He had probably already met the innkeeper's daughter Mary, and perhaps the purpose of this visit was to impress her father, David George, with his newly regularised status as a resident and property owner of Newburyport. Mary George (known as Polly) and William Jennys were married on 23 December 1806 at the First Congregational Church in Concord. William was listed as a taxpayer of Newburyport for the next two years, and although he continued to paint portraits in the town, the better part of his income derived from buying and selling property. In 1807 he and Polly sold the High Street properties for $2,250, a profit of nearly $1,500, his father Richard witnessing the deed of sale in handwriting that suggested age was catching up with him. In May 1808 William painted Polly's brother Jacob George and his wife Mary ; and then, at the age of thirty-four, laid down his paintbrush and his delineating pencil. His father had now moved up the coast to Portland, Maine, and William was comfortably enough off from his property deals not to have to seek commissions, the rewards of which were small in comparison. It may have been that Richard's lifelong pursuit of success as a portrait painter had motivated William while they were together and needed commissions to survive. Both painters took a mercenary rather than a vocational view of painting, but Richard probably considered himself an artist in a way that William clearly didn't. It is ironic that William, whose known output is about two hundred portraits, compared with his father's forty or fifty, should now be considered the better painter.
In 1808 and 1809 he continued to speculate in property, concluding several profitable deals in nearby Ipswich, and still describing himself as an artist. At the beginning of 1809 news of Sarah's death in Nassau apparently reached Richard and William in New England. William decided to sell up and travel to New Providence, and he and Polly sold their last Massachusetts properties, in Salem, on 24 April. Richard sent after him a notarised letter, addressed to William in Nassau, appointing him his "true and lawful"8 attorney to "ask for and receive for me the property which by law I may be entitled to in the right of my wife who lately died in the said Island of New Providence". Written on 27 June 1809, probably in Portland, and describing Richard Jennys as a portrait painter and his son William as a merchant "now of New Providence", this was the last recorded act of Richard's life.
According to her grandson William Henry Jones, writing in 1905, Sarah Ireland told her younger children that their father had died in Boston in 1790. If this is true, then William Jennys must have said nothing to enlighten them during his visit to the Bahamas in 1809. He stayed long enough to impress on Fanny the fact that he was "a rover, never appearing in Nassau until something was to be gained"9. In the absence of anything tangible from his mother's estate, and with John, Fanny and their stepfather Peter Ogle probably reluctant to cede any property rights to this long-lost brother, William returned to America. He and Polly moved to New York City, and William turned his hand to making combs, a trade he may have learnt at West Newbury, a town with a comb-making tradition only a few miles from Newburyport. Their first child, Richard Clifford Jennys, was born in New York on 5 April 1810. News of his brother John's death in Nassau sent William on at least one more trip to the Bahamas, probably during 1811. In March 1812, Fanny, who was afraid of her older brother, and whose own death, after her mother's and her brother John's, was all that now stood between William and a considerable inheritance in Nassau, converted as much as she could into cash, and "with $10,000 in her belt and a slave girl of fourteen, Peggy, secretly sailed for New York"10, evidently intending that William should not be able to track her down. From New York she went straight to New Haven, Connecticut, to the home of the Reverend Isaac Jones and his third wife Sybil, whose son Algernon Sidney Jones she married in Christ Episcopal Church, Hartford, on 28 June, only three months after her flight from Nassau. Sybil Jones was the older sister of Asa Benjamin, whose portrait William Jennys had painted in Stratford in 1795. It hardly seems likely that Fanny could have met her husband through this earlier contact of her brother's, but the suddenness of her marriage to Algernon after her arrival in Connecticut suggests that somehow they had known each other previously, and that the choice of New Haven for her destination was not accidental but part of a carefully planned move.
