Saturday, January 30, 2010

Update on Lily, me at about the same age... (descendants)

A 'double date' last week. The photo is taken in Capitola (town next to Santa Cruz).
The occasion was a dance at the highschool in Aptos.

I just received this card a couple of days ago. :-))

Me at about the same age.
I have to admire what the young girls wear these days.

Early 70ies. wow.

In the red jacket is my friend Jamie, his parents and my parents were friends in Japan. Only my mom is still alive. Jamie is a retired geologist, we don't have much contact, although we saw each other at a Canadian Academy (this school is in Kobe, Japan) reunion held near Salt Lake City a few years ago.

The other fellow (I thought quite cute at the time) was a friend of Jamie's. If I had ever worn a dress akin to Lily's (in the photo at the top of the post), methinks my peers would have thought I went bonkers!
Line of descendants from Phebe Meeker to Lily
Lily<--Beth<--Carolyn Cory Ahrens<--Benjamin Hyde Cory<--Carrie Martin Cory<--Thomas Mulford Martin<--Mary Brookfield Martin<--Phebe Meeker Brookfield (twin sister of Samuel Meeker, the sitter.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Captain Samuel Meeker, father of the sitter (con.)

Captain Samuel Meeker (c.1738/9-c.1800+)
4 children with wife Mary Clark---> Mary (1761) never married, William (1762-1831) m. Sarah Hays, Samuel (1763-1831) and Phebe (1763-1814), the twins.

A prominent citizen of the West Fields, Captain Samuel Meeker, father of the sitter Samuel Meeker in the Stuart portrait, was a timber trader and cabinetmaker; the family resided at Short Hills on the edge of Springfield, NJ. Captain Samuel was married in the Westfield Presbyterian Church on December 14th, 1760 to Mary Clark. At least one of his sons, William was baptized in the Westfield Presbyterian Church in 1762.

Despite the recent ravages of the American Revolutionary War, that Captain Samuel Meeker was well-to-do is indicated by the rateables of 1779 which describe him as “owning one hundred and thirty–six acres, three horses, seven head of cattle, and a riding chair.” In addition, Samuel’s son William (1762-1831), was shown to own (by the rateables in the years 1778 and1780), 140 acres and one-third of a sawmill in the Mendham Township. It seems likely that Captain Samuel had bought timber land in that area which was just opening up as well as a third interest in the sawmill, under William’s name. William may have been sent there to look after the family interest, but was back in Springfield in June of 1780, taking part in the Battle of Springfield. On March 31, 1782 he married Sarah Hays of Westfield in the Westfield Presbyterian Church.

Captain Meeker also served in the Revolutionary War as a first lieutenant and as vice-captain in the Essex County Troop of Light Horse. When the British retreated in the Battle of Springfield in 1780, burning and looting, Samuel’s house also went up in flames.

The “New York Gazette” on July 5, 1779, reported: "Last Tuesday night a detachment from his Majesty's 37th Regiment with a party of Col. Barton's and some refugees, went over from Staten-Island to a place called Woodbridge Raway, where they surprised a party of rebels in a tavern, killed their commanding officer Captain Skinner of a Troop of Light Horse, and another man and took the following prisoners, viz: Capt. Samuel Meeker...” …… “but by the timely exertions of a few militia, who collected immediately, they were released...”

Slavery had obtained legal sanction in New Jersey under the proprietary regimes of Berkeley and Carteret (c. 1665.) Captain Meeker and Thomas Jefferson had something in common

from 221. The Pennsylvania Journal, and the Weekly Advertiser (Philadelphia), #1066,
May 12, 1763 ---"Run away from Samuel Meeker, a Negro Man, Sampson, about 6 feet 4 inches, aged 24 Years, speaks good English: Had on when he went away two dark colour’d homespun Jackets, Leather Breeches, brown Stockings. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro so that his Master may have him again, shall receive Twenty Shillings Reward and all reasonable charges paid by Samuel Meeker."
"Pretends to be free": runaway slave advertisements from colonial and revolutionary New York and New Jersey By Graham Russell Hodges, Alan Edward Brown 1994

