Collections › MESDA Collection › Major William S. Dallam and
Letitia (Meredith) Dallam

Major William S. Dallam and
Letitia (Meredith) Dallam

Dearborn, Samuel H.
Place Made:
Lexington Kentucky United States of America
Date Made:
watercolor –paper
HOA: 10″
WOA: 13″
Accession Number:
SITTERS: William S. Dallam (1770-1845) was born in Maryland to landed family with 17th century roots. After completing his education in Maryland he traveled through England, Holland, and France. On his return to America his family sold their Maryland estates and moved to Kentucky. By 1807 Dallam had settled in Lexington, Kentucky, in the center of the fertile Bluegrass region of the state. The following year he married Letitia Meredith (1790-1868). Born in Amherst County, Virginia, her family owned more than 3,000 acres of prime Fayette County land.

For several years the couple resided in the Senator John Pope House–often called the “Pope Villa”–designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. In 1819 they entertained President James Monroe (1758-1831) at the Pope House during his tour of the Southern states.

ARTIST: Samuel H. Dearborn (c.1786-1852) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and trained as an engraver with Abel Bowen (1790-1850). Leaving Boston, he headed west, where he painted miniature profile portraits in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Northern Ohio, and the Kentucky Bluegrass. In 1809 he advertised in the Kentucky Gazette that “the low price of two dollars which he has for small likenesses on paper, it is expected will induce many to substitute them for blank profiles.”

In 1811 he stabbed a fellow resident of his boarding house in Frankfort, Kentucky. He fled the Commonwealth, getting as far as Upper Canada. Caught and returned to Kentucky to stand trail for murder, he escaped from prison. This time he was more successful at evading the law. By 1818 he had returned to Boston, changed his name to Nathaniel, and returned to his roots as a commercial engraver.

FRAME: Original carved and gilt frame with églomisé matte.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has several objects owned at Winton by Major William and Letitia Dallam of Lexington, Kentucky, on view. These include a painting by George Beck (ACC 5740) and a fancy painted sidechair (5691.2).

REFERENCES: Estill Curtis Pennington, “Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920” (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2011)

DESCRIPTION: Rectangular frame with oval shapes around two profile portraits. The glass framing the work is painted black and has gilt decoration. On the left is a silhouette of a man facing right, wearing a black jacket and white shirt with brown hair. On the right is a woman facing left, wearing a pink dress with white collar, a black beaded necklace and wears her hair up. Below both portraits is the artist signature.

