Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Watts Collection, documents 301-325

Checklist of documents in the Watts Collection at the Historical Society of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia. To consult these documents, go to and click on “Visit HMWV's Virtual Collection!” The documents can be found by a keyword search, or by catalog number using “Click and Search”.

This group of documents dates from 1844 and early 1845, with only two partial exceptions: document 311 involves a court case that began in 1844 and continued into the late 1840s, and 316 is a collection of receipts dating from 1839 to 1846. Most of the documents concern the law practice of Edward Watts and his sons James Breckinridge Watts and William Watts; and much of that practice involved collecting debts on behalf of distant creditors, notably in New York, Philadelphia and Richmond. One name recurs with significant frequency: Stoner (301, 311, 321, 323, and 324); the settlement of their affairs will be a frequent topic in the Watts papers for several years. Some documents involve routine business matters, like the hiring of slaves to a neighbor (309), tax payments (317), payments to court clerks (318-320). Some of the more interesting and exceptional items include a list of subscribers to the Richmond Whig newspaper (303); a receipt from the professor who taught music to the Watts girls (304); a letter from the Gwathmeys, in part about tobacco and wheat sales, but also about family news (305); a plat and survey of land at the confluence of Glade and Tinker Creeks (307); and a letter from Henry Coalter Cabell to William Watts, seeking his support for a candidate applying to become professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia (325).

doc #

July 10, 1844
Letter from John Quarles James in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, whom he had recently met, requesting information about the trust deed made by Samuel Stoner to Edward Watts, James Breckinridge Watts and Peachy Ridgway Grattan, in particular whether the deed had been recorded by the court clerk

May 9, 1844
Receipt from Joseph Kyle Pitzer by M. Leftwich, in Buchanan, Virginia, to Edward Watts, for 1679 pounds of tobacco, to be settled for according to contract

January 17, 1844
Payment order from Thomas W. Micou in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, to Edward Watts, to deliver payments for several subscriptions to the Weekly Whig (Richmond Whig and Advertiser) on behalf of himself, D. Lewis, James Eddington, Landon Cabell Read and Solomon Slusher, all residents of Roanoke or Floyd Counties, Virginia, and to deliver a letter to Kent, Kendall and Atwater, a  Richmond dry goods dealer; the payment receipted by Newton Hill

 Genl Edward Watts
            Will please pay the Editors of the Weekly Whig for the following subscriptions
                        {viz      D. Lewis Big Lick Va
                        {           James Eddington Do [ditto]
3$ sent             {           Edward Watts Do [ditto]
                        {           Landon C. Read Stoners Store
                        {           Solomon Slusher Greazy Creek Floyd Co Va
and put the Letter to Kent, Kendall & Atwater in the Office if he can’t see them personally
                                                                                                oblige yrs &c
                                                                                                Thos W. Micou
Big Lick Jany 17 1844
[receipted across the text] Received the above amount of Five Dollars / Newton Hill / Jan 22/44

Thomas W. Micou was postmaster in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, in the 1840s. He was married to a daughter of Elijah McClanahan and had children. He died in 1846 at the Western Asylum in Staunton, Virginia. The Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser; was a weekly newspaper; although the name varied, it began publication in the 1820s and continued into the 1870s.

January 30, 1844
Account statement of Edward Watts with Gennaro F. Bozzaotra, professor of music, for instruction of his daughters, Letitia Gamble Watts and Alice Matilda Watts in 1843 and 1844

October 18, 1844
Letter from Temple Gwathmey in Richmond, Virginia, acting for his brother Robert Gwathmey, to Edward Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, enclosing an account statement for tobacco and flour sold for Watts; statement includes names of buyers and identifications of lots, prices and deductions for expenses, with a total of $999.54 due for the tobacco and $449.87 for the flour; letter discusses prices of tobacco and flour and gives advice to improve chances of sale in the future, such as not drying the tobacco too much and using cleaner barrels; letter also includes news of the Gwathmey family

July 20, 1844
Letter from R. Kingsland & Co in New York to William Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, asking for a duplicate check to be sent, to replace one sent by James Breckinridge Watts and apparently lost in the mail or stolen

December 26, 1844
Survey and plat by Andrew Reynolds for George Ground of 271 acres of land in Roanoke County, Virginia, lying on Tinker and Glade Creeks, which Ground sold to John H. Smith; the survey mentions boundaries shared with property belonging to Edward Watts, the Vinyard family, the heirs of Robert Filson, the McDermid family, and David Gish

 Surveyed for George Ground 271 acres of Land which he sold to John H. Smith Lying in Roanoke County on Tinker and Glade Creeks, branches of Roanoke River and bounded as follows to wit, Beginning at two white oaks at 1, corner to Vineyard thence S51°E 24 poles to a stake in a flat at 2, corner to the land of the heirs of Robert Filson; and with the same S58°W 38 poles to a rock pile on a branch at 3. S28°W 63 poles to a persimmon tree at 4. S43°W 62 poles to the (NE) bank of Tinker Creek at 5, thence ...