William continued to pursue the possibility that he was entitled to property in Nassau, and in September 1812 John Armbrister's son George Butler wrote to him about Sarah Jennys Ogle's estate, concluding, "The house and lot I observe is given to your sister for her hope only and at her Death to you & Heirs."11 Although Fanny and William were both in New York City for much of the remainder of their lives, there is little evidence of further contact between them. William's comb-making business was not successful, and in 1812 he opened a florist's shop. A second son, John Livingston Randolph Jennys, was born in New York in 1813.
When Polly died, probably in 1817, William sold the florist's shop and went to Littleton in New Hampshire, where his parents-in-law were now living, and took up his father's old business as a dry goods dealer. Unlike his father, he operated out of a carriage, with which he travelled around New Hampshire - much as he had done as a painter - selling his goods. At the same time he speculated in property, and in 1818 the combination of his dry goods business and profits from land deals made him by far the largest taxpayer in Littleton. In 1819 he married Laura Columbia George, younger sister of Polly, his first wife. Although he failed to repeat his trading or land-dealing successes of 1818, and sold his carriage in 1819, he evidently made a steady living in Littleton over the next two years. In June 1821 he and Laura bought two pieces of property, together almost 1,000 acres, in Coventry (now Benton), New Hampshire ; early in 1823, as a resident of that town, William was granted a licence to operate a tavern and adopted his father-in-law's trade, no doubt with Laura's expert assistance. They lived in Coventry for eleven years ; then from 1833 until 1842 there is no record of their whereabouts.
Edward Jennys, the third of Richard and Sarah's five children, must have been living in New Hampshire in the 1820s, and perhaps his presence contributed to William's decision to move to Coventry. On 24 March 1825 Edward and his wife Fanny witnessed a deed of sale for William and Laura.
They returned to New York City in 1842, settling in Brooklyn, and William, now close to seventy, once more opened a florist's shop, which he continued to operate until about 1847. It may be that during this period he renewed contact with his sister Fanny, who was also living in Brooklyn. Fanny's son William recalled meeting his uncle twice, "the last time about 1850"12, but believed he had subsequently gone to Australia, so the families cannot have been close. William and Laura lived out their days in New York ; Laura died in September 1858, William on 21 October 1859, and they were buried next to each other in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn. William Jennys, whose paintings only began to be discovered nearly a hundred years after his death, and whose fame as a portraitist gradually eclipsed his father's as the scale of his output was revealed, had not, at the time of his death, put a brush to canvas for over fifty years.
Richard and John, William and Polly's sons, both lived into their late eighties. Richard was a lawyer who lived and practised most of his life in Troy, New York. About 1860 he married Margaret Slattery, and their seven children were all born in Troy. John Jennys followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps as a dry goods dealer. He lived in New York City, where all four of his children were born, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in 1900.
After her marriage in 1812, Fanny and her husband Algernon Jones lived in Huntington, near Stratford. Peter Ogle, who died in 1813, had left Fanny, his "dear and esteemed friend"13, almost his entire estate, and she had received other bequests of property from friends in Nassau after her return to America. Part of her inheritance from Ogle was land he had bought from John and Rachel Armbrister, which Fanny and her husband finally sold in 1855.
Algernon and Fanny Jones's six children were christened together in St Paul's Church, Huntington on 17 July 1831 : Frances Melinda (born in 1814), Isaac, Sarah Amelia (1816), Emily Harriet, Algernon Sidney and William Henry (1827). The Joneses moved to Brooklyn around 1840, where Algernon practised as a physician. Through his father, Dr Jones was a descendant of Theophilus Eaton, one of the founders of the New Haven colony, and his family had a keen appreciation of their ancestry, which also included, on Sybil's side, William Bradford, Pilgrim Father and author of Of Plimoth Plantation, the history of the Mayflower colony. Sybil's grandfather John Benjamin had moved to Stratford from Wethersfield, near Hartford, and joined the Episcopalian church, and this Episcopalian tradition was passed on to Fanny's children and grandchildren. Fanny and her husband both died in Brooklyn ; Fanny on 6 June 1856, Algernon on 23 February 1858.
