to Old Salem by Karsten Petersen’s great great granddaughter.
MAKER: The dawn of the nineteenth century brought new woodworkers to Salem. One of these, Karsten Petersen (1776-1857), born in Schleswig-Holstein and probably trained in Christiansfeld, Denmark, arrived in 1806 only to leave shortly thereafter to serve as a Moravian missionary and tradesman at the Creek mission established by Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, the chief United States agent to the Creek Indians.
While in Georgia, Petersen made spinning wheels and looms to sell to the native Americans and was occassionaly called upon to make case furniture for Benjamin Hawkins and others in the area.
Karsten Petersen returned to Salem in 1813, set up a turner’s shop and probably focused on the production of chairs, tables, and some textile equipment such as reels and spinning wheels. Before long, Petersen married Susanna Praezel, and established his own shop on lot 94 in the Old Single Brothers’ Slaughter House. By the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Petersen’s establishment had transitioned into a shop that also produced case furniture in the new classical style.
Petersen married Agnes Susanna Praetzel (1787-1856) in September 1816 and the couple eventualy had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.
Petersen was joined in the shop by his sons William (1817-1898) and and James (1827-1906). Both apprenticed in the shop of their father when they came of age (William ca. 1830 and James ca. 1840) and later worked in the shop as masters. Together, the two generations operated one of the most important cabinet shops in nineteenth-century Salem. Although there were other cabinetmakers in Salem at the time, some of which were founded by Petersen apprentices, such as Jacob Siewers, the Petersen shop is credited with defining the style of mid nineteenth Salem furniture. The Petersen school of cabinetmaking shows the influence of Danish-trained Karsten Petersen and his sons as the two generations worked side by side. After their father’s death in 1857, William and James continued to operate the shop until the end of the nineteenth century.