"Quite a number of slaves were held in this community [Westfield]. It was the custom, and few questioned the right for years .... Slaves were kept in many of the best Westfield families. They were well treated and happy. Many of them became members of the Presbyterian church. In the old session book of the Presbyterian church of Westfield the pastor, Benjamin Woodruff, writes as follows: “August 12 1759. Baptized my negro child......... and “November 8, 1778. Baptized a negro woman belonging to Samuel Meeker, N. Dorcas.”
History of Union County, New Jersey, Volumes 1-2 By Frederick William Ricord East Jersey History Co. Newark, NJ 1897 p.523

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Horses, Taxes, & Captain Samuel Meeker

Goethe zu Pferde
(Goethe astride his horse)
taken from “Frauen der Goethezeit in ihren Briefen"; Verlag der Nation Berlin 1966

The last post was about the possible misidentification of (the Stuart portrait of) John Ricketts as the Circus Rider; but what I would like to highlight here is the fact that before Ricketts actually opened his circus in the way we understand a ‘circus’ to be today, it was an eqestrian show. People were interested in horsemanship at the time, and at least initially, Ricketts gave riding and dressage lessons in the morning to the high society of Philadelphia.

Not only did the military depend on good horsemanship, but also at this time horses were part of daily life and riding skills were highly prized and admired.

Samuel Meeker came to Philadelphia from a well known & well-to-do family in the Westfields of New Jersey, and it can be certain he grew up with horses, and later activities provide the evidence that he was an excellent and energetic rider himself. Looking back at his family history, tax tables show that Samuel’s father, also named Samuel (he can be differentiated by the ‘Captain’ before his name, as he had been actively involved in the local militia) was relatively wealthy. Ownership of horses was reason for taxes to be levied.

Taxation from the Rateables in the Township of Elizabeth of Westfield Ward in County of Essex in the State of New Jersey show the residents "...shall be assessed, levied and raised on the several inhabitants of this state, their lands, and tenements, goods and chattles..."

Ownership of horses was noted more than once in these tax tables (I also show other items of interest which are assessed).

1. Acres of Land
2. Value of Land (in pounds)
3. Horses
4. Horned Cattle
5. Hogs
15. Single men w/ horse ("every single man, whether he lives with his parents or otherwise, who keeps a horse...")
16. Single men ("Every single man, whether he lives with his parents or otherwise,who does not keep a horse...")
17. Slaves
18. Servants
19. R Chairs, kittereens & Sulkies (R Chair - Riding Chair; kittereen - "A two wheeled one-horse carriage with a moveable top" [Webster's Unabridged])

The Tables from 1779 describe Captain Samuel Meeker as “owning one hundred and thirty–six acres, three horses, seven head of cattle, and a riding chair.” Capt. Samuel’s first son William (1762-1831), was shown to own (by the rateables in the years 1778 and 1780), 140 acres and one-third of a sawmill in the Mendham Township NJ.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A thoroughly DAZZLING art-historical mystery; was The Circus Rider John Bill Ricketts or Jean Baptist Breschard? Read on, if interested!

My last two posts have described the painting by Stuart named The Circus Rider, and current art historians are (at least officially) unanimous that the sitter is no other than John Ricketts. Yet, in an indeed surprising development, Peter Breschard objects to this designation with much indignation, and in fact his evidence that the circus rider is NOT Ricketts, if not incontrovertibly solid as of yet, is just as COMPELLING, to my mind. Keep in mind that Mason (1894), identified the portrait as "Breschard, the circus-rider".

