By Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske:
Ipswich is home to two groundbreaking masterworks of early eighteenth century America, a paneled wall and a pulpit. Both were made by Abraham Knowlton (1699- 1751), a woodworker who is less well known than he deserves to be.
William Knowlton, born in England in 1615, was the first of the family to settle in Ipswich. He arrived in 1641, seven years after the town was founded. He was the father of Thomas, grandfather of Nathaniel and great grandfather of Abraham Knowlton, who was born in 1699 to Nathaniel and Deborah Jewett Knowlton, the fifth of seven children. Their house lot on the corner of Summer St. and County St. was first granted to Humphrey Bradstreet, and in 1646 he sold the house and land to Deacon Thomas Knowlton, shoemaker. Deacon Thomas sold his house, barn and two acres of land to his son Nathaniel Knowlton on Dec. 6, 1688.
Nathaniel sold half the homestead and half an acre to his son, Abraham Knowlton, May 5, 1725, just when Abraham was establishing his woodworking business in town. Abraham built the house that now stands at 16 County Street on the lot that he bought from his father.
Knowlton’s earliest known work is the banisters in his own house on County Street, built c. 1725. He turned virtually identical baluster forms for the nearby Wainwright-Treadwell House in 1726, which he also fitted with Georgian paneling. In 1727-8, he repeated his now signature balusters on the staircase of the Reverend Nathaniel Rogers house, but here he gave the banisters the most elaborate, most rococo newel post that he had yet produced. A year later, in 1728, he moved across High Street and produced the baluster turnings yet again, this time for Captain Richard Rogers, brother of Nathaniel.
It was in the Captain Richard Rogers house that Knowlton produced the masterwork of his early period: A shell cupboard set at one end of a Georgian paneled wall whose opposite end contained a fine doorway that balanced the cupboard with perfect symmetry. The raised panels throughout the wall and doors were set in molded frames that were, in turn, set into a mortise-and-tenoned framework. Flanking the fireplace were the newest things to come out of classical times, wooden copies of marble, stopfluted pilasters. The tops of the door and the cupboard were arched with central keystones, in wood, of course, not marble. Nobody in Ipswich had ever seen a wall paneled like that.