Solving the Mystery of Prince

In a search for possible pastels by Prince (see previous post), we corresponded in 2008 with the Prints and Drawings Department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston but came up empty-handed.

Author J.L. Bell, in a recent blog noted that two unsigned portraits by the enslaved artist had been discovered by Paula M. Bagger at the Hingham (Massachusetts) Historical Society and a signed portrait at an antiques show by Amelia Peck, curator of Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.* Moreover, they were able to fill in some of Prince’s biography. His full name was Prince Demah Barnes, and was in his twenties when he lived with Christian Barnes. From October 1770 to July 1771, Prince went to England with Henry Barnes, and received some instruction from a “Mr. Pine” (possibly Robert Edge Pine). When he returned, Prince apparently made “five pictures from life . . . three of them as good likenesses as ever Mr. Copling took”. [9 March 1772]. Is it possible that two of the five pictures were those of Christian and Henry Barnes? Was one of Elizabeth Smith, who had returned to Boston mid-1771 and had married Ralph Inman on 26 September 1771? Perhaps Mrs. Barnes’s letter of 22 July 1773 to her friend gives a clue:

if you have an hour to spare at any time when you are in Boston you will allow Prince to make some alterations in the Coppy he has taken from your Picture [by Copley] which he says he cannot do but from the life and Please to give him any direction you think proper as to the Dress of the Head. . . .

Did Prince also make a copy of the Copley portrait of Ralph Inman, a pastel now at the Boston Athenaeum? Might he have done portraits of Henry Barnes’s brothers-in-law, Nathaniel Coffin and Thomas Goldthwaite?

What is certain is, that, in February 1773, Prince signed and dated the portrait of William Duguid a Boston merchant (shown).

Soon after, politics and escalating tensions terminated Christian Barnes’s enthusiastic support of her talented slave. In March 1776, Christian and Henry Barnes and their daughter Chrisy sailed for Bristol, England, never to return. Chrisy died of consumption in 1782.

The Barnes house in Marlborough was at first occupied by General Henry Knox. Barnes’s niece, Catharine Goldthwait, who had tried to salvage the estate by petitioning the Court in December 1775, wrote Mrs. Barnes:

All your furniture removed over to the shop chamber, except the family pictures, which still hang in the Blue Room, & the Harpsichord that stands in the passage way, to be abused by the children and servants in passing through. Mr. Knox found it inconvenient to be moving furniture, so has taken nothing but the Linnen, which at this juncture is by far the most valuable part. **

How ironic that Knox, whose own in-laws were loyalists, should be occupying a loyalist house!

It is likely that Daphney remained in the area; she and Mrs. Barnes did communicate from time to time. In April, 1777, Prince, now free, enlisted in the Massachusetts militia. Taken ill, he made his will, which he signed “Prince Demah, limner,” and died in March 1778. ***

On 28 February 1784, Mrs. Barnes wrote Elizabeth “Betsy” Murray, a niece of her friend Elizabeth Smith Inman:

I shall inclose a line to Daphney to desire she would send my Chrisys Picture drawn by her Son, and must beg the favor of you to take charge of it, if Mrs. Forbes [Dorothy Murray Forbes] has parted with her Portrate, she will find upon her arrival the exact resemblance of it, hanging in my Parler dress’d in her white Satten Coat.

Spurred on by Peck’s and Bagger’s discoveries, let’s hope that some of the works by Prince Demah (Barnes) described in the letters cited here will be found.

* “Portraitist and slave in colonial Boston,” in The Magazine Antiques, Jan/Feb. 2015, pp 154-59.
** Nina Moore Tiffany, ed. Letters of James Murray, Loyalist (Boston: Gregg Press, 1972), p. 251.
*** The Magazine Antiques, p. 158.
The quotations from Mrs Barnes are from the Papers of Mrs. Christian Barnes, Library of Congress, DM16.157. The portrait of William Duguid by Prince Demah can be found on the Hingham Heritage Museum website HERE. It is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Midwife’s Tale

The Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was published in 1990 and won a Pultizer Prize. A splendid work, the result of years of painstaking research, it presents ten long transcribed passages from the “raw” diary entries of midwife Martha Ballard, one per chapter, each with an interpretive essay. The essays help flesh out the character of Ballard and give readers insight into the society and culture in which she lived and worked. Explaining her approach Ulrich writes: “Juxtaposing the raw diary and the interpretive essay … I have hoped to remind readers of the complexity and subjectivity of historical reconstruction, to give them some sense of both the affinity and the distance between history and source.” Wise words.

