Smith, Elizabeth Murray Campbell

Prince: “[a] force of natural Genius”

Guest blogger, art historian, and an editor of In the Words of Women, Louise North writes about the black artist named Prince in this post and the one following.

It is always a delight when new details or insights are discovered about the women we cared about deeply and presented in our book In the Words of Women, but especially if our past researches had come to a dead end.

We wrote of loyalist Christian Arbuthnot Barnes and her outrage and fear as dissensions increased between her family and her neighbors in the late 1760s. Thanks to letters she wrote to her best friend Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, a successful Boston business woman (who was visiting England at the time), we learn how her husband Henry had been labeled an enemy to his country [Dec. 1769] and, six months later, how his effigy had been placed on a horse, which was let “loose about the Town, with an infamous Paper Pin’d to the Breast, which was sum’d up with wishing of us all in Hell.” Henry had been a merchant and dry goods importer in Marlborough, Massachusetts since 1753, had served as a magistrate, and was one of the largest taxpayers in the town. He also owned several slaves, among them Juliet and Daphney.

Amidst all the turmoil, there was a welcome distraction: Mrs. Barnes discovered that Daphney’s son Prince showed great artistic talent and, as she wrote Mrs. Smith, he was painting her picture. He also “has taken a Coppy of my Brothers extremely well” [20 Nov. 1769]—this probably refers to a brother in law. By 13 March 1770, Prince was

fix’d in one corner of the room improving himself in the Art of Painting . . . . were I only to descant on the Qualifications of my Limner it would be a Subject for several Sheets. He is a most surprising instance of the force of natural Genius for without the least instruction or improvment he has taken several Faces which are thought to be very well done, he has taken a Coppy of my Picture which I think has more of my resemblance than Coplings [John S. Copley]. He is now taking his own face which I will certainly send you as it must be valued as a curiosity by any Friend you shall please to bestow it upon. We are at great loss for proper materials, at Present he has workd only with Crayons [pastels] and them very bad ones and we are so ignorant as not to know what they are to be laid on. He has hetherto used Blue Paper but I think something better may be found out. If you should meet in your Travils with any one who is a Proficient in the art I wish you would make some inquerys into these perticulas for people in general think Mr. Copling will not be willing to give him any instruction and you know there is nobody else in Boston that does any thing at the Business . . . intend to Exhibit him to the Publick and don’t doubt he will do Honour to the profession.

You Laugh now and think this is one of Mr. Barnes Scheems, but you are quite mistaken it is intirely my own, and as it is the only one I ever ingag’d in I shall be greatly disapointed if it does not succeed. . . . as he was Born in our family he is of Tory Principles, but of that I am not quite so certain as he had not yet declar’d himself.

Mrs. Barnes sent the pastel copy of herself to Mrs. Smith. More about Prince in the next post.

The quoted passage can be found on page 215 of In the Words of Women. All other quotations from Mrs Barnes are from the Papers of Mrs. Christian Barnes, Library of Congress, DM16.157. The portrait of Christian Barnes is by Prince and can be found on the Hingham Heritage Museum website HERE.

“an usefull member of society”

The eighteenth century businesswoman Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, while on a visit to London, wrote to her brother John on February 26, 1770, expressing the opinion that his daughter was ready to work in a shop and learn how to run a business. She recommended that her niece go to New York to gain experience there rather than stay in London. She arranged introductions to women shopkeepers who could be of assistance to Polly and even provided her with a supply of goods to take with her.

Polly has been at Boarding school since she was ten years old, she has now finished her education & is a very capable girl understands writing & arithmitc very well, I advise to her going with Jacky [Polly’s brother] & carrieing a venture of two hundred pounds worth of goods selling them to Mr Clark, Miss Cummings, or any body that will let her have the money for them in three or six months. Return it & have it in goods again untill she is aquainted with the place & people. She might Board with Miss Cummings where she might gain experiance by attending to thier selling things & with a very little of your asistance she might keep thier books as to making up things she can do that very well, therefore I think her time & fifty or a hundred pound woud be intirely thrown away by staying a year or six months with a millener in London Mr Bridgen [a London shopkeeper] I have wrote to, He says shopkeeping in London & Boston are so diffrent that she wou’d have it all to learn over again, the most he says that is required is an exactness in arithmitic an acquaintance with the people & the money, which he thinks cannot be learnt in London I should not be anxious about her going into business so early if she was not so forward in her education if she stays here any longer she must enter the gay scenes of life & become a fine Lady, in my opinion that will enervet her so much that business will every be irksome to her. . . . usefull members of sosiety are certainly preferable to all the delicate creatures of the age. . . . Please give my love & compliments where due
I am Dr Sir yours most sincerly Eliz: Smith

In the following letter (April 1770) to her Boston friend Mrs. Deblois, Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith alerts her to Polly’s arrival. She expresses her belief that the education of young women should be practical, equipping them with the skills to run a business and aspire to independence.

[T]he friendship and civility I have met with in Boston gives me reason to hope thes very young adventurers [Jacky and Polly] will be kindly received. You & I have often talk’d on the education of youth I am acting now according to my own opinion. it is to give a young Lady an usefull education so soon as she has finished that to put her upon some scheme to improve her mind time & fortune I prefer an usefull member of society to all the fine delicate creatures of the age. I shall be much obliged to you if you’ll take a little notice of her I have told her when she is at a loss how to act to apply to you & Mr. Deblois young folks are apt to be self sufficient I beg what ever you hear or see amiss in her you will corect as you think proper. . . .

When Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith moved back to Boston she mentored other young women who sought to go into business. She even boarded them and helped them set up shop.

The first letter appears on The Elizabeth Murray Project website.The portrait (on the same site) is by John Singleton Copley, 1769, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The excerpt from the second letter is also from the Murray Project.

posted September 2nd, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Employment,Smith, Elizabeth Murray Campbell

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