1834 Nunns, Clark & Co. “Unichord” Square Piano
This piano, from the firm of Robert Nunns, Clark and Co., was built in early 1834 and shipped into South Carolina through Charleston by the dealers Deming and Bulkley. It was bought by Austin Peay for his daughter Eliza as a combination wedding and 18th birthday present for $300.00, as recorded in his will of that same year. It remained in the family and in SC from that point forward, through Eliza’s daughter Carrie and subsequent family members.
It is also a “Unichord” or single string per note piano, which was introduced by the Nunns brothers and was popular from 1829 to about 1835 in rural parts of the country where tuners were hard to find, a condition that exactly describes Ivy Hall Plantation, this piano’s first home in rural Fairfield County SC. In the will of Eliza’s father, Austin Ford Peay, made in October of 1834, he states:
“having already given to my daughter a pianna worth $300, and also to her husband Thomas Lyles the sum of $600 cash, I further give to my said daughter the sum of $1700 annually until the same shall amount to $8000.”
In late February 1865 the piano was nearly destroyed when General Sherman’s troops came through Fairfield County to cripple the war effort by both military and the civilian help that was felt to be an enabling factor. Sarah Lyles Feaster recorded the following account (excerpted):
“…After plundering here, they resorted to the torch to still further distress the helpless ladies and children. One of the raiders must have possessed a spark of humanity, as he responded to my aunt’s request, “Put out the fire,” before it had done a great deal of damage.
Another aunt (Eliza), who possessed a lovely voice, saved her piano from destruction by singing at their request, thus proving that ‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.’”
Listen to this instrument being played!
Portrait of Eliza (Peay) Lyles