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Furniture > American > Antique > Beds > Early Colonial

Early American Colonial Beds

In about the first thirty years of settlement the early colonial pioneers more than likely made use of the floor for sleeping purposes, or at least slept very close to it. In any case no antique beds of this period have survived. At the time, among the poorer classes in England, there existed a type known in America as the jack bed, consisting of one post set 6 foot from one wall and 3 foot from the other. From this post were fixed side rails extending to the two walls which supported slats capable of holding the bags of straw, rags, or whatever was used, to provide some comfort for weary backs. Something similar to this was likely employed by the early colonists.

Within a fairly short time however beds came into use that more approximated the better class of Tudor beds and Elizabethan beds of the mother country, although not on quite so grand a scale.

Four Post Bedstead, 1760
Four Post Bedstead, 1760.

These early American bed frames consisted of corner posts of enough height to hold cross rails from which bed hangings and curtains could be strung over. The actual woodwork in the beds was of a simple nature, with little carving and decoration, rather, it was in the curtains that most effort went into achieving decorative effects, of which more below.

Folding Beds

17th century houses were small and hence a variety of wooden folding beds were to be found. Slaw beds, from Holland, were built into small cubicles off main rooms. Other types included those that could stand in parlors, constructed of simple, square wood frames with tall posts from which could be hung curtains. The side rails had cleverly designed hinged joints very near the bedhead allowing the bed to be raised and hidden behind the curtains.

Bed Curtains & Hangings

Colonial Bedroom
Colonial Bedroom.

Some early colonial beds were bedecked with silk curtains, however, more commonly, plainer materials of wool, linen, and patchwork were employed to protect the occupants from prying eyes, and more importantly, the cold of draughts. Hangings, sometimes of worsted needlework, also permitted a note of color in otherwise spartanly furnished rooms.

The William & Mary and the Queen Anne periods had little effect on the course of bed design in colonial America. It is not until the era of Chippendale beds that the simple, primitive type of beds discussed here give way to more elaborate pieces. Prior to this the only interesting development is the arrival of chaise lounges, which is the subject of the next page.

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