Adding to this high level of confusion are two inscriptions on the painting, generally agreed to have been added at a later date: (lower left) "Portrait of / Mr. Rickarts / Horse Eqestraine / Friend of the Artist / Gilbert Stuart" & (lower right) "Portrait of Rickarts / Horse Eqestrian / An Intimate Friend of / Gilbert Stuart." These interpretations are taken from "American Paintings of the 18 century" by Ellen G. Miles, National Gallery of Art, Washington. However, perhaps, these inscriptions themselves can be subject to another interpretation? In fact consider the French name Breschard: with a French hard pronunciation of the first letter B as P, and the last letter d as t, the name Breschard is pronounced and could be spelled as Preschart, and Lo and Behold to my mind, that left inscription looks incredibly like "Preschart", and NOT "Rickarts". The second insription to my eye also looks as if the name of the sitter begins with a "B" and ends with one t. Lawrence Park shows the spelling to be "Portrait of / Mr. Rechart /..." Which of course also sounds like the French pronunciation of Breschard. Mason, as well as Park, listing the sitter to be Breschard?

The story in short; John Bill Ricketts in his brief flash of fortune in America (he was from England) lasting less than 10 years, achieved fame and fortune by his magical ability to peform fantastical acts of daring on his well trained horses - using outlandish tricks, and later featuring other circus performers such as tightrope walkers and clowns. "Long before circuses took on the odor of a crude and common entertainment, Ricketts ... had an air of snob appeal; embraced by all classes, his circus became an especially prestigious venue for the right people to be seen at. After all, Washington, an unabashed fan, attended from time to time through his tenure in office. And the President and Ricketts regularly accompanied each other on rides through the city out into the countryside. Ricketts became such a prominent celebrity that Gilbert Stuart, Washington's portraitist, painted Ricketts, too. Washington even allowed Ricketts to put Jack - the famed white steed he rode through the American Revolution - on display in the amphitheater. Hence, a certain patriotic panache and status boost came with every seat. ......In 1797, Ricketts marked Washington's retirement with a special performance, and later that year, he performed for his friend's presidential successor, John Adams."

Thus Ricketts meets that special quality which characterizes the majority of Stuart's sitters, a man of action and accomplishment who hobnobbed with the right people, those in the elite and elegant, well-funded social circles. He was in the right place (Philadelphia), and the right time period to cross paths with Stuart. He was multi-talented; besides performing, he built his own circus structures. Just the type of man who might appeal to our artist, who knew so much about everything. And more compelling, the most powerful evidence: The Provenance lists the brother of John Ricketts, Francis Ricketts, as being the first owner (Brown 1861, 320.) The following has been speculated by Ellen Miles: "Stuart undoubtedly painted Ricketts' portrait in Philadelphia, where the circus was based. The portrait remained there, unfinished, after Ricketts left for the West Indies." ("American Paintings of the 18 century" p 210). Is it possible that Stuart didn't complete the portrait, and so whimsically painted the horses' head created from the background, due less to anger than nostalgia that a good friend was gone? Did the portrait remain unfinished because the talented John Ricketts incurred catastrophic financial loss when his circus rotunda building burned to the ground in 1799? His brother was last recorded in the United States in 1810, when he was with the Boston Circus ("American Paintings of the 18 century" p 210), and thus the portrait would have passed to him when John met his death on the oceans in 1803.

But, is it possible the painting was done at a later time, that it was stopped out of frustration with the sitter (Breschard), and that by this time Stuart had become increasingly more willful and temperamental with his sitters corresponding to the extent of his fame? “...the artist, becoming angry at the equestrian, who gave him a good deal of trouble by his want of promptitude and the delays which occurred, is said to have dashed his paintbrush into the face of the portrait, declaring that he would have nothing more to do with him.” J. Thomas Scharf and T. Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 (Philadelphia: L.H.Everts and Co. 1884), Vol II, p 1044

The Circus of Pépin and Breschard

Pépin and Breschard were the premiere performers in the U.S. from 1808 until 1815. At left is a playbill for this circus. Our Jean Breschard clearly is a prominent performer, if not the owner alongside Mr. Pepin.

