182. Thomas Elfe
(63) was born in 1719 in Possibly London, England. He died on Nov
28 1775. Thomas Elfe was Charleston's most famous and successful cabinetmaker,
and his surviving pieces are among the most valuable of American antiques. They
can be seen in some of Charleston's historic mansions as well as the Governor's
mansion in Columbia, South Carolina, and in such museums as Winterthur in Delaware,
the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina, and the Charleston
He was born in London and apprenticed to his uncle, who left him both his money and his cabinetmaking tools. Elfe's style would always show the London influence, especially that of his near contemporary Thomas Chippendale. He emigrated to America, first to Virginia and then to Charleston, South Carolina, which at that time was extremely prosperous and the finest furniture was in great demand among Charleston increasingly wealthy families. Elfe's proportions and elegance were unsurpassed in his country, even by the Philadelphia cabinetmakers.
His name first appears in Charleston records in a newspaper article on Oct 6 1747 when his shop provided a pair of carved gilt sconces for a raffle.
His account book for the period from 1768 to 1775 show that he sold no less than 1635 pieces of furniture during the last five years of that period. Obviously he had a large business, with many workmen to execute the designs he produced, and must have occupied far more space than the present Thomas Elfe Workshop, now a tourist attraction at 54 Queen Street in Charleston.
Elfe owned several houses in Charleston, and several plantations in the outlying areas. He was by the standards of a very wealthy city, a wealthy man.
He attended St. Philip's Church, but bought a pew, still to be seen, in St. Michael's when it was under construction and thereafter attended St. Michael's. He provided much of the carved woodwork that is still extant in that beautiful church.
Curiously for a man of his wealth and prominence, his place of burial is not known.
Although much information about Elfe can be found in the standard reference works regarding American antique furniture, two books deal exclusively with Elfe's artistry. They are Thomas Elfe: Cabinetmaker, by Samuel A. Humphrey, and Thomas Elfe--Charleston Cabinetmaker by E. Milby Burton.
His ancestry is currently completely unknown. He was married to Rachel Prioleau on Dec 29 1755.
183. Rachel Prioleau. The Church
record of the marriage of Thomas Elfe and Rachel Prioleau is the only surviving
record of her existence.
Even her last name is conjectural. It appears to be Prideau in the handwritten record. but that name is unknown in Charleston, while Prioleau was a common one in the Huguenot community. Children were:
i. William Elfe.
ii. Elizabeth Elfe.
91 iii. Hannah Elfe.
iv. George Elfe.
v. Thomas Elfe.
vi. Benjamin Elfe.
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