In researching materials for In the Words of Women my colleagues and I considered including some of Martha Ballard diary entries, but it seemed presumptuous of us given Ulrich’s extraordinary effort and the availability of her book. Besides, the raw entries tend to be short, repetitive, and “submerged” in what Ulrich called “the dense dailiness” of life. Here is an example dated August 16 1787.

At Mr Cowens. Put Mrs Claton to Bed with a son at 3pm. Came to Mr Kenadays to see his wife who has a sweling under her arm, Polly is mending. I returned as far as Mr. Pollards by water. Calld from there to Winthrop to Jeremy Richards wife in Travil [labor]. Arived about 9 o Clok Evin.

As you can see considerable space would have to be allotted to explain who the people were as well as the context, and we could not afford that luxury.

The reason that prompted this post is that I finally viewed the television documentary “A Midwife’s Tale” (1997), one in the PBS series the American Experience. Brilliantly done, it tells Ballad’s story through reenacted scenes, readings from her diary, and participation and commentary by Ulrich. In addition to acquainting viewers with Martha Ballard it demonstrates how a historian works, and how challenging and complex that work is. It is available from Netflix.

Ulrich’s book can be purchased from Amazon.

posted January 28th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Daily life,Health,Primary sources,Reading old documents,Research

Remembering Gerda Lerner

it is right and proper that the authors of In the Words of Women acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Gerda Lerner, historian, author, teacher, and activist, who died on January 2 at the age of 92. When Lerner graduated with a doctorate in history from Columbia University in the 1960s, she remarked that the number of historians interested in women’s history “could have fit into a telephone booth.” Not only were women historians few in number, Lerner noted, historians in general had, for the most part, ignored the study of women in history. In an interview she recalled that “in my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.” Lerner spent her life trying to remedy that disparity. She taught what is considered to be the first women’s history course at the New School for Social Research in New York City in 1963. She established a women’s studies program as well as the first master’s degree program in that area at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. At the University of Wisconsin she developed the first Ph.D. program in women’s history in the United States. She had a major role in persuading the academic community to acknowledge women’s history as a bona fide area of study and encouraged students and fledgling historians to focus on women in history by gathering and publishing anthologies of primary source materials. It is not an exaggeration to say that but for Lerner’s influence, it is unlikely that In the Words of Women would have seen the light of day.

posted January 3rd, 2013 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Primary sources,Research

Research—exciting … and sometimes surprising!

Fatti maschi, parole femine, a seventeenth-century Italian saying translated as “masculine deeds, feminine words” may be considered the motto that binds our book together. To find these “feminine words,” we delved into the archives of many historical societies, libraries, and museum collections, often traveling many miles to do so.

The expansion and usefulness of the Internet as a research tool cannot be underestimated, for it helped us locate materials we might not have found without it. The Internet does have to be used with caution, however, so we checked and double-checked all of our materials. Whenever possible, we tried to track down the original documents for comparison with any published texts. Microfilms and digitized images of documents were invaluable when we could not get to far-away depositories.

But what a thrill it is to hold in one’s hand an eighteenth-century letter, let’s say by Sarah Livingston Jay at the Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library—to delight in her neat handwriting, to see the trace of the sealing wax, to read her husband’s annotation at the edge as to when he received the letter. The real thing has an immediacy that is lost when viewed as a digitized page or as a transcription in printed form.

We did, of course, have to resort to secondary sources, especially when dealing with copyrighted materials. For example, we wished to use a letter of 31 January 1776 written by Martha Washington to her sister. It had been published in Joseph E. Field’s Worthy Partner: The Papers of Martha Washington [1994], which stated that the letter was in the Washington Headquarters Library, Morristown, New Jersey. Upon inquiring whether we might come to have a look at the original, we were told the site did not have the letter. Conferring with history experts and other libraries, we found a nineteenth-century publication containing the letter (out of copyright) and used it in our book instead.

Cambridge January the 31, 1776My dear Sister
I have wrote to you several times, in hopes it would put you in mind of me, but I find it has not had its intended affect. I am really very uneasy at not hearing from you and have made all the excuses for you that I can think of but it will not doe much longer. If I doe not get a letter by this nights post I shall think myself quite forgot by all my Freinds. The distance is long yet the post comes in regularly every week. …

* Note the (what we think of as) misspellings; “Freinds” meant family in 1776, but Martha’s feelings of anxiety in not receiving news from home is very contemporary.

Imagine our surprise—and delight—when some weeks ago, we received an e-mail from the Washington Headquarters Library stating that, while looking for something else, the staff, opening an unmarked box, had found the sought-after letter, and in good condition too!

That’s what makes research exciting: those unexpected surprises!
Posted by Louise V. North.

The excerpt is from In the Words of Women, page 41.

posted March 19th, 2012 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Research

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