In the Provenance for the Circus Rider shown above, a Peter Grain is listed as the next owner after Francis Ricketts, "Purchased at auction around 1853 by Peter Grain." Peter Grain was an artist, known for his "panorama paintings, landscapes, portraits, theatrical designs, as well as also being a playwright and architect; he was the author of at least one stage play. His family was involved in theatrical design in New York, Philadelphia and other major American cities for at least two generations."

"American Paintings of the 18 century", in 'Notes' on Peter Grain..."A painter, was born in France around 1786... and came to the US sometime before 1815. After living in various American cities, including New York and Charleston, he settled in Philadelphia around 1850 with his family..."
The playbill above shows that Grain could have crossed paths with Breschard in "Charlestown".

In the playbill below, found and kindly provided to me by Peter Breschard, is incontrovertible evidence that in fact Peter Grain knew Breschard in c 1809! Grain was an actor in the play "Billy" performed on this summer eve. Is it not likely that Peter Grain was the one who identified, or at a minimum WOULD BE ABLE TO IDENTIFY the sitter as Jean Breschard, as he knew and even worked with this circus artist? Thus we have reasonable, logical evidence as to HOW the portrait was identified as Breschard. On the basis of this knowledge,...which possibly may not be known by the (current) experts?... might a new look at the identifcation of THE CIRCUS RIDER be in order? Afterall, Someone identified the portrait, because there are the inscriptions, which to my eye look like a French pronunciation of Breschard. How solid, in fact, IS the Brown attribution that Francis Ricketts was the first owner? How credible is this source? Is he known for accuracy? (Thomas Allston Brown, "A Complete History of the Amphitheatre and Circus, from its earliest date, with sketches of some of the principal performers," New York Clipper 8 (19 January 1861).

For more information on Peter Breschard, who has used original sources in his in-depth investigation on the identification of the sitter in this portrait, he can be found at He plans on writing a book on this topic and hopes to interest a publisher. He would enjoy any input on the subject!

And thus, I have exhausted all effort here, and leave it to the experts & other researchers to thrash this out, and perhaps take a second look at this re-identification from Breschard to Ricketts.
And in the meantime I have the following suggestion. Perhaps there are more descendents out there, from both the Ricketts and Breschard families. In my own case, I was suddenly astonished to notice that there were remarkable similarities between Meeker and some members of my family; below is an example and more will follow. Check the nose! the chin! can you look at younger pictures of your ancestors and find remarkable/notable similarites to the portrait of Ricketts/Breschard? Send them to me! Lets fly with this mystery, and not be stuck with one mind-set.....

Never forget Stuart's ability to nail an almost photographic image to the canvas.................

Below Benjamin Hyde Cory (1896-1983) my grandfather, gg-grandson of Phebe Meeker (twin sister of Samuel Meeker.)

the dimple in the bottom lip... the slightly upraised peak of the right side of the upper lip...rounded chin

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

John Bill Ricketts or Jean Breschard? Has John Bill Ricketts had his 15 years ... of fame by being associated with a Stuart portrait?

There clearly exists some question as to the identity of this particular John, or Jean, as the case may be. John Bill Ricketts? or Jean Baptist Breschard? also a circus owner and equestrian performer, in the Circus of Pepin and Breschard....

This information has been provided to me; "Peter Grain, cited in the “Circus Rider” NGA provenance as owning the painting in the mid-1800s, and as selling the portrait to George W. Riggs, was a member of the Circus of Pépin and Breschard, and would have been capable of identifying the sitter in Stuart’s portrait as Breschard."

and this information has been provided:"....but I had done the provenance research and discussion of the inscriptions, and especially cited an important 1861 source that listed Ricketts' brother Francis as the first owner of the painting. Once you have read that entry, which I think explains more about the inscriptions and the provenance of the painting and thus the ID.... Ellen Miles"

So sooner hopefully rather than later I will read up on the inscriptions (found on the bottom of portrait), and check out the 1861 source. But one must question why Mason, in 1894, listed the painting as "Breschard, the Circus-Rider". And Park claims the inscription on the portrait says "Portrait of Mr. Rechart..." and one could think that the R could actually be a "B", and is the French pronunciation of Breschard.