 Detail of “Roanoke County Farms 1825-1875” by J. R. Hildebrand, showing the tract bought by John H. Smith and adjoining tracts owned by Filson, Gish, McDermid, Vinyard and Watts. The Watts land is shown as belonging to James Philemon Holcombe, husband of Anne Watts, and to Emma G. (Watts) Carr, who inherited the property.

May 20, 1844
Receipt for deposit by James Philemon Holcombe of $1000 to the account of Edward Watts in the Bank of Virginia, Lynchburg, Virginia, signed by W. B. Averett, teller

January 17, 1844
Account statement of Thomas Tosh with Edward Watts for hire of two slaves, Jabet and Peyton, with itemized additions and deductions

May 23, 1844
Letter from Thomas & Charles Ellis in Richmond, Virginia, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Big Lick, Virginia, sending a check signed by W. B. Averett of the Bank of Virginia for $919.88, for the account of Townsend Sharpless of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1847 or 1848
Bill from William S. Donnan & John Donnan, merchants, to Edward Johnston, judge of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery for the County of Roanoke, asking for a writ to be issued against William S. Minor, the heirs of Samuel Stoner, and John Stoner, and many others, who were heirs of the Stoners, who held deeds of trust for them, or who purchased property from them, or who did business with them, for recovery of a debt; the bill includes copies of writs from 1844 and 1845, and the defendants’ confession of the obligations, which however had not been paid and the debtors had subsequently sold their property and declared insolvency. The following individuals and companies are named, in addition to the plaintiffs, judge, and primary defendants: John Bonsack; Edward C. Burks; William Bush; Robert Campbell; Isaac Davenport, Jr.; Henry Davis, executor of David Palmer, deceased; Robert Edmond; Alexander P. Eskridge; John Gaynor; Gaynor, Wood & Co.; John O. L. Goggin, administrator for Stephen Goggin, deceased; Peachy Ridgway Grattan; Edwin James; F. & J. S. James & Co.; Fleming James; John Quarles James; James F. Johnson; Frederick Johnston; David W. Moon; Alexander K. Packer or Parker; M. A. Painter; J. K. Pitzer, administrator of Samuel Stoner, deceased; John H. Seay; Edward D. Steptoe; Elizabeth “Eliza” Virginia Stoner; Emiline Stoner; Frances Stoner; John Stoner, Jr.; Kenton Ballard Stoner; Lavinia Stoner; Lenora Ann Stoner; Louisa C. Stoner; Osborne Stoner; John W. Thompson, administrator of William Woodson, deceased; William H. Watson; Edward Watts; James Breckinridge Watts; William Watts; George A. Williams; Samuel Williams; Joseph Wilson; Jackson B. Wood; Peter M. Wright, administrator for Matthew Wright, deceased

December 12, 1844
Letter from Buck & Potter, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, signed by J. Sibley, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, asking for his services to collect a debt of $392.74 from George W. Anderson of Christiansburg, Virginia; they write on the recommendation of Col. W. M. Lambert

November 16, 1844
Letter from Dr Robert Johnston, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Salem, Virginia, asking his help in obtaining payment of $20 for assistance rendered at White Sulphur Springs, probably in Montgomery County, Virginia, in the birth of a child born to a slave belonging to Col Thomas Burwell, and adding a lengthy political diatribe lamenting the results of the 1844 election, expressing disillusionment with the idea of government by the people

I really do consider that the experiment of free government has failed with us. We are clearly under the dominion of a mob, who set all law, order and moral obligation at defiance, and are prepared at any moment to trample under foot the most sacred institutions of the country, should they appear to be in the way of any of their favourite schemes or maxims. I believe the experiment will always fail of giving to the people, their own government; the intelligence suffused by education is disproportional to the actual power given them, it is not possible to equalise these two elements.

