Thomas Hope

Thomas Hope, one of Tennessee's earliest and finest master carpenters and cabinetmakers, was born in England circa 1757. By 1788 Hope was in Charleston, South Carolina, where his reputation spread to the part of the western North Carolina frontier that would become Tennessee. Hope arrived in Knoxville on the eve of statehood and quickly acquired his first commission. Francis Alexander Ramsey enlisted the master carpenter to design, build, and furnish his new marble and limestone home at Swan Pond in east Knox County. Ramsey House was built between 1795 and 1797.

Hope's reputation as the skilled and versatile house carpenter and joiner grew following his success with Ramsey House. At least three more Knox County projects followed: Charles McClung's State's View, built about 1805; the Kain plantation's Trafalgar, built from 1806 to 1807; and Joseph Churchill Strong's Knoxville house, built in 1814. Hope's final work, Frederick Augustus Ross's Rotherwood in Sullivan County, was a work in progress at the time of his death in 1820. Architectural historian James Patrick evaluated Hope's work as some of the region's best early domestic architecture.

In addition to his design and construction of remarkable houses, Hope also built the furnishings and carved the interior and exterior details. Like many carpenters of the period, Hope discovered that his talents in carving and furniture-making pleased his frontier clients and gave his services broader appeal.

The surviving examples of Hope's work in Knox County–Ramsey House and State's View–as well as the existing pieces of his furniture testify to the craftsman's skilled hand and eye, as well as his appreciation of contemporary design principles. Like many master carpenters of the period, Hope often used his copy of the Builder's Golden Rule pattern book but endowed his creations with his own unique style and quality. His preference in style leaned toward Georgian rather than the popular Federal style, but he always found a way to bring the two styles together while incorporating the needs and preferences of his clients.

In addition to his architectural legacy, Hope contributed to the professional development of the carpentry trade in Knoxville. In 1801 Hope and four other Knoxville carpenters founded a carpenters' guild which established standard prices for such items as framing, weatherboarding, doors, detailing, and stairs. Hope's reputation, derived from his experience in England, Charleston, and East Tennessee, gave leadership and focus to the growing community of skilled craftspeople, as well as providing a model for future carpenters and cabinetmakers.

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  • Article Title Thomas Hope
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018