Historic Architecture

Cataloguing the Work of Colonial Era Architects…

Peter Harrison

Perhaps the most important architect ever to have worked in America, Peter Harrison’s renown suffers from the destruction of most of his papers when he died in 1775.
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Peter Harrison was born in Yorkshire, England in 1716 and trained to be an architect as a teenager. He also became a ship captain, and soon sailed to ports in America, where he began designing some of the most iconic buildings of the continent. In a clandestine operation, Harrison procured the plans for the French Canadian fortress of Louisbourg, enabling Massachusetts Governor William Shirley to capture it in 1745. This setback forced the French to halt their operation to capture all of British America and to give up British territory they had captured in India. As a result, Peter Harrison was rewarded with commissions to design important buildings in Britain and in nearly all British colonies around the world, and he became the first person ever to have designed buildings on six continents. He designed mostly in a neo—Palladian style, and invented a way of building wooden structures so as to look like carved stone- “wooden rustication.” Harrison also designed some ofAmerica’s most valuable furniture, including inventing the coveted “block-front,” and introducing the bombe motif. In America, he lived in Newport, Rhode Island, and in New Haven, Connecticut, where he died at the beginning of the War of Independence.

Above is a painting of Peter Harrison done in 1800 by Louis Sands, a copy of c. 1756 portrait by Nathaniel Smibert. Public Domain