Dr Robert Johnston (1803-1847) is buried in Shockoe Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

June 21, 1844
Letter from O. A. Strecker, in Richmond, Virginia, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Roanoke County, Virginia, asking him to collect money from a bond of $91.88 of Dr Thomas Goode of Hot Springs, Virginia

March 2, 1844
Letter from Townsend Sharpless & Sons, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, inquiring about progress on collecting a debt from David Fenton Kent

Wrapper and eight brief documents relating to debts owed by or to James Breckinridge Watts or William Watts, including receipts for payment, accounts, bonds and bad debts; people named include Edward Watts, Christian Bowen, John Steele, J. Robertson, Harry P. Taylor, David Gish, L. Brockenbrough, W. B. Peck, Elisabeth Bradley, N. P. Dillard, William Nelms, and others

Account statement of Edward Watts for taxes paid to the sheriff of Roanoke County, Virginia, in 1845, itemized, including 1 white and 80 black tithes, 98 slaves, 50 horses, 1 carriage, 2 gold watches, 2 pianos, silver plate and 2250 acres of land

Account statement of Edward Watts for fees owed to the clerk of Montgomery County Court, Virginia, in 1844, showing charges in a case involving Deaton and Leahy, signed by R. D. Montague, clerk

April 1844
Account statement of Edward Watts for fees owed to the clerk of Bedford County Court, Virginia, in April 1844 for a writ of capias against Gish, Ground and Taylor, and other actions involved in these cases, costing a total of $5.12

Account statement of Edward Watts for fees owed to the commissioner of Roanoke County, Virginia, in 1845 for a land transfer to his sons James Breckinridge Watts and William Watts

January 15, 1845
Letter from Jordan Anthony, cashier of the Bank of Virginia, in Buchanan, Virginia, to William Watts, at Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, forwarding a note for $500 from Samuel Stoner to James Philemon Holcombe, with advice about Holcombe’s intention if the note was not paid at maturity

 I have received your favour of the 13th inst and here enclose you S. Stoner’s note to J. P. Holcombe $500 & charges of protest 2 20/100. In the event of this note not being paid at maturity I think it was Mr Holcombe’s intention to have an execution issued for a much larger amount. I am very respectfully yours, J. Anthony C. [Cashier]

Jordan Anthony (1788-after 1866) appears in the census reports of 1850 and 1860 as a bank cashier, living in Botetourt County, Virginia. In 1860, his household included his niece, Julia Anthony, who was married to Peachy Gilmer Breckinridge (1835-1864), a first cousin of William Watts. James Philemon Holcombe was William Watts’s brother-in-law. Samuel Stoner’s debts are a recurrent subject in these documents.

January 16, 1845
Letter from Henry Homer, in Newbern, Virginia, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, concerning a debt, unpaid because Homer has not yet received money from a sale of bottles from Alexander and Harness, who sold the bottles in Baltimore, Maryland

January 16, 1845
Letter from Drinker and Morris, stationers in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, asking Watts to collect debts from William S. Minor and John Stoner, the latter resident in Bedford County, Virginia; to the former, whose note is not due, they propose to offer reduced terms; as to the latter, who signed an acceptance but gave a draft that was refused, they plan to file suit

 This calendar was printed on the stationery.

January 25, 1845
Letter from John G. McClanahan and Elijah G. McClanahan, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, explaining that they refused to pay a draft for Samuel Stoner because he had not met his obligations, and they had notified him to return or destroy it

January 19, 1845
Letter from Henry Coalter Cabell, in Richmond, Virginia, to William Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, asking his help in having a kinsman, James Lawrence Cabell, appointed professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia, to succeed George Tucker; he says that Benjamin Franklin Minor and other faculty are supporting him, and hopes that Watts will use his influence to secure support from Senator William Cabell Rives, his cousin William Ballard Preston, and his brother-in-law James Philemon Holcombe

If you could write a letter to Mr Preston, speaking in such terms as I hope you would feel yourself authorized to use, he probably would have no difficulty upon your statement in giving this recommendation. Holcombe, if with you, I am sure would join in such letter. I hope you will use your discretion and act promptly in this matter. It is now a subject near his heart to succeed in this application and I hope he may not be disappointed. I write in great haste. Your friend, Henry C. Cabell

Henry Coalter Cabell (1820-1889) had known William Watts as a student at the University of Virginia. James Philemon Holcombe was William Watts’s brother-in-law and a professor at the University of Virginia. William Ballard Preston (1805-1862) attended Hampden-Sydney College and studied law at the University of Virginia. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates 1830-32, 1844-45, in the state Senate 1840-44, and in the U. S. House of Representatives 1847-49. Under President Zachary Taylor, he served as Secretary of the Navy, then retired from political life and practiced law. He went to France in late 1850s as a negotiator, but returned as the Civil War grew imminent. He was a member of Virginia's secessionist convention in 1861, wrote the act which declared Virginia's secession; he also served in the Confederate Congress. James Lawrence Cabell was not successful in his campaign to obtain this appointment; see 1998.26.346. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Portrait of Caroline Harris DeJarnette

Portrait of Caroline (DeJarnette) Staples, with (left to right) her great-great-granddaughter-in-law, her great-great-great-granddaughter, and her great-granddaughter Jean (Staples) Showalter, 1975

            Caroline Harris DeJarnette was my great-great-grandmother. She was born in Caroline County, Virginia, 4 March 1833; she died in Roanoke, Virginia, 15 January 1892. She married on 12 June 1855, in Caroline County, Samuel Granville Staples. He was born 29 November 1821, in Patrick County, Virginia, and died 6 August 1895, in Roanoke, Virginia. They are buried in Fairview Cemetery, Roanoke, Virginia.

