Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jesse Ludington - Fair Haven Oyster Man - Portrait by artist George Henry Story

Jesse Ludington (1805-1886) - Oil on Canvas
- artist George Henry Story
(Smithsonian American Art Museums)
(public domain)

I have to wonder if the portrait of Jesse Ludington (1805-1886) by George Henry Story - if the subject is in his best and probably only Sunday suit and posed in best possible light or if his attire is the everyday attire of a man in the oyster business of harvesting, inspecting, cleaning, packaging, selling and shipping of the product in a major nineteenth hub of the Oyster business in America, Fair Haven Connecticut.

The direct verifiable genealogical history of the American artist George Henry Story is sketchy in the public records of the Internet.

No doubt more exact records exist on paper and in private family hands to this day but not yet scanned into the new global culture represented by that Internet.

Of the records available and researched thus far, it is a good possibility that the subject Jesse Ludington pictured above was married to George Henry Story’s older sister Julia Ann Story.

No exact record of Julia Ann as being George’s sister is documented at present. Julia is born 1810 and George's parents marriage date is listed as 1806 - a possible family tie and timeline fit.

I have researched and George’s father James died about a month after his birth in January 1835. As such and in world without social government safety nets, there was the family. That George’s vague personal history presented here and there in records is one that he himself may not have been personally aware of or saw no need to present considering he never knew his father and a great deal of personal knowledge of a family history and legacy was lost by being raised without that father. 

But then again, his mother may have raised him in separate living conditions or moved in with a daughter in a larger extended family situation and George had many adults in place to act in place of a missing deceased parent. "It takes a village..." and or a large extended family sometimes to raise a child.

Jesse Ludington married Julia Ann Story in New Haven Connecticut on March 23, 1829 and was married by Baptist minister Benjamin M. Hill.

Other sketchy records indicate that George story may have had another sister from the marriage of his father and mother, James Story and Clarissa Barnes Story. Her name is Elisabeth Story (Armstead) with dates 1826-1864.
That tagging Jesse Ludington as a possible brother in law of George Henry Story ties in with the name of their daughter Clarissa Barnes Ludington, Clarissa Barnes being George’s mother’s first and maiden name as a point of continuity and a possible genealogical audit trail.  Daughter Clarissa Barnes Ludington by the way married a Duane Epaphroditus Newton later on.

Research shows that Fair Haven, not yet a mere “neighborhood” or district within a later in date greater New Haven Connecticut, was heavily invested in the business of oysters. That many genealogical records reference the move of some Ludingtons from other parts of New England because of the growing oyster production and harvesting industry there.

In the New Haven Directory of Inhabitants 1874, Jesse Ludington is listed as “oysters” by profession at 88 E. Pearl Street as opposed to “oysterman” by other inhabitants of his neighborhood.  I take this to mean that he is more in the upper end of the business as opposed to the dirty everyday hands on business of extracting the product from the waters about New Haven and the northern end of Long Island Sound.

Many genealogical references point to the fact that a “Ludington Buoy” still sits in the waters of New Haven to mark designated territory and state sanctioned by law harvesting rights of a product long extinct from the present region and habitat.

Not to say that Jesse Ludington did not start life in a fisherman’s life or in an oyster boat in his younger days.

That the artist George Henry Story started out his young working life as an apprenticed wood worker in the local shipping industry before moving on to his desired apprenticeship with a portrait painter.  No escaping the local economy of the sea, of fish and oysters, ships and boats I would imagine back then. No escape except by luck, karma or the tyranny of chance.

Jesse’s portrait speaks of a man who has worked with his hands and has the forehead wrinkles of a man closely related to the sea and its many distant horizons.

Also in that pose and time it is difficult to guess the age of the subject which I guess to be at anywhere from mid-fifties to mid-sixties. As such, the portrait would likely have been painted somewhere around the early 1860s and current with G. H. Story’s painting career picking up in Washington DC at the beginning of the American Civil War before his moving onto, with his wife Eunice, into the Bohemian life of a young artist amidst the glamor and excitement of the New York City in little Bohemia centered around Broadway and Bleecker Street then – part of the then "in" - “Pfaff Cellar” - crowd.

That that 1874 New Haven Directory of Inhabitants also has George H. Story, an artist, listed to 276 North Front Street right on the waterfront. The house in Google Satellite view is a rather modest wood structure with a street front that suggests a onetime shack attached to the front of the house, on the waterfront of that house and perhaps a onetime small scale Oyster processing, cleaning and packaging affair to support a young fatherless child by a strong independent self-sufficient Yankee mom? 

                                                                                                                                        (Original Copyright Expired)

That spending the summers in Fair Haven out of New York in the family house was a good time to reconnect to friends and family and during the off season of harvesting Oysters.

That possible brother in law Jesse Ludington was a father figure, or an uncle figure considering age differences etc. Family is sometimes an awkward thing to describe but perhaps George Henry Story has expressed it in a way that he was uniquely talented to express – in his painting.

The 88 East Pearl Street house of Jesse Ludington is one that speaks of a successful later nineteenth business man in the Second Empire style with its Mansard style roof that we here in America or the English speaking world would label as Victorian, like much of Story’s work – dated but a rare glimpse into a bygone and perhaps not examined closely enough as it should have been age – especially in working class Fair Haven Connecticut.


1 comment:

Carolyn Stearns said...

I am a Story family descendent through Elisabeth and have the family records and continue to research Uncle George and his art, as well as many other family members. There were 12 children the artist was the youngest. Please see my website for more,