Samuel McIntire Biography
Samuel Mclntire was born, lived, and died in Salem. He never went abroad, and so far as we know he learned all he knew from his books and from the ship builders and carpenters of his native town. All of his work was done in and near Salem.
In spite of these limitations of training, however, Mclntire's work displays a depth and breadth of artistic feeling and understanding that are truly remarkable in view of his restricted opportunities. He was the artistic descendant of Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren, Grinling Gibbons, and the brothers Adam; he was also their peer in originality as well as in fidelity to the best classic traditions. More restrained and severe than Wren and Gibbons, he was more fanciful than Adam. Perhaps it was his very freedom from the schools that gave him faith in his own genius to do the thing that best suited given conditions, and this faith seldom led him astray.
Few of the details of Mclntire's life have been preserved in any form. The best sketch of him, though exasperatingly brief, is to be found in the diary of William Bentley, D.D., pastor of the East Church, Salem. On February 7, 1811, Bentley wrote as follows:
This day Salem was deprived of one of the most ingenious men it had in it Samuel Mclntire, aet. 54, in Summer Street. He was descended of a family of Carpenters who had no claims on public favor and was educated at a branch of that business. By attention he soon gained a superiority to all of his occupation and the present Court House, the North and South Meeting Houses, and indeed all the improvements of Salem for nearly thirty years past have been done under his eye. In Sculpture he had no rival in New England and I possess some specimens which I should not scruple to compare with any I ever saw. To the best of my abilities I encouraged him in this branch. In Music he had a good taste and tho' not presuming to be an original composer, he was among our best Judges and most able performers. All the instruments we use he could understand and was the best person to be employed in correcting any defects, or repairing them.
He had a fine person, a majestic appearance, calm countenance, great self command and amiable temper. He was welcome but never intruded. He had complained of some obstruction in the chest, but when he died it was unexpectedly. The late increase of workmen in wood has been from the demand for exportation and this has added nothing to the character and reputation of the workmen, so that upon the death of Mr. Mclntire no man is left to be consulted upon a new plan of execution beyond his bare practice.
A brief obituary notice in the Salem Gazette of February 8, 1811, also shows the esteem in which Mclntire was held:
Died: Mr. Mclntire, a man much beloved and sincerely lamented. He was originally bred to the occupation of a housewright but his vigorous mind soon passed the limits of his profession and aspired to the interesting and admirable science of architecture in which he advanced far beyond most of his countrymen. He made an assiduous study of the great classical masters with whose works, notwithstanding their rarity in this country, Mr. McIntire had a very intimate acquaintance.
Samuel Mclntire was born in Salem in 1757. His father was Joseph Mclntire, a joiner, and it is likely that he learned his trade from him. He studied and practised wood carving under local masters and soon became noted for his skill. This craft he practised all his life, though the need for architects where architects were scarce led him into the designing of homes.
In one sense he never became a great architect. His houses are mostly the square, three-story mansions of the period, that leave much to be desired in the way of grace and variety. His fame rests rather on the beauty of the embellishments of these houses — their doorways, window frames, cornices, gateposts, and their incomparable interior woodwork.
As was not uncommon in those days, Mclntire's name suffered many variations in spelling, but the one given here is supported by the best authority.
He died February 6, 1811, and was laid to rest in the Charter Street Burial Ground, Salem. His grave-stone, which is still to be seen, reads as follows:
IN MEMORY OF MR. SAMUEL McINTIRE WHO DIED FEB. 6, 1811 AET. 54
He was distinguished for Genius in Architecture, Sculpture, and Musick: Modest and sweet Manners rendered him pleasing; Industry and Integrity respectable: He professed the Religion of Jesus in his entrance on manly life; and proved its excellence by virtuous Principle and unblemished conduct.
He left three children, all boys; one other died in infancy.
Mclntire died intestate, but his executors drew up an inventory of his effects which is on record in the Essex County Probate Office and which contains much of interest to the searcher after Mclntire data. This inventory shows that he was not a rich man. His house and shop were valued at $3,000 and his personal property at $1,190, besides some $963 in notes. This property was left to his widow, Elizabeth Mclntire.
The most interesting items on this list are his carving tools, his books, and his music and musical instruments. He left "a large hand organ with ten barrels," "a double bass (musical instrument)," a violin and case, and a collection of books of music, including an edition of Handel's "Messiah." His small but well selected library indicates his taste and culture. Among his architectural works were Palladio's Architecture, Ware's Architecture, Architecture by Langley, another by Paine, Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, a book of sculptures, and two volumes of French architecture. The possession of the Palladio explains much.
In his shop was found a complete equipment of carver's, joiner's, and draughting tools, including three hundred chisels and gouges and forty-six molding planes. This set of tools was famous at the time for its size and completeness. He also left eight of his Washington medallions and a number of finished ornaments, etc.
The story of McIntire's life and work is continued on the next page, McIntire architecture.