Grave marker of Samuel Granville Staples and Caroline (DeJarnette) Staples

            Caroline DeJarnette and Samuel Granville Staples were the parents of Abram Penn Staples Sr. (1858-1913); his son Abram Penn Staples Jr. (1885-1951) was the father of Jean Lee Staples (1912-2004), who was my mother. The Staples family produced a number of distinguished lawyers, of whom Samuel Granville Staples was one. His son Abram Penn Staples wrote a brief account of his life in a family Bible now in the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Public Library, which my grandmother revised and amplified in a document she called “Staples Memoranda”. These documents are the basis of this short biography:

First page of the Staples family Bible

            Samuel Granville Staples studied at Randolph Macon, the University of Virginia, and William and Mary College (1840-41) where he completed his law course and took his degree. He was clerk of the superior court in Patrick County, served in the Virginia legislature in the 1850s, and was a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention of 1860-61 where he opposed secession as long as possible. While serving as a legislator, he met and married Caroline DeJarnette. They made their home at Stonewall, in Patrick County, where Mr. Staples practiced law. At the start of the Civil War he volunteered, and served as a captain on the staff of J. E. B. Stuart. After only one year in the army, he was seriously injured and obliged to retire from active duty. At the close of the war, he found himself wrecked in health and fortune, but returned to the practice of law and in 1869 was elected Judge of the Patrick County Court, an office he occupied until the Re-adjuster party secured control of the state in the 1880s and he declined on principle to run again. He then retired to a farm near Stuart, seat of Patrick County, moved to Roanoke in 1890, and after his wife's death lived in Roanoke with his son, Abram Penn Staples.

Stonewall, the Staples home in Stuart, Patrick County, Virginia
            The family Bible says of Caroline Harris DeJarnette:
             “She was a daughter of Col. Daniel DeJarnette of Caroline County. She was married at Hampton, residence of her uncle, John Hampton DeJarnette, in Caroline County. She was born at her father's residence at Spring Grove in Caroline County, and died at the home of her son Daniel DeJarnette Staples in Roanoke.”
            The DeJarnette family were of Huguenot origin. Details of the family’s early history are uncertain; accounts vary widely and few genealogies cite authoritative sources. Most versions of the story state that the first member of the family to settle in Virginia was Jean (John) de Jarnat, born around 1680 near La Rochelle, a major port on the west coast of France in a region that was heavily Protestant at the time. With the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, withdrawing the rights previously accorded to Protestants, a mass emigration began, of which de Jarnat was a part. He went first to England, and sailed from there to Virginia in 1700, in a group of Huguenots whose support in Britain had become too costly for the British crown. Four ships apparently transported these settlers. Alas, no records exist of the third ship to sail, not even its name, but it is presumed to have brought De Jarnat to America. Click here for a history of the family’s immigration to Virginia, with many specifics although no sources.
Daniel DeJarnette household, 1850 census
            Jean de Jarnat settled in Gloucester County, Virginia, where he married Mary Mumford of Abingdon Parish in the same county, about 1703.  She was the daughter of Edward and Mary (Watkins) Mumford, born, according to a deposition, in 1683. The Abingdon Parish register lists six children of Jean and Mary de Jarnat, among them Joseph de Jarnat,  baptized 3 February 1716. Joseph married about 1739 Mary Pemberton, and among their children was Joseph DeJarnette, Jr. – the spelling of the name had changed – who was born 9 October 1747 and married Mary Hampton about 1775. Joseph Jr. lived at his estate Spring Grove, in Caroline County, where he died 31 July 1824. His son Daniel was born there 9 October 1783 and died there 22 September 1850. Daniel married twice, first on 25 December 1808 to Jane T. Coleman, and second on 21 December 1817 to her sister Huldah Hawes Coleman. Caroline Harris DeJarnette, the sitter for the portrait, was a child of the second marriage.

Spring Grove, Caroline County, Virginia, c. 1900 

Spring Grove, Caroline County, Virginia, c. 1937

            By the early nineteenth century, the DeJarnettes were well established among the leading families of the region. Caroline’s father and brothers owned large plantations. In 1850, according to the census, her father Daniel owned real estate worth $25,000 and 100 slaves, while her uncle Elliott (1788-1857) held the same amount of real estate and 57 slaves at his estate “Pine Forest” in neighboring Spotsylvania County. Calculating the equivalent dollar figure in 2011 depends on what measure one uses; roughly speaking, using the consumer price index gives a figure 30 times higher, using the unskilled wage about 200 times higher, and using the share of gross domestic product about 400 times higher. For more precise figures and explanations, see the “Measuring Worth” website.

