The Story of the Old Makemie Desk

For so long, besides the churches planted by him on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, and the writings left by him, there was little to show for the life and death of "the Father of American Presbyerianism," Francis Makemie (1658-1708). We don't even know precisely what he looked like - only one contemporaneous portrait was ever painted of Makemie (and his wife), but it was destroyed in a fire in 1831. Even his burial site was unknown until it was discovered by Littleton Purnell Bowen (1833-1933), whose tireless research led him to the banks of Holden's Creek in Temperanceville, Accomack County, Virginia, where the Makemie Monument was finally erected in 1908 to mark the spot (this writer had occasion to visit the spot once again last year, which is a wonderful place for contemplation). 

Bowen - the preacher, poet, historian and biographer of Makemie - also made another remarkable discovery, one which is preserved to this day at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He found the very desk employed by Francis Makemie in his ministerial and household labors. 

The story of this discovery is told in John Stevenson McMaster (1859-1924), A Sketch of the Rev. Samuel McMaster: 1744-1811 (1900), by both McMaster and Bowen himself (see especially pp. 20ff). John McMaster was a Presbyterian ruling elder and descendant of his grandfather, Rev. Samuel McMaster, who was the pastor of Anne Makemie Blair King Holden (1702-1788), daughter of Francis Makemie, who took possession of the desk at her father's passing. Upon her death, this solid mahogany desk was willed to Rev. Samuel McMaster, who later bequeathed it to his son Samuel, after whose death it was purchased by a John B. White, who later revealed its existence to Bowen, showing him all the "concealed springs and drawers...[where] the old Presbyterians of the past had hidden their gold and treasures," and after much persuasion (White's wife said: "By all means let Mr. Bowen have it. We are Baptists, and cannot appreciate it as the Presbyterians would. Mr. Bowen's heart is in the history, and he ought to own the desk"), sold it to him, after which, in 1900, Bowen donated it to the Union Theological Seminary of Richmond. 

This is where it resides today, and it may be seen only by appointment. As McMaster notes, "This desk is the only known relic of the Makemie family in existence."