So.... and, well, Ricketts would have had to have his portrait done by Stuart in the mid to later 1790s (before 1799 when his circus burned to the ground) right about when Stuart would have been obsessively busy with the portraits of George Washington... Ricketts would have been more well known (in this day and age), since Washington sold him his white horse Jack, nice story!

So the Jury is still out...I will work on this, for a misidentification Should be Corrected, should it not? If there is a Peter Grain in the provenance, then I would think that this portrait is not of Ricketts, but is of Jean Breschard. But was Ricketts' brother the first owner of the painting?

I have accidentally fallen into a BOILERPLATE MYSTERY!


Friday, January 1, 2010

The random monthly pick: Mr. John Bill Ricketts, equestrian extraordinaire and favorite of George Washington

Mr. Ricketts lately from London respectfully acquaints the public that he has erected at considerable expense a circus, situated at the corner of Market and Twelfth Streets where he proposes instructing Ladies and Gentlemen in the elegant accomplishments of riding. -The Circus will be opened on Thursday Next, the 25th October 1792. (Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 23 October 1792)

Sensing opportunity in the young American Republic, John Bill Ricketts left England and opened first an equestrian academy, later turning it into a circus shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1792. By spring 1793 he had trained enough horses to promote the kind of equestrian entertainment he had headlined in London, and for the first month performed alone in the ring “to the delight of the city's amusement-hungry crowds, which included, on April 24, the nation's most distinguished horseman, President George Washington.”

John Bill Ricketts by Gilbert Stuart ca 1795-99
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Noyes in memory of Elisha Riggs. 1942.14.1

This unfinished portrait is of John Bill Ricketts, magical equestrian who rode his talent and riding ability into fame and fortune in the young American Republic, if only for a short period of time. In a spectacular fire in 1799 his circus burned to the ground, he set sail for the West Indies in search of new adventure, was captured by pirates, escaped, regained some of his lost fortune, but upon sailing back to England about 1803, perished forever during the crossing of the seas.

The Stuart portrait was not completed as “...the artist, becoming angry at the equestrian, who gave him a good deal of trouble by his want of promptitude and the delays which occurred, is said to have dashed his paintbrush into the face of the portrait, declaring that he would have nothing more to do with him.” J. Thomas Scharf and T. Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 (Philadelphia: L.H.Everts and Co. 1884), Vol II, p 1044

Only the head of Ricketts was completed, but to at least provide some innovation to the picture, Gibby, with a few strokes of the brush, added a few details of a horse’s head to the dark background.

Credit: Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Etching of Mr. Bill Ricketts, "the Equestrian Hero," circa 1796.

“A trained horse, named for the old Seneca chief, “Cornplanter,” which would jump over another horse 14 hands (56 inches) high, was also introduced, and several pantomines were brought out successfully. Among Mr. Ricketts’ various feats at this time were his throwing a somersault over 30 men’s heads and over five horses with their mounted riders; her would also ride two horses at full gallop and leap over a garter or ribbon 12 feet high, or ride the same horses, each foot on a quart-mug standing loose on the saddles, and at times would mount on the shoulders of two riders, each standing on a separate horse, “forming a Pyramid 15 feet hight,” a feat never before attempted by any equestrian. Young Ricketts, emulating his father, would leap over a spiked bar or ride around the ring, his head balanced on a pint-mug resting on the saddle; he would also dismount blind-folded, pick up a watch and remount...”
The circus; its origin and growth prior to 1835, Copyright 1909 by Isaac J. Greenwood New York. pps 86-7

and finally, to mark the end of 2009... ein Goethe-Gedicht zum Jahreswechsel:
Das neue Jahr sieht mich freundlich an,
und ich lasse das alte mit seinem Sonnenschein und Wolken
ruhig hinter mir.
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