DeJarnette reunion at Pine Forest, c. 1937
The five people in the front row on the right end are descendants of Caroline DeJarnette and Samuel Granville Staples: (left to right) Huldah Staples Daniel, William Hunt Staples, Harris (Staples) Brown, Julie Bagby (Epes) Staples, Allen Watts Staples. The photo and identifications come from an online genealogy.

            In 1860, Caroline’s half-brother Robert Elliott DeJarnette (1812-1876) owned personal and real property worth $56,000 and 26 slaves; another brother, John Hampton DeJarnette (1818-1897), owned personal and real property worth $133,000 and 71 slaves; and a third brother, Daniel Coleman DeJarnette (1822-1881) owned property valued at $131,000 and 65 slaves. John Hampton built a handsome house on his estate, now called Hampton Manor, where Caroline was married. It is said to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, and in the 1940s belonged to Caresse Crosby; if that name means nothing to you, click her name to read the Wikipedia entry. See also this article on the house.


            Daniel Coleman DeJarnette served in the Virginia state house of representatives 1853-1858; he was a colleague there of Samuel G. Staples, and no doubt facilitated the introduction to his sister. At about the same time, he built the house at Spring Grove that still stands. DeJarnette was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and served 1859-1861; he was re-elected, but did not present his credentials and served instead in the First and Second Confederate Congresses 1862-1865. Before leaving Washington, on 14 February 1861, he made an impassioned “state of the union” speech, in which he defended slavery as a bulwark protecting free labor. After the war, he was a member of the commission to determine the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland, along with William Watts; see a letter on the subject in the Watts Collection 1998.26.240.
            The portrait of Caroline DeJarnette was painted by James Westhall Ford, the same artist who painted Michael Vaden, as described in my previous post. This portrait may not seem at first glance to bear much resemblance to the Vaden portrait, but it has several features characteristic of Ford’s works. As in all the Ford portraits on the web, the sitter is at the viewer’s right, facing to the viewer’s left. The backgrounds on the right are dark and looming; in this case, it looks like a painted backdrop, which performs the same function as the tree in the Vaden and Watkins portraits. On the left, where the space opens out more, there are vignettes, a vase of flowers in this painting. And finally, the treatment of the hands is relatively crude.

Portrait of Caroline Harris DeJarnette by James Westhall Ford

            These similarities would not prove much, but according to R. Lewis Wright’s Artists in Virginia, “from 1851 to 1853 [Ford] lived with the DeJarnett family in Spotsylvania County and is said to have painted more than twenty portraits during this period” (p. 56). Alexander Wilbourne Weddell, in Portraiture in the Virginia Historical Society, notes that “Ford is known to have also painted a number of other members of the deJarnette family [Weddell mentions Robert deJarnette, and Dr. Joseph Spencer deJarnette and his wife]. A fire in Richmond is said to have destroyed a number of these and other canvases which were then on exhibition” (p. 150-51). Caroline DeJarnette presumably brought the portrait with her when she married Samuel Granville Staples. Like many ante-bellum Southern portraits, it was said to have been slashed by a Yankee soldier, although he must have been an very inept swordsman to have left such a small mark. Caroline and her husband moved to Roanoke in their last years, and left the portrait to their descendants who already lived there, one of whom was my grandfather. After my grandparents’ death, it hung for many years in a place of honor in my mother’s house.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Portrait of Michael Vaden

Portrait of Michael Vaden

            To be completely accurate, the image above is a photo of a photographic reproduction of a portrait of Michael Vaden, my great-great-grandfather. The first time I knew such a picture existed was in 2007, when a cousin I met on the internet sent me a black-and-white copy, tentatively identified as a portrait of Josiah Thomas Showalter. A few months later, I found a document in my father's files that correctly identified the sitter, and provided a good deal more information about the origins of the painting. Later still, I met a cousin who owned one of several reproductions made a few decades ago, and she let me photograph her copy. Ever since I have been trying to identify the artist.
            Michael Vaden (c. 1790-1881) was the father of Sarah Catherine Vaden (1842-1922), wife of Josiah Thomas Showalter (1839-1915). Michael was a colorful character, who outlived two wives. He had six children with the first, Prudence Worsham, and four with the second, Catherine Rowlett, of whom Sarah Catherine was the youngest. In his youth, he was wild and undisciplined, and addicted to hunting, especially deer. As he matured, he took up more serious callings. He practiced medicine with apparent success, although he had no university degree in the field, and he preached in the Methodist church near his home at Winterpock, Chesterfield County, Virginia.
            His portrait was commissioned by his friend and employer, Judge James Henry Cox (1810-1877), who lived on a large estate named Clover Hill in the same area. The Cox family owned and operated coal mines in Chesterfield County, employing several hundred miners, and Michael Vaden provided medical services to them. 

