J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

More on Prince, the “Black Limner”

Back in November 2006, I quoted some remarks from Christian Barnes of Marlborough to her friend Elizabeth ((Murray) Campbell) Smith about a young black slave named Prince who was showing remarkable ability as a portrait artist.

Yesterday I revisited that collection of letters at the Library of Congress, and found a little more about Prince. On 22 July 1773, Barnes wrote again to her friend, now Elizabeth (((Murray) Campbell) Smith) Inman:

I had a favor to ask which I must now petition you will grant me which is that if you have an hour to spare at any time when you are in Boston you will allow Prince to make some alteration in the Coppy he has taken from your Picture which he says he cannot do but from the life and Please to give him any directions you think proper as to the Dress of the Head
So in that year Prince was no longer living with Barnes in Marlborough but in Boston. He might have copied the portrait of Inman created by John Singleton Copley, shown on the cover of her biography above.

Then came the war. Barnes and her husband moved to Britain while Inman remained in Massachusetts. On 16 June 1783 Barnes renewed their correspondence with a letter from Bristol, which she closed this way:
P.S. pray let me know if good old Daphney be living and whether she is capible of giting her living. Her son I hear is provided for and so we shall all be in time
Daphney was Prince’s mother, so that postscript implies that by then Prince had died. And as yet I’ve found no trace of him in any other source.

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