The Henry Clay Bed at Rosedown Plantation

oil on wood
16″ x 24″
The dramatic story of the Rosedown Bed began with the presidential election of
1844. Henry Clay was a presidential candidate for the second time, and it seemed that
he could not lose. His party, the Whigs, contracted Crawford Riddle ’N’ Journeymen
of Philadelphia to build a grand suite of bedroom furnishings, suitable for the White
House. The suite, with the bed as the dominant feature, would be built in the new
Gothic Revival style. The President’s bedroom, later known as the Lincoln Bedroom,
was measured. The ceiling height was 14´. The bed would be constructed to measure
at 13´ 6˝ in height. It would be built of Brazilian rosewood and be fi t for a king, or at
least for a great orator like Henry Clay.
But Clay’s presidency was not to be, and the rub was Texas. Texas had won independence
from Mexico and fi led for statehood. As a state, Texas threatened the balance
of slave states in favor of the South, and assured a war with Mexico. Clay, the Great
Compromiser, argued against Texas’s admission into the Union. Clay lost the election,
and lost the bed. Their candidate defeated, the Whigs put the bed up for auction.
It would not be the last time Texas would play a part of the history of the bed.
A wealthy Southern planter named Daniel Turnbull, a friend and supporter of
Clay’s, purchased the bed for the extravagant price of $1,300. Dismantled, the bed
took a long journey by ship and wagon to St. Francisville, Louisiana. The name
of the Turnbull plantation was Rosedown, 3,000 plus acres of prime delta bottom
land. Turnbull ’s wife, Martha, installed at Rosedown one of the fi nest gardens in
19th century America. Grand as the house was, the ceilings could not accommodate
the bed, and Turnbull built a new wing on the house just for the bed. This required
adding another wing on the other side of the house to balance the design. The bed
was becoming expensive, but is was the highlight of their collection.
The bed remained at Rosedown with the Turnbull family for over a hundred years,
surviving the Civil War, two World Wars, depressions and hurricanes. By 1955 the
last heirs had passed away and the grand old place went on the market. Catherine
Fondren Underwood was the president of the River Oaks Garden Club of Houston,
Texas, when she toured Rosedown and learned the estate was for sale. The
remnants of the magnifi cent gardens attracted her and her husband, Milton Underwood,
to Rosedown. They purchased Rosedown and began the restoration of the
gardens and the house. The estate was lovingly brought back to life and the bed was
eventually restored around 1960.

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