Portrait of James Henry Cox from an online family tree 

Much of my information about Michael Vaden and his portrait comes from a memoir by Judge Cox’s daughter, Kate Virginia (Cox) Logan (1840-1915), My Confederate Girlhood, posthumously published in 1932. Here is the key passage:

This tree had figured in a picture when the portrait painter had come to paint the family. At the same time a unique portrait was made. The sitter was a protégé, who was much beloved by all. He had been a wild young man, addicted to hunting and sports in general, being especially skilled in the deer chase. Deer abounded then in that neighborhood. As this sportive youth ripened into manhood, he put aside these things and took up more serious thoughts. He even became a Methodist minister, combining with this sacred calling a smattering of medicine, for which he had a decided talent. He was a most efficient nurse, and had a hand of silk, which could  discern each beat of the pulse. He did not fancy strenuous work, so preaching and amateur doctoring suited him exactly. Father took great delight in directing these  tendencies of Uncle Mike. He loved his folk, and to have Uncle Mike pose in all his "characters" to the portrait painter pleased him much, even if it did cost a pretty penny. He designed the sketch in this wise: the handsome old man, who looked like an apostle, was placed in a big chair and the house was glimpsed in the distance. Under the locust tree was placed a candle stand, a small round table supported on a pedestal of wood, with three legs branching from it. On the table were placed a large Bible, some pill boxes and other medical properties. Against the tree, a fine deer gun rested, while in the distance could be seen a large stag. Lying at the old man's feet was his hunting hound, Dan. This picture was charming and for its originality alone it was worth possessing. I wanted it for myself, but father gave it to Uncle Mike's daughter, and this chef-d'oeuvre was lost to the family.

Clover Hill

            That daughter was, of course, Sarah Catherine Vaden, who married Josiah Thomas Showalter. This reference came to me via a cousin from an earlier generation, who met a grandson of James Henry Cox, Judge Edwin Piper Cox (1870-1938) and corresponded with him about the portrait in 1936. The second Judge Cox copied out the passage from the book, and added this commentary:

Thus wrote my Aunt, Mrs. Logan, about sixty years after the portrait was painted from her recollection. I can not give you the exact time when this was painted but from other portraits of the family, I have seen, it was in the early fifties. There are no portraits of my father, Captain H. W. Cox, and Uncle Edwin and at this time they were off at school, my father, H. W. Cox, at the Virginia Military Institute and my Uncle Edwin at the University of Virginia. The portraits of my Uncle Willie and Uncle John were painted about this date. The father referred to was Judge James H. Cox. The place is Clover Hill House at Winterpock, Chesterfield County. Clover Hill passed by my grandfather's will in 1877 to Uncle John H. Cox who died in 1893. His widow subsequently married P. H. Fowlkes and she with her children resided there, until her death in 1917 and in 1924 the place was sold to Mr. Chalkley who lives there now. Mr. Michael Vaden had charge of the hospital at the Clover Hill coal mines which were opened and developed by my grandfather. There were several hundred employees, so Mr. Vaden had no easy work. He was looked upon with great respect and admiration by the people generally, and was a true Virginia gentleman of whom anyone might be glad to claim descent. His last home was a place called "Tin Top" on the old Sapony road in Chesterfield.

Dust jacket of My Confederate Girlhood, by Kate Virginia (Cox) Logan

            Judge Cox’s guess about the date was surely correct, if his account of the portrait session is accurate, because his father, Henry Winston Cox, was in the class of 1855 at V.M.I. Nothing in the documents I have clearly indicates when the photographic copies were made. Copies of letters from another cousin, dated 1940, show that the Showalter family was then actively pursuing contacts with the Vaden family, many of whom still lived in Chesterfield  County. Probably the war intervened and disrupted the quest. Another pair of letters from 1989 mention Judge Cox’s letter, which was transcribed at that time, and various family photos were copied and sent to the Showalter cousins. Around 1989 seems the likeliest time for the portrait to have been photographed as well.
            Equipped with the foregoing information, I wrote to the National Portrait Gallery, and quickly received a suggestion for a possible artist. He turned out not to be the right one, but in looking for facts to confirm or disprove the attribution, I came across another painting, which seemed to me very similar.

