By Katherine Taylor-McBroom, Curator of Exhibits and Collections
Before the museum was established, donations were given to the university historian and portraits were typically displayed on campus. Gifts were occasionally recorded in presidential annual reports now stored in Archives. President Charles Plumley’s 1921 annual report, mentions the donation of an oil portrait of CAPT Partridge by the widow of Henry V. Partridge.
The widow of Henry Partridge? For most, it was commonly assumed that Henry, the son of CAPT Partridge never married. A recently discovered marriage certificate shows that Henry married his widowed housekeeper, Bellisant Lord around 1908-1910 prior to his death in 1920. Death certificates and census records show that the couple were close in age and married in their 70s. Henry and Bellisant appear in a 1910 census as married but her occupation is listed as housekeeper. Since Bellisant was the housekeeper for the Partridge family for many years, perhaps the marriage was an agreement to ensure her financial survival in the event of Henry’s death? If we allow our romantic notions to run wild, we might imagine the marriage was the result of a lingering affection for each other, only permissible after his parents’ death? However, we may never know the circumstance regarding the marriage of Henry and Bellisant late in life but it certainly raises a few fascinating questions.
Regarding who painted the portrait, a person of interest worth additional research is Zedekiah Belknap (1781-1858). Belknap and Alden Partridge were classmates at Dartmouth University in 1806. Belknap became a portrait painter in New England eventually settling in Springfield, VT. Both men lived about 45 miles from each other during the time the portrait was possibly completed. Some of Belknap’s distinctive styles can be seen in the portrait of Partridge including bold outlines, little modeling and reddish shadows along the profile of the nose and tips of the ears. Additional research is necessary to fully attribute Belknap as the artist, in the meantime, we invite you to visit the 200 Years—200 Objects exhibition to see this important piece of Norwich history.