In May we acquired a c. 1829 watercolour portrait of Gagetown Loyalist, Daniel Babbit, aged 85, painted by noted Canadian folk artist Thomas MacDonald. The portrait had been held by Babbit descendants for several generations.
Daniel Babbit was born about 1744 in New Milford, Connecticut, the son of Elkanah and Obedience Babbit. At the time of the Revolution he was living at Fredericksburg, Dutchess County, New York, and married to Mary Close, a sister of Lieut. Close of the American Army. On 16 July 1779, Babbit entered the British lines at Kings Bridge and during the war served as a farrier on Long Island. At the close of the war he, like thousands of other Loyalists, migrated to the St. John River in the summer of 1783. That fall, he removed his wife and five children to the Gagetown area. Within three years he had built a house and by the 1790s he was a leading member in the Anglican Church and the wider community, working as a blacksmith and farmer and welcoming several more children. He was a strong churchman who served for forty years as warden of the parish church and donated the lot on which St. John’s Church was built in 1790. His first wife died in July 1795 and by 1798 he had married Rhoda Annis Cronk, with whom he had several more children. Daniel Babbit died in July 1830. His death notice in the Saint John City Gazette gives his age at 87 while the burial record of St. John’s Anglican Church states age 86. Research is currently underway to update his biography and confirm his date of birth and other relevant details of his life.
The artist, Thomas MacDonald, was born in 1784 or 1785, and traveled the St. John River Valley in the early 19th century making a living painting portraits of local residents, including Samuel Leonard Tilley and his sister Elizabeth in the 1820s. He died in 1862 and is buried at Gagetown. MacDonald, along with Anthony Flower and Reverend Abraham Wood, form an impressive artistic trio working in Queens County in the 19th century. Their art serves as a touchstone to the past that documents our ancestors and our community in a period for which we have few visual or written representations. MacDonald is recognized as a leading pre-Confederation folk artist of national significance and his works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Library & Archives Canada, the New Brunswick Museum, and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Queens County Heritage is privileged to have two of MacDonald’s works already in our collection: a portrait of Miss Charlotte Bell, 1820, and the McAlpine Family Record, c. 1850. This portrait of Daniel Babbit is one of the finest representations of MacDonald’s extant works, a tribute to the care taken by his descendents for so many years, and an extremely valuable addition to our fine art collection.
While we are extremely excited about this important acquisition, we share the challenges facing culture and heritage organizations everywhere: funds are limited. Without additional financial assistance, the $9000 purchase price and subsequent conservation costs will divert resources from other areas and thus have an impact on our programming and operating activities. If you would like to contribute toward this rare and important acquisition, a key piece of Queens County history, please contact us for details of where to send your donation. All donations will be eligible for a charitable receipt for income tax purposes.
Contributors will be acknowledged in our collections database and in future label text associated with the work when it is exhibited in one of our galleries, featured online or when loaned externally. If you wish to remain anonymous, please note this with your donation.
Energized and enthusiastic members and friends have already made substantial donations to the campaign and if you are interested in contributing, we hope to hear from you soon! If you have any questions, require additional information or know of someone else who may be interested in this campaign, do not hesitate to get in touch.