Portrait of Peter Wilson Watkins, from the Tennessee Portrait Project website 

I was struck by the parallels in composition and pose, the use of a large old tree on the right, a pink and blue sky in the upper background, and a small symbolic scene in the lower left background. It is hard to see in the miniaturized image, but there is a plowman behind a horse in the Watkins portrait.
            The painter of the Watkins portrait was James Westhall Ford (c. 1806-c. 1868). A biographical note in a 1945 catalogue titled Portraiture in the Virginia Historical Society, prepared by Alexander Wilbourne Weddell describes Ford as “a baffling and elusive fellow” (p. 149). An example of his elusiveness may be the dates of his birth and death. A recent book, A Capital Collection: Virginia’s Artistic Inheritance, by Barbara C. Batson and Tacy L. Kamerer (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 2005) says he was born in Pennsylvania in 1806 and died in Philadelphia on 27 December 1868. A website of The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia gives 1866 as the year of his death. An earlier work, R. Lewis Wright’s Artists in Virginia Before 1900 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983) says “b. Philadelphia, 1805 / d. Philadelphia, 1866” (p. 56). The askart website gives his dates  as 1794 to 1866.
            I am in no position to resolve those uncertainties. Ford seems to have first become known when Thomas Jefferson invited him to Monticello to paint his sister Martha. The letter of invitation was dated 1 September 1823, and the painting was done by the end of the month. Jefferson’s recommendation led to further commissions. If Ford was born in 1806, he was no more than 17 years old at the time, an age that seems young to me, but not impossible.
            In any case, Ford is said to have “worked chiefly in Philadelphia”, but many of his best-known paintings were done in Virginia. According to Wright, he came to Richmond in 1829 at the time of the constitutional convention, and did a number of portraits of delegates. He made other trips to Richmond in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, and on one of them painted John Marshall in 1835. Besides the portrait of Martha Jefferson, probably his best-known works were three portraits of chief Black Hawk and other native Americans, painted in 1833. According to Weddell, he was listed in Richmond directories in 1850, 1852, and 1855. Weddell also quotes Ford’s advertisement in the Richmond Whig, 18 March and 23 May 1851: “painting members of the Convention; and has portraits of members of the old Convention” (p. 150) – that is, the two Virginia Constitutional Conventions of 1850-51 and 1829-30.
            James Westhall Ford certainly was in the right place at the right time to have painted the portrait of Michael Vaden, but it remained to find a strong link. I found it in the Papers of James Westhall Ford, Accession #6073, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va. From Clover Hill on 17 October 1854, James Henry Cox wrote a letter of recommendation for Ford, addressed to members of the agricultural club: “Mr. Ford proposes to sketch the heads of the club, for his own use. I trust each member will find it convenient to give him a sitting. You will find Mr. F. a faithful artist, and an agreable companion. Any kindness you may be able to show him will be acceptable to him and grateful to your humble servant.”
            Brief as it is, this letter establishes that James Henry Cox knew Ford, and was in a position to recommend him as a portrait painter. It also proves that Ford was in Chesterfield County, or close by, in October 1854, a date that conforms to Edwin Piper Cox’s recollection. I feel very confident, then, that the portrait of Michael Vaden was painted by James Westhall Ford in 1854, probably in September or October.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Portrait of General James Breckinridge

James Breckinridge, engraving from a drawing by Saint-Mémin, 1808

            James Breckinridge, as readers of this blog already know, was my four-great-grandfather. His grandfather, Alexander Breckinridge, immigrated from Ireland with his wife and seven children, one of whom was Robert Breckinridge, James’s father. They took an oath on 22 May 1740 to qualify for the right to obtain land, and settled in what is now Botetourt County, Virginia. Robert had several sons from two marriages; all the brothers except James moved west, notably to Kentucky, where they established a political dynasty.
            James was born 7 March 1763 near Fincastle, the seat of Botetourt County, where he maintained his residence at Grove Hill until his death 13 May 1833. In 1781, at the age of 18, he joined a regiment headed by his uncle, Colonel William Preston, and fought in the southern campaigns of the Revolutionary War under General Nathaniel Greene. He graduated from William and Mary College in 1785, then studied law, and began practicing in Fincastle. Even before that, on 13 June 1782, he was appointed deputy clerk of Botetourt County; he later became commonwealth’s attorney. He was first elected to the Virginia house of delegates in 1789 and served continuously until 1802, and was returned for shorter terms 1806-1808, 1819-1821 and 1823-1824. He served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1809 to 1817, as a member of the Federalist party. He was commissioned brigadier general of the Virginia militia on 1 February 1809 and served during the War of 1812 from 31 August 1812 to 30 November 1814. Between 1814 and 1816, he served on a commission to study Virginia’s rivers, and took a great interest in constructing canals along the Potomac and the James Rivers. In 1818 he was asked by Thomas Jefferson to help plan the University of Virginia, and held a seat on the university’s board of visitors from 1819 to 1833. In short, for his entire adult life he was involved in public service.

