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William Ivey Long and the Tennessee Carters: A Family Furniture Legacy
By William Ivey Long’s own account, he wasn’t one for football when he was young. He preferred to stay inside with his cousin Molly, who taught him all about the furniture and houses that had been passed down through his mother’s Tennessee family for centuries.
So when the Alfred Moore Carter House in Elizabethton, TN, went up for auction in 2002, along with all of its contents, Long’s lifelong appreciation for the family’s history made him a prime bidder. Long bought the furniture and moved it to his own home in Seaboard, North Carolina.
Alfred Moore Carter, one of the grandsons of John Carter, who was descended from the King Carters of Virginia and a first settler of Tennessee, built the Elizabethton house in 1819. Elizabethton was named for Alfred’s mother, Elizabeth Carter. When Alfred Moore died, he left his house to his son, Samuel Perry (Powhatan) Carter. As Long points out, Samuel P. Carter’s name comes up now and then on Jeopardy, as the question to the answer “This man had the distinction of being the only American to earn both the rank of major general in the Union Army and rear admiral in the United States Navy?” (Long, as the one-time subject of an entire Jeopardy category, is familiar with what it takes to make a good game-show answer).
The Alfred Moore Carter House
While Samuel P. Carter was living in the Carter house, he and his brother W.B. Carter made it the secret headquarters for Lincoln’s famous bridge-burning campaign during the Civil War. As rare loyal Tennessee unionists, the brothers and their house were integral to the Union’s successes there.
As Long was told, the furniture he purchased from the Carter house in 2002 had been in the home ever since it was built on-site around 1835, while Samuel P. Carter was living there. As Long tells it, the furniture was built by one of the Carters’ resident carpenters. Long pointed out to us the repeated details on each piece that constitute that laborer’s unique decorative style. Now Long, having preserved the legacy of the furniture for all these years, can pass it on, complete with its historical provenance as part of the heritage of Tennessee’s founding families.
Detail of An Important East Tennessee Cherry Jackson Press
Read more about William Ivey Long, his family, and his career in our previous story about his collection.