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SIBLEY, JOSEPH, farmer and chairmaker; b. c. 1790, the son of Ezekiel Sibley and Mary West; m. Jane Woodworth, and they had ten children; d. 1 Feb. 1862 in St Andrew’s (Wittenburg), N.S.

About 1812 Joseph Sibley, with his brothers and father, settled on the south branch of the St Andrews River in central Nova Scotia, where the small community of Wittenburg now stands. Probably the first settlers there, they cleared the land and established their farms. Joseph combined woodwork with farming and made, for local sale, various items needed in pioneer homes: buttertubs, spinning wheels, looms, and the like. In an era of home-made furniture he was particularly successful in producing chairs and selling them locally. He tried them in various styles before settling on the typical Sibley chair familiar to collectors, with slat backs and turned finials. The slats were usually made from birch or ash. The stretchers, hickory or ash, were dried; the uprights, usually maple, were green when the chairs were assembled, and as they dried they clamped the ends of the stretchers in a vise-like grip which made the chairs remarkably sturdy. Ash splits were woven to make the seats.

Joseph Sibley lived out his days in Wittenberg. Assisted by his sons, Michael (1833–1908) and Isaac, he farmed and made chairs and other items in slack seasons. The inventory of his estate shows “22 butter tubs, 16 sets chair rounds, 3 sets new chairs” on hand. As far as is known all Joseph’s work was unsigned; he is notable not for examples of his workmanship but as the originator of the Sibley chairs. Michael took over the business and expanded it to produce several kinds of furniture which reached a wider market. Therefore most of the Sibley chairs one sees date from the years the business was operated by Michael and by other members of the family who succeeded him.

Ross Graves

Colchester County Registry of Deeds (Truro, N.S.), 7, p.390; 8, pp.351, 360; 9, pp.305, 518; 10, pp.122, 145, 157, 564; 11, p.484; 12, pp.442, 456, 468; 14, p.222; 16, p.17; 20, p.69; 21, p.178; 23, p.339; 24, p.402; 25, p.76; 27, p.414; 33, p.311; 36, p.257; 37, p.223; 40, p.66 (conveyances to which Joseph Sibley was a party). Colchester County Registry of Probate (Truro, N.S.), no.279, will of Joseph Sibley, docket 581 (papers re: estate of Joseph Sibley). Community Cemetery, Wittenberg, N.S. PANS, MG 4, no.18; RG 20, A, 28, 55 (Ezekiel Sibley, 1807, 1814); John Wright, “An attempt to gather up some of the history of St. Andrews, now Wittenberg, Colchester County, Nova Scotia, & its pioneers and their descendants, especially those of the Sibleys” (copy of ms in possession of Mrs Lois MacPhee, Stewiacke, N.S.). M. P. Burrows, A history of Wittenburg (St. Andrews) (mimeographed pamphlet, n.p., [1962]), 3–7, 35–37 (copy in PANS). George MacLaren, Antique furniture by Nova Scotian craftsmen, advisory ed. P. R. Blakeley (Toronto, [1961]), 57–61.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Ross Graves, “SIBLEY, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sibley_joseph_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sibley_joseph_9E.html
Author of Article: Ross Graves
Title of Article: SIBLEY, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1976
Year of revision: 1976
Access Date: July 29, 2014