Grove Hill, painting by Edward Beyer, 1854 in the Botetourt County History Museum, Fincastle, Virginia 

            James Breckinridge married Ann Selden on 1 January 1791 in Richmond, Virginia. She was from a family of Tidewater plantation owners, who settled at Buckroe in Elizabeth City County (now part of Hampton City). Ann was born there around 1765 and died on 17 March 1843 at Grove Hill. They had ten children, of whom the second was Elizabeth Breckinridge, who married Edward Watts. James Breckinridge can be found in the census of Botetourt County in 1810, 1820, and 1830. The early census reports name only the heads of household, and enumerate others only by race, sex and in broad age groups. There were 12 white residents in 1810, 15 in 1820, and 5; in 1830; in the same years, there were 109, 95 and 126 slaves, figures that mark Grove Hill as one of the largest and wealthiest plantations of the region.

            The portrait of James Beckinridge was taken in 1808 in Richmond, Virginia, by the French artist Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852). He was a French nobleman, who like many young men of his class had been destined for a military career. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, his family had to flee for their lives, and he eventually made his way to New York in 1793. Penniless, he turned to a talent he had shown in his youth, drawing. He adopted a device called a physiognotrace (or physionotrace, the French spelling), which mechanically drew silhouettes. The artist then filled in the outline by crayon, and from the final drawing engraved a copper plate, from which multiple copies could be printed. The illustration at the left shows a self-portrait of Saint-Mémin on the dust jacket of the definitive study of his work, Ellen G. Miles, Saint-Mémin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America (National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994).
            The physiognotrace was invented by another Frenchman named Gilles-Louis Chrétien in 1783-84, to facilitate the making of silhouettes, which were at the time the principal inexpensive way to create a portrait. The outline image as a portrait form had existed from prehistory, but the word “silhouette” comes from the name of still another Frenchman, Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), who was the controller general of finances in France under Louis XV for a few unhappy months in 1759. He was given the unpopular task of trimming the budget during the Seven Years’ War, and his name came to signify “doing things cheaply”. It is said that Silhouette himself dabbled in shadow outline portraiture; in any case, the name stuck as a designation of such portraits.
A physiognotrace
For an interactive version of this image with an explanation of its operation, click here For an article with more illustrations and an explanation of different versions of the machine, click here
            Saint-Mémin never had any formal training in art, and had to teach himself how to engrave on copper plates. Moreover, because he needed to earn his living, he worked as fast as possible, and succeeded in reducing the time required to produce the portrait and engravings to three days. An essay accompanying an exhibit of his work at the National Portrait Gallery quotes an advertisement he placed in Philadelphia newspapers in 1801 and 1802:
 "The original portrait, plate and twelve impressions, shall be delivered for the moderate price of twenty five dollars for gentlemen, and thirty five dollars for ladies; the portrait without engraving may be had for 8 dollars."
 The essay observes that women’s clothing and hair required more work than men’s; hence the higher price. The artist often provided frames, which were gilded and included a glass decorated with black paint and gold leaf.
            Saint-Mémin stayed in America from 1793 until 1810, returned briefly to France, but came to America again from 1812 to 1814. He then moved permanently back to France, his family’s estate having been restored to him after the Restoration of the monarchy, and he lived out his days as director of the art museum in his native Dijon. While in America, he produced almost a thousand portraits, including likenesses of many of the most famous men of the era, including John Adams, DeWitt Clinton, William Henry Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, John Marshall, Charles Willson Peale, Paul Revere, Benjamin Rush, and George Washington. He kept copies of the engravings for himself, and produced several albums, the most complete of which are at the Corcoran Gallery, the Grolier Library, and the National Portrait Gallery.
            The portrait of James Breckinridge became part of the inheritance of the Watts family, descendants of Elizabeth (Breckinridge) Watts. In 1904, William J. Campbell, an expert on Saint-Mémin who was compiling a definitive catalogue of his portraits (which was never completed), wrote to my great-grandmother, Gertrude (Lee) Watts to ask about it. Although Campbell’s papers are now in the American Philosophical Society’s library in Philadelphia, they do not have Mrs. Watts’s reply to the inquiry.

 James Breckinridge 
As was typical, the profile in the drawing faces the opposite direction from the engraving.

            In this photo, the original portrait can be seen, with its original gilded frame and the painted glass mat. The glass was restored at an unknown date in the past, and the portrait as well as the frame had conservation work done in 1989. The portrait will become part of the collections of the newly refurbished History Museum of Western Virginia when it reopens in 2012.