MM-N&Q-1 Revised from a Query to a Note MM-N&Q-1 with Preliminary Research in England by Nina Louisa Braithwaite
PICTURE THIS —
(Located at THE VYNE, a Tudor-&-later manor house formerly owned by the Sandys and Chute families, but now managed by The National Trust,
near BASINGSTOKE, in HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND.)
83″ x 36″ / 211 x 91.5 cms.
ENGLISH SCHOOL c.1620.
PORTRAIT OF “MRS PENOBSCOT”
full length; her left hand resting upon a green covered table.
THE PAINTING SHOWS HER IN A 1620s COSTUME,
BUT THE FAN SHE HOLDS IS BELIEVED TO BE c.1607.
(The above are direct quotations from records of The National Trust.)
Cheers to Research!
The diligence of historical author Margaret Wilson of Bath, England (whose latest book Norumbega Navigators is nearing completion) has found the proper curatorial specialist at The National Trust to explain that the early-1600s English portrait called “Mrs Penobscot” bears a modern misnomer! Somehow, over time, the painting’s name changed from “Mrs Pennicott” and “Mrs Penniscot” to “Mrs Penobscot”, BUT there always has been no connection whatever with Maine’s Penobscot River-&-Bay &/or its Indians – past (Bashaba’s Western Etchemins) or present (the Penobscot Nation)!!
Mrs P was a British woman, never a captive Indian, and so OUR case is CLOSED – SLAM! — with a few tail-hairs caught in the jamb, however!
First to the details about this 17th century portrait (which hangs at The Vyne, a manor-house formerly owned by the Sandys and Chute families but now by The National Trust, near Basingstoke in Hampshire, England); then to those tail-hairs.
“The portrait at The Vyne is irrelevant to your researches, since it is only since the 20th century that the sitter has been called ‘Mrs Penobscot’. In both the 18th century inventory, of John Chute’s time, and in Wiggett Chute’s picture notes of the 1880s, she is called ‘Mrs Penniscot’ or ‘Mrs Pennicott’. She was probably neither of these sitters, but took her name from the clergyman-collector, the Rev William Pennicott, who probably sold the picture to John Chute. Sincerely, Alastair Laing”——-[sitter = the-person-being-portrayed (even though ‘Mrs P’ was standing)]
Not-a-few researchers of my acquaintance (myself included), and probably many others unknown to me, have chased this red-herring misnomer for many a mile. Knowing nothing about the unfortunate changing-of-name until just now, we pored over this historical possibility and that as to how ‘Mrs Penobscot’ could have come by that name. That alone is annoying, in retrospect, but we did learn at least some things of value during the bushwhacking – at least I did. Such is life!
Well-beyond-annoyance, however, is my irritation at being academically misled by someone(s) who fabricated the idea (without any – repeat, absent ANY– primary documentary evidence) that “Mrs P” was a captive Indian and then presented it as fact. Even who (absent any evidence) supposedly had captured her was presented as fact by at least one prominent publication, and also therein she was even called (completely creatively) “Mme” instead of “Mrs”, which even further muddles her cultural connections. Whether authors, editors, or illustrations-editors are at fault is moot, but the hint of Never let the facts interfere with a good story hovers about.
Currently I know of three appearances of the portrait in print in the USA, and I cite and quote all three below, in chronological order of publication, along with X, Y, Z symbols indicating their misleading faults: X for calling her a captive Indian or a brought-over; Y for stating who captured her &/or for what reason(s); Z for using Mme or Madame instead of Mrs.
1959 X Y
p 24 in “New England in the Earliest Days” (The Elizabethans & America: Part III) by A L Rowse, AMERIAN HERITAGE Magazine, August 1959, pp 23-28, 105-111.
Caption: “‘Mrs Penobscot’ – and that is the only name we know her by – was one of the Abenaki Indians whom Sir Ferdinando Gorges saw brought over from Maine, taught English, put into Elizabethan dress, and displayed at court…. When the Indians had learned enough English to describe New England to Gorges, they inspired him with his lifelong desire to plant English stock on their shores.”
Comment: Sir Ferdinando Gorges did indeed have some captive Maine Indians (men only), but NOT Mrs P, who was NOT a captive Indian.
1967 X Y Z
p 67 in “Atlantic Foothold” chapter of THE AMERICAN HERITAGE HISTORY OF THE THIRTEEN COLONIES, Narrative by Louis B Wright; Editor-in-Charge Michael Blow; Pictorial Commentary by Ralph K Andrist. Picture Editors for this book: Linda Sykes, Alice D Watson, Kristi N Witker (Assistant). 1967 Published by American Heritage Publishing Co Inc. (Distributed by Simon & Schuster Inc).
Caption: “Identified only as Mme Penobscot (the name of her tribe), the above lady in Elizabethan ruff and farthingale was one of five Indians brought back from Maine in 1605 by George Waymouth, taught to speak English, and used very effectively to promote subsequent colonizing projects.”
Comment: Captain George Waymouth did indeed bring back five Wabanaki captives from Maine in 1605, but all five were MEN, and Mrs (not Mme) P was NOT a captive Indian.
1995 X Y Z
pp 24-25 in AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MAINE by Neil Rolde; with Charles C Calhoun, Illustrations Editor. Published by Friends of the Maine State Museum to Commemorate the 175th Anniversary of Statehood. Augusta ME 1995.
Caption: “2.7 (facing page) ‘Madame Penobscot’ was a Native American captured in Maine and brought back to England in the early 1600s. The ‘princess’ was one of several captives who were taught English and used to promote colonization of New England. Her portrait in Jacobean dress now hangs at The Vyne, a country house in Hampshire, England.”
Comment: Mrs (NOT Madame) P was NOT a captive Indian princess, but a British woman. Waymouth’s captives and Gorges’s guides were all Indian MEN.
Forty years ago, when I first started studying the ethnohistorical anthropology of Wabanaki-English-French Frontier Encounters, the man who later became my mentor, the late Gordon M Day (Eastern Canada Ethnologist at Canadian Museum of Civilization), warned me “Much of the material in print is just plain wrong”.
Gordon’s warning has been proven so right about so many matters I have studied that I now keep his statement framed on my office wall. And a photo of the portrait of Mrs P, which has graced my computer desktop for several years, just now has been deleted and replaced by a photo of a truly mysterious lady:
my pet black cat!
Again, Cheers to Research!