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Henry Newcomb and Mary Stiles Newcomb

 

Mary Newcomb portrait

 

 

MARY MACCARTY STILES (1807-1872), c. 1825
Eliza Goodridge (1798-1882)
watercolor on ivory
3 1/16 x 2 1/2 (7.7788 x 5.0800)
Bequest of Dwight Foster Dunn, 1937
Weis #89
Hewes #111

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MARY MACCARTY STILES (1807-72),
c. 1837
Eliza Goodridge (1798-1882)
watercolor on ivory
3 1/2 x 2 11/16 (8.8900 x 6.8262)
Bequest of Harriet E. Clarke, 1944
Weis #87
Hewes #112

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Mary Newcomb portrait

 

Mary Newcomb portrait

 

MARY STILES NEWCOMB (1807-72),
c. 1840
Eliza Goodridge (1798-1882)
watercolor on ivory
Mary Stiles Newcomb: 3 13/16 x 2 7/8 (9.6837 x 7.3025)
Bequest of Dwight Foster Dunn, 1937
Weis # 88
Hewes #89

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HENRY KNOX NEWCOMB (1796-1868), c. 1840
Eliza Goodridge (1798-1882)
watercolor on ivory
Henry Knox Newcomb: 3 3/4 x 2 7/8 (9.5250 x 7.3025)
Bequest of Dwight Foster Dunn, 1937
Weis #86
Hewes #88

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Henry Newcomb portrait

 

The American Antiquarian Society owns three miniature portraits of Mary Maccarty Stiles Newcomb, one part of a pair that includes her husband. The artist Eliza Goodridge of Templeton, Massachusetts, a neighbor and childhood friend, also painted portraits of her parents John and Mary Stiles (cats. #107, 108), and her older sister, Lydia, and family. Children's books given to Mary by her father and inscribed with her name, including Virtue and Vice, Or the History of Charles Careful and Harry Heedless (1787) and A New Version of the Psalms of David (1762), that are part of the American Antiquarian Society's imprint collection give a glimpse of her childhood.

Mary Maccarty Stiles lived with her parents in Templeton until her marriage in 1837 and corresponded often with her older sister Lydia around whom much of her social life revolved both before and after her marriage. The miniature of Mary Maccarty Stiles (cat. #111, painted when she was around seventeen years of age, was probably intended to accompany a similar portrait of Lydia (cat. #109). The sisters may have exchanged the miniatures when Lydia was sent to school in New Hampshire in 1820, or their parents may have commissioned the portraits after Lydia completed her formal education around 1825.

Lydia worried about her sister's unmarried state and the stresses she endured while caring for their aging parents. In a letter to her husband, Lydia wrote: 'I hired a sleigh and invited sister Mary to go with me in the morning.... She was afraid to go in the afternoon lest she should displease Father, and indeed I felt almost frightened that I had been instrumental in having her go at all, lest more evil than good should come of it; as Father is unwilling she should go out of the house.... I feel sometimes really griev'd for Mary and I am sure that she will not be happy until some change takes place.'(1) This change occurred in 1836 with the death of their father, after which the daughters inherited considerable property.(2)

Lydia Stiles Foster may have commissioned the second portrait of Mary Maccarty Stiles (cat. #112) just before her November 1837 marriage to Henry Knox Newcomb (cat. #88). Possibly the miniature was intended as a parting gift. Lydia wrote to her newly married sister shortly after the wedding, 'I have hardly recovered from the excitement of the few weeks previous to your leaving us.... I cannot yet realize that you are not where a short walk would enable me to see you, believe me that my affection for you is strong as it should be towards an only sister and your absence is deeply felt by us all.'(3)

The astonishing detail of the background of the Mary Maccarty Stiles miniature, with the patterned carpet, painted chairs, and architectural elements, is unusual for the era and reflects Goodridge's interest in interiors. The lamp on the table is repeated in a second similar miniature of Mary which was painted after her marriage and was intended as a pendant for a miniature of her new husband (cat. #89).

Henry Knox Newcomb was a merchant and land speculator who first moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1822. In the 1830s he established an importing business in Key West, Florida, and spent several years travelling between the two cities. In the late 1840s he disposed of his southern interests and settled permanently in Worcester, where he worked as an accountant at the Worcester Bank, served as an officer at the Boston Custom House, and became an important voice for the county court. Newcomb, who was very active socially in Worcester, was a friend of Christopher Columbus Baldwin and is mentioned several times in Baldwin's diaries. American Antiquarian Society records indicate that Henry Knox Newcomb gave the library three printed Massachusetts sermons in the 1820s, possibly because of his connection with Baldwin.(4)

Newcomb's contemporaries remembered him as a 'man of fine presence, winning in his manner, and of a most social and genial nature, very fond of telling and hearing a good story, and in early life was a great favorite in society. He was most kind-hearted, sympathetic and impulsive, and generous to a fault, and of too sanguine a temperament to be successful as a business man.'(5) Newcomb invested with his brothers in risky land deals and on several occasions had to resolve legal problems associated with the actions of his younger brother Francis Dana Newcomb (1802-72), who was arrested several times for fraud and forgery. His brother's problems became a financial strain and in 1854, Newcomb sent him several letters seeking repayment of a $5,000 debt.(6) Their detailed correspondence as well as Newcomb's account books and business papers are preserved at the Society.(7) Another brother, Joseph Warren Newcomb (1804-74), an attorney in Templeton, may have introduced Henry K. Newcomb to Mary Stiles. After the couple's marriage, they lived for six months in Key West, Florida, but returned to Worcester and built a house on Elm Street near the residence of Mary's sister, Lydia Stiles Foster. The miniatures (cats. #88, #89) were probably painted sometime after the couple's return from the South in June 1838. In it, the artist Eliza Goodridge repeated several elements that she had used in an earlier portrait, including the table lamp shown in the background. Goodridge may have been referring to the commission for this pair of miniatures in a letter to Mary Stiles Newcomb listing her numerous sitters and stating that she was going to Boston to find additional patrons: 'I shall probably go after Mary & Clara Pratt and then go to Templeton where I have an application. Now do not fear I have forgotten your pleasure, it shall be attended to also.'(8)


 

1)   Lydia Stiles Foster to Alfred Dwight Foster, February 1833, Foster Family Papers, 1740-1884, American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collection.

2)   Alfred D. Foster's memorandum noting the last words of John Stiles, September 8, 1836, Foster Family Papers. Detailed records about the estate are preserved in this manuscript collection as Foster served as his father-in-law's executor; see also, Book of Accounts, vol. 4, p. 61, Worcester County Probate Court. Lydia Stiles Foster and Mary inherited additional properties upon the death of their mother, two years later.

3)   Lydia Stiles Foster to Mary Stiles Newcomb, November 17, 1837, Foster Family Papers.

4)   The pamphlets include sermons by James Jackson (1777-1867), Titus Strong (1787-1855), and Nathaniel Thayer (1769-1840).

5)   Stephen Salisbury, Reminiscences and Biographical Notices of Twenty-One Members of the Worcester Fire Society (Worcester: Worcester Fire Society, 1899), 48.

6)   Harry Knox Newcomb to Francis Dana Newcomb, March 8, 1854, Newcomb Family Papers 1824-1872, American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collection.

7)   Newcomb Family Papers, 1824-1872.

8)   Eliza Goodridge to Mary Stiles Newcomb, November 24, 1837, Foster Family Papers 1740-1884, American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collection.

Clarence Brigham

 

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