In the discourse of landscape design, seat possessed two distinct yet equally prevalent meanings, as indicated by Thomas Sheridan’s 1789 dictionary entry. One sense referred to seat as a large estate, usually marked by a country house or mansion, for example, William Hamilton’s Woodlands, near Philadelphia; or Gen. Charles Ridgely’s Hampton, in Baltimore County, Md. A seat was also a garden structure for sitting.
The meaning of seat as estate was exemplified in colonial America by William Byrd II’s Westover, on the James River, Va., and Henry Pratt’s Lemon Hill in Philadelphia [Fig. 1]. Such country houses were often featured in portraits that flattered the owner and signaled to the public that the colonies and new republic were home to a cultured elite rivaling that of Great Britain. These images typically located the house at the center of the property, with the landscape and various outbuildings extending beyond it. This placement, which communicated the importance of the house as the base of operations for the landowner, was a visual shorthand for the landowner’s affluence and power. Observers such as William Hugh Grove (1732) and Thomas Gwatkin (1770) often likened seats to small villages. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the community-like aspects of seats were downplayed in favor of their rural associations, which contrasted sharply with the increasingly crowded conditions of America’s cities. English emigré William Russell Birch, in his series The Country Seats of the United States of America (1808), depicted the homes of the mid- Atlantic elite situated in naturalistic landscapes in emulation of British tableaux [Fig. 2].