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Updates to Collection

Captain Otis White
1826-1864

     This handsome portrait was recognized as a probable Ballou only a few days before the exhibition of Ballou portraits was to open. We were able to include it in our show but not in the catalogue and did not have time to do extensive research on Captain White.

     We do know that he was born in Yarmouth in 1826 and are guessing that he traced his ancestry back to Peregrine White, the child born in 1620 on board the ship "Mayflower" while it was anchored off Provincetown. His mother, Nancy Eldridge, was the sister of Yarmouth's famous shipmaster brothers, John, Asa and Oliver Eldridge.
     Otis White probably went to sea as a teenager, cabin boy to one of his Yarmouth relatives, and worked his way through the ranks to captain while in his early twenties. He served as master of three clipper ships, all owned by a Boston shipping firm with ties to Yarmouth. His last command ended disastrously in 1861 when the "Ringleader," sailing from Hong Kong to San Francisco, was wrecked off the coast of Formosa. The disabled ship was looted of its cargo by Chinese sea bandits and the captain spent two difficult months in Formosa arranging insurance claims. Already ailing before the loss of his ship, he returned home to Yarmouth in poor health and died there at the age of thirty-seven, leaving a wife and daughter.
     Captain White appears in his portrait to be thirty or older, which would date it to 1856 or later, a time when Giddings Ballou had apparently left Brewster but was still spending time on Cape Cod: a Chatham portrait is dated January 1856 and he was hired every year from 1856 to 1860 to teach the winter semester in one of Chatham's public schools. Whatever the date of this portrait, it appears, viewed alongside other Ballou works, to have been painted by the same artist.

Nathan Crowell

     Nathan Crowell, born in 1818 at his parents' home in South Yarmouth on Cape Cod, was the fifth of nine children of Capt. Isaiah Crowell and his second wife, Abigail. Their fourth child, also Nathan, having recently died, the name was immediately reused for the next male child--a common practice of the period.
     By his father's first marriage, Nathan Crowell had an older half-brother, Isaiah Crowell Jr. (1804-1838) who, before his early death, had formed a ship-managing partnership with a local friend, Osborn Howes, who extended the relationship by marrying his partner's sister, Hannah Crowell, and after her death a second sister, Abigail.
     Meanwhile, Isaiah Crowell Jr. died but was replaced in the Howes & Crowell partnership, now based in Boston, by his younger half-brother Nathan who in 1842 further entangled the familial relationships by marrying one Abigail Howes who, as Abigail Howes Crowell, became sister-in-law to Abigail Crowell Howes.
     Nathan Crowell died sometime after 1880 when the federal census-taker found him living in Boston, a 63 year old shipping merchant, with his 62 year old wife, three sons in their twenties and two Irish-born servants.
     His portrait, recently discovered in the home of Crowell descendants on Cape Cod, is instantly recognizeable on stylistic grounds as the work of G. H. Ballou. Two canvas-makers' marks on the back (G. Rowney and J.J. Adams) further link it to other Ballou works painted in the late 1840s.

Captain Elisha Bangs
1805-1886

     Elisha Bangs, fourth son of Capt. Elkanah Bangs and his wife Sally Crosby, went to sea at an early age and had already earned the title "Captain" when he married for the first time in 1828. By 1842 when, twice a widower, he married for the third time he was a Brewster taxpayer of some substance with a house on Main Street, a horse and chaise in the barn, and shipping investments worth $4000.
     In the summer of 1854 a local letter-writer reported "Capt Elisha Bangs House Barn and Carriages where all burnt down last November, barely saved the furniture much broken. . . He is haveing a nother built on the same place." The portraits of himself and his wife Sarah with their infant son which Elisha Bangs had commissioned in 1845 were evidently saved, without apparent damage.
     Captain Bangs probably retired from the sea as a result of the fire to look after his family--which now included two surviving sons and a baby daughter--and the rebuilding of their home, an elegant structure still standing on Brewster's Main Street. Local records show that not only did his real estate holdings increase in value after 1854 but his ownership shares in clipper ships made him a wealthy man by local standards: the assets of $35,000 he declared in 1870 would be worth something like $3,500,000 in today's money.
     Captain Elisha Bangs is buried, together with his three wives, his parents, an older brother and four of his five children, in the Lower Road cemetery in Brewster. His oldest son Elisha Dillingham Bangs, the infant shown with his mother in the portrait of Sarah H. Bangs, attended Harvard, became a banker and settled in Winchester, MA. He inherited the portraits of his parents which remained in his family until the 1970s when they were publicly sold for the first time. The most recent owner, a Bangs descendant distantly related to Captain Elisha, has agreed (2004) to sell both portraits to the Brewster Ladies Library where they will soon be on permanent display, close to the house on Main Street where they originally hung.

Sarah H. (Foster) Bangs
1814-1890
&
Son, Elisha D.

     The descendants who inherited this portrait identified the sitter as Sarah Lowe Foster, but in fact her given name was Sarah Hickling Foster and in all contemporary allusions to her she is identified as Sarah H. Foster or Sarah H. Bangs.
     The daughter of Freeman and Mehitable (Low or Lowe) Foster of Brewster, she married Captain Elisha Bangs in 1842 as his third wife: his first two wives, Martha Crocker and Olive Snow, died young and left no children.
     The third Mrs. Bangs gave birth to a daughter in 1843, less than a year after her marriage to Captain Elisha, but the baby lived only seven months. Her second child, a son named Elisha Dillingham Bangs, was born on September 29, 1844 just nine months after the death of the first and is portrayed here in his mother's lap when he is clearly less than a year old, dating this portrait to the first half of 1845. Another son, William H., born in 1846 lived only two years--dying of "congestion of the brain"--but Herbert H., born in 1849 and Louella F., born in 1852, all survived to adulthood and beyond, as did their older brother Elisha D.
     This portrait and that of Captain Elisha Bangs were owned by three or four generations of Elisha Dillingham's descendants, one of whom eventually sold them out of the family, but the notes that accompanied them into the public market recounted a family story that Capt. Elisha Bangs already had white hair when he sat for his portrait at age forty but instructed the artist to darken it so that he would not look older than his wife.

     The portrait of Capt. Elisha Bangs and that of his wife and son are both attributable to the painter Giddings Hyde Ballou on stylistic grounds. The Sarah Bangs canvas bears the stamp of "A. Morris Dealer in Artists' Material . . . Boston," the same supplier whose name is also found on the Capt. George Lewis portrait.

Captain George Lewis

     This odd portrait, identified by handwriting on the back as:

"Painted by Mr Ballou
Capt Geo. Lewis
Ae 56 1845,"


was not included in the 2003 exhibition of Ballou's works, despite the written attribution, because the face, and particularly the eyes, appeared to be the work of a painter far less skillful than Giddings Ballou, even in his earliest known work (see 1841 portrait of Isaac Small). However, in addition to his identification by some owner of this work--there was only one mid-century painter known as "Mr Ballou"--a canvas dealer's stamp on the back of the canvas links this portrait to that of Sarah Bangs, also painted in 1845 and almost certainly the work of Giddings H. Ballou.

     Although Capt. Lewis is said by the current owner to have come from Chatham, no details of his life are known.

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