Their son William Henry Jones, a grocer, married and was widowed as a young man, and thereafter shared a house in Brooklyn for many years with his unmarried sister Sarah. In 1881 or 1882 he married Carrie Estes, daughter of Ivory and Abbarintha Farnham Estes of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was thirty years his junior ; they had five children, two of whom died in infancy. His oldest sister Frances Melinda Jones married Thomas Wentworth Groser in Huntington on 15 October 1838. He was an accountant and a churchwarden, born in Jamaica of English parents and brought to New York at the age of thirteen by his mother after his father died. Thomas and Frances lived in Brooklyn, and between 1840 and 1849 had eight children, of whom the two oldest, Thomas and Sidney, both fought on the Union side in the Civil War. Frances died in May 1849, probably a victim of the cholera epidemic, and five years later Thomas Groser married Mary Haskins and raised a second family alongside the first.
Richard and William Jennys's portraits were generally kept in the homes of their subjects' families and passed down through subsequent generations, and it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that they began to attract the attention of art historians. The first to investigate them was Frederic Fairchild Sherman, who wrote a series of essays detailing his discovery of several Jennys portraits which was published posthumously in 1941. Sherman believed that there were two William Jennyses, one of them named J. William Jennys - a misunderstanding caused by the flourishes in William's signature. As more and more Jennys paintings began to surface in the 1950s, the art historian William Lamson Warren undertook more comprehensive research, and in the 1990s William Bright Jones produced a thorough and revealing assessment of both painters' work and lives, drawing on Warren's research and his own exhaustive haul of documentation from New England, the Bahamas and elsewhere.
Most of the Jennyses' subjects were rural New Englanders : farmers, merchants, local dignitaries and their families. In many cases their portraits represent the only remaining record of the features of people whose lives, because of the time and place in which they lived, have since been carefully documented. Both Jennyses' strength as portraitists lay in their ability to depict and capture character in their sitters' faces ; both were careless or relatively unskilled with other details - Richard, in particular, tending to simplify his subjects' hands and arms. While William's later work is more accomplished and successful than his father's, Richard's earlier paintings, in particular, have a peculiar charm deriving from his stylised drawing and what appear to be echoes of the formal gestures in Renaissance religious painting. As painters, it is generally agreed that they do not rank alongside contemporaries like Copley or Charles Willson Peale, but can be regarded as talented primitives, whose skill in bringing faces to life on canvas compensates for their limitations as artists.
1. Essex Co. Deed v. 117, quoted in draft notes, January 1993, William Bright Jones.
2. Court Files, Vol. 515, File 89195, Judicial Archives of the Massachusetts State Archives.
3. Transcribed from the original in the Special Collections Library, University College London.
4. Weekly Gazette, Charleston, SC, October/November 1783.
5. Portraits of David & Grissell Judson, 1799, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, quoted in The Portraits of Richard and William Jennys and the Story of Their Wayfaring Lives, William Bright Jones, Boston University, c. 1997
6. My Father's Annals, begun by George Washington Johnson Ap. '67, Papers of the Johnson Family of Enfield, Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, NH, quoted in Jones, The Portraits of Richard and William Jennys.
7. Courier of New Hampshire, Concord, NH, 5 June 1805, quoted in Jones, The Portraits of Richard and William Jennys.
8. All quotes in this paragraph are from a copy of the original letter (which is lost) in the possession of William B. Jones, quoted in The Portraits of Richard and William Jennys.
9. Transcription by Charles E. Groser of a letter from William H. Jones to Arthur W. Groser, 17 March 1905, in the possession of Anthony Groser.
10. William H. Jones to Arthur W. Groser, 17 March 1905.
11. Letter quoted in William B. Jones, draft notes.
12. William H. Jones to Arthur W. Groser, 17 March 1905.
13. Will of Peter Ogle, 1810, quoted in William B. Jones, draft notes.