Lovely Miss Charlotte Bell has been the subject of a blog entry before, but since last year we’ve discovered all kinds of new things. Since the donation of the painting in 1975, Miss Bell’s identity has flummoxed the greatest historical minds of our organization. Until now. A little motivation, a little skill, a little luck, and voilà, there’s a lot more to Charlotte Bell than meets the eye!
For most museums, knowing the artist of a work, the date of a work, and the subject would be most satisfactory and usually all that is required for preservation and interpretive purposes. In this case, all three components are identified on the painting – the artist? Thomas MacDonald; the date? 6 July 1820; the subject? Miss Charlotte Bell. What needled us, however, was the full identity of Charlotte Bell. Who was she? Her possible inclusion in the Loyalist Legacy exhibition provided the motivation to figure out her full story. Working backwards from the donor, a Mrs. Frank Jones, Charlotte’s story soon became clear.
Charlotte Bell was one of the youngest of the many daughters of John Bell (c. 1760-9 August 1823) and Letitia Golding (c. 1765-1863), young Loyalists who settled at Burton Parish in the 1780s, near the Sunbury County line with Queens County. According to an 1845 pension petition by Letitia, John Bell served as a member of DeLancey’s Brigade during the Revolution and was wounded in the shoulder, rendering him unable to work at times. John and Letitia appear to be from New York, were married about 1783 and had a large family: Theodocia, born about 1783; Richard, born about 1785; Elizabeth, born about 1790; Deborah, born 1792; Ann A., born 11 April 1794; Lydia, born about 1798; John, born about 1799; Charlotte, born about 1800; and Eunice, born about 1806. Richard Bell’s daughter, Mary Ann, born about 1813, married Richard Tilley (1807-1849), the son of Jacob Tilley and Charlotte Nickerson in 1830. Richard Tilley was a first cousin once removed of Samuel Leonard Tilley.
On 28 September 1820 Charlotte Bell married Isaac McLeod at Burton, Sunbury County with the marriage recorded in the official Sunbury County marriages. About three months prior to the marriage, Charlotte sat for the painting by Thomas MacDonald.
Thomas MacDonald, as readers of this blog are aware, 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, and Daniel Babbit in 1829. 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. 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.
Given the date of the portrait and the date of marriage, is the painting an engagement image? Certainly the blue-eyed Miss Bell is smartly presented from the curls and decoration in her hair, to the ruffles and tucks of her elaborate dress, to the turquoise shoes that would make Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) weep with jealousy. The book on her lap and the letter on the candle stand indicate that Charlotte was literate and the details of the setting indicate a degree of economic stability in the Bell household: the rather chic curtains, the red painted chair and the intricate floor stencil. All in all, we are sure her husband swooned more than once if the painting is any indication of her charms.
Charlotte and Isaac McLeod settled in the south western area of Queens County, near what became known as Coote Hill. Their children were all baptized at St. Johns Anglican Church, Gagetown: Charlotte D., born 13 June 1825; Betsey Anne, born 1 June 1827; John, born 12 April 1830; Norman, born 17 March 1831; Lorenzo, born 25 September 1837; and James Richard, born 26 January 1840. Charlotte’s father, John Bell died in 1823. A legal battle seems to have broken out among family members over his estate. According to family tradition, Letitia Bell “schemed” to keep control of her husband’s estate when it was supposedly willed to their son, John Jr. In any case, the money eventually ran out and in 1845 Letitia petitioned the province for a Loyalist 10 pound per annum widow’s allowance because she was destitute. Letitia lived with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren until her death in 1863.
For their part, Charlotte and Isaac continued to live in Petersville (the parish formally created in 1838 from Gagetown and Hampstead Parishes) and farmed. Isaac McLeod’s death is recorded in the burial documents of St. Johns Anglican Church, Gagetown as 26 February 1859. By Charlotte’s own death on 19 January 1876, all but two of her six children have pre-deceased her. She died at the home of her daughter Charlotte (1825-1912) and son-in-law, Thomas Washburn (1832-1886). For all the details we now know about Charlotte Bell, we do not know where she and her husband are buried.
Charlotte’s son, Lorenzo, was the other surviving child. He lived and farmed at Petersville and Clarendon, Charlotte County, married Mary Ann Niles (1835-1907), and had several children, including a daughter, Charlotte Adelaide (1867-1894). Charlotte Adelaide McLeod married William H. Jones (1858-1951) and had four children by the time of her unexpected death at the age of 26 in 1894. Her son, Frank R. Jones (1888-1980) married Violet Frances Kirkpatrick (1897-1979) on 27 September 1916 and had four children. Violet Frances was the Mrs. Frank Jones who donated the painting to Queens County Heritage in 1975.
The painting passed from Charlotte Bell McLeod probably to her daughter Charlotte Washburn, and then to her granddaughter, Lottie Washburn who wrote on the back of it in 1920:
This is the certify that Frank R. Jones (if living) is to take this photo when I have passed away. Lottie E. Washburn Sept 24th 1920.
Lottie Washburn died 22 Septembr 1933 and as per her wishes, the painting passed to her cousin’s son, Frank.
To the descendents of Charlotte Bell McLeod and Frank and Violet Jones, if you are out there, please get in touch! We are sure you would be very pleased to see this fabulous painting that ranks as a county and provincial treasure. Minus the staining and yellowing from age, we can only imagine the visual impact of this work when first painted in 1820.
For more information about Charlotte Bell and the artist, Thomas MacDonald, or to see the painting in person, visit the Loyalist Legacy exhibition at the Court House, Gagetown, until 18 September.