Pell Family Portraits: Amelia Grace Pell Craft and William E. Craft

Unknown artist (American). William E. Craft and Amelia Grace Pell Craft, ca. 1843. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

A rare pair of portraits depicting Pell descendant Amelia Grace Pell Craft (1806–1888) and her husband, William Edward Craft (1800–1852), are recent additions to Bartow-Pell’s collection. These works, which date to about 1843, were painted by an unknown artist, probably in New York City.

Headstone of Joseph Pell, the fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham (ca. 1715–1752), great-grandfather of Amelia Grace Pell Craft. Pell family burial ground. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Joseph Pell’s age when he died has sometimes been transcribed as 31 but he was actually 37. By analyzing the numerals in the date of 1752, it is clear that the stone carver made sevens with down-slanted tops and the numeral one as a straight line.

The Pells once owned fifty thousand acres of land in what is today the Bronx and lower Westchester County. By the late eighteenth century, however, the family’s vast holdings had been broken up, and the descendants of the Lords of the Manor had largely dispersed. Two eighteenth-century headstones in the little woodland burial ground at Bartow-Pell memorialize Amelia’s great-grandparents, Joseph Pell, the Fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham (ca. 1715–1752), and his widow, Phoebe (ca. 1720–1790). Both Amelia and her third cousin and contemporary Robert Bartow were direct descendants of Joseph’s father, Thomas Pell II, the Third Lord of the Manor.

William P. Chappel (American, 1801–1878). Fly Market, 1870s. Oil on slate paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Edward W. C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps, and Pictures, Bequest of Edward W. C. Arnold, 1954. The Fly Market was demolished in the early 1820s, long before this work was painted, but an inscription on the back reads: “the Old Vly Market in Maiden Lane & Pearl St N York 1808.” The Fly Market was established in 1699 in an area that the Dutch had called Smee’s Vly. “Fly” derives from the Dutch words “Vly” (marsh or meadow) and “Vlie” (valley). The butchers’ stalls, which are depicted here, sold high-quality meat and were strictly regulated. One of these stands was owned by Amelia Craft’s father, John Pell.

Amelia Grace Pell was christened in New York City at St. Mark’s Church on January 21, 1806. She was the daughter of Mary (ca. 1775–1851) and John Pell (1769–1819), whose father was Joseph Pell, the Fifth Lord of the Manor. John was a butcher who owned a stall in the Fly Market, New York City’s principal public market at that time. A former apprentice described “his ‘Old Boss,’ John Pell, as having a strong, but a well educated mind, honest and just in all his dealings, and a gentleman of the ‘olden time’” (Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1868). He was also an alderman for the tenth ward. The prosperous meat seller died in 1819, leaving his house at 69 Bowery to his “dear wife Mary Pell the mother of my children” and $1,000 to each of his nine offspring, including Amelia. His widow—Amelia’s mother—continued to live in the residence until her death over thirty years later in 1851.

On July 8, 1824, Amelia Grace Pell married William E. Craft in New York City. The Reverend Henry J. Feltus of St. Stephen’s (Episcopal) Church, a friend of her late father’s, officiated. The newlyweds would eventually become the parents of nine children—six boys and three girls—born between 1827 and 1849. Like Amelia, William had roots in Westchester County and came from a family of food merchants in lower Manhattan, where his father, Sutton Craft, is listed in various New York City directories and jury censuses as a grocer and butcher. William and his brother Isaac apparently joined their father in the grocery business as young men, and in the 1830s, William E. Craft became a director of the Butchers’ and Drovers’ Bank, suggesting that he was both successful and ambitious.

Advertisement for William E. Craft’s businesses in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Kimball & James’ Business Directory for the Mississippi Valley, 1844

Sometime around 1843, Amelia and William—along with Isaac Craft—moved from New York City to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, a lively trade hub on the Ohio River. Kentucky was just across the border, and Cincinnati was only about thirty miles to the east. It is unknown why the family—which now included six children (three more were subsequently born in Indiana)—packed up and headed west. But records show that, since at least the late 1830s, the brothers had bought hundreds of acres of property in Indiana and Michigan. Perhaps, like many people, they were drawn by the prospect of buying cheap land and taking advantage of tempting economic opportunities. And indeed, William did very well as a merchant in Indiana, where he owned the largest distillery in Lawrenceburg as well as a flour mill and a saw mill. He was also a dealer in groceries, hardware, and dry goods, both wholesale and retail. But in February 1844, Craft’s malt house—the building where malt was prepared for use in the distillery—burned to the ground in the middle of the night. “Our citizens were aroused at half past 1 o’clock on Friday morning last by the alarm of fire. The Malt House, connected to the large distillery, and owned by W. E. Craft, Esq. was wholly destroyed. It was not insured. Loss $2000. Fortunately, the main building was preserved.” (Political Beacon [Lawrenceburgh], February 22, 1844) And to add insult to injury, some of the Crafts’ supposedly respectable neighbors engaged in a crooked scheme to steal large numbers of hogs from these New York City transplants. “Craft of the largest distillery at Lawrenceburgh keeps constantly in his pens some 5000 hogs. Out of this number it is difficult to miss half a dozen. It seems the butchers at Lawrenceburgh have been in the practice of supplying the Lawrenceburgh market by stealing from this monster pig pen. About the 1st inst., Mr. Craft, having some suspicions that his hogs were disappearing rather strangely, set a watch to see where they went. About 11 o’clock at night of the 3rd inst. (it being the first night of the watch), four of the Lawrenceburgh butchers were seen to go to the pen, drive out 8 or 10 hogs, drive them to the slaughter house, slaughter and supply the market the next morning. They were arrested and recognized to Court. They were old citizens of Lawrenceburgh township, and most of them have families.” (“Profitable Business,” Indiana American, October 17, 1845)

Sadly, in July 1852, William died near Troy, Indiana, over one hundred and fifty miles from his home, which probably means that his death was unexpected. Amelia was left on her own with a house full of teenagers and several children still under the age of ten. Sometime in the mid-1860s, she moved with some of her children to Indianapolis, where she died on June 30, 1888, at the age of eighty-one, thirty-six years after the death of her husband.

The dress on the left dates to about 1843. Like Mrs. Craft’s dress (center), it has a fan bodice with cartridge pleats above the pointed, piped waist, and long, narrow sleeves topped by sleeve caps made of the same fabric. The ruched self-trim is similar to that in a fashion plate from 1842 (right). Left: Dress, ca. 1843. Wool, silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009. Center: Amelia Grace Pell Craft (detail). Right: Fashion plate (detail), Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1842

Mr. and Mrs. Craft sat for their portraits in what were probably their best clothes. These styles are typical of the 1840s. Amelia’s elegant crimson velvet dress—which dates to around 1843—has an elongated, tight, V-shaped, fan-front bodice extending over the top of the arm to create a stylish sloped-shoulder look. Gathers at the shoulder seam and fine cartridge pleats at the low, pointed waist control the fullness of the fabric. Piping—which strengthened seams on snug bodices—is visible along her waistline. The long and very narrow sleeves of the period were cut on the bias to add some stretch and were sometimes topped by sleeve caps, like the ones seen here. At her wrists, our sitter wears removable lace frills—known as manchettes—that coordinate with a frill along the neckline. Finally, Amelia would have had many layers of petticoats under her very full skirt to add bulk and shape for a fashionable silhouette. Her hair would have been gathered in a knot low on the neck. It is parted in the center, smooth and flat, but this style would soon become outdated when puffs of hair over the ears later came into fashion around 1845.

Daguerreotype, 1840s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Herbert Mitchell, 2008. The young woman pictured here wears a hairwork bracelet that is similar to the one worn by Amelia Craft. Both women wear this jewelry over fashionably narrow sleeves and manchettes (sleeve frills).
Amelia Grace Pell Craft, detail

In addition to her gold wedding band, Amelia wears a hairwork bracelet. The hair was likely provided by one or more loved ones, or it was quite possibly a love token from her husband. Skilled hair workers at jewelers and small manufactories turned strands of hair into handmade jewelry, but some women made ornamental hairwork at home as a piece of fancywork. There was a ready market for these goods, which were both sentimental and fashionable.

The narrow black coats worn by both William E. Craft (left) and the artist George Henry Durrie in his 1843 self-portrait (right) have a slit at the bottom of the sleeves to make these tight garments easier to put on. William Durrie’s cutaway style is clearly shown just below his vest, and it is very possible that Mr. Craft is wearing a similar tailcoat. In typical 1840s style, the men are clean-shaven with side-parted hair that falls over the ears. Left: William E. Craft. Right: George Henry Durrie (American, 1820–1863). Self-Portrait, 1843. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Mr. Craft appears to be wearing a cutaway dress coat (a tailcoat or swallowtail coat), which was proper attire for formal occasions (versus a frock coat, which had a full knee-length skirt that fell from a seam at the waist). “Wear frock-coats in the streets, dress-coats in the dining or drawing-room,” advises Etiquette for Gentlemen (New York, 1848). Although neckties were predominant, stocks—neckcloths like the one here—were still worn. A black satin vest completes the ensemble. Like many men in the 1840s, the sitter is clean shaven and wears his hair in a popular lank (straight and limp) style parted on the side. The letter in his hand is addressed to “[W.] E. Craft Esq.,” New York, which not only identifies the sitter and his place of residence but also tells the viewer that William Craft is a gentleman and someone of high social status.

The likenesses of Amelia Grace Pell Craft and William E. Craft were probably painted shortly after Robert Bartow finished building his country estate on land owned by his Pell ancestors. Now, these Pell portraits are on view in the downstairs sitting room at Bartow-Pell.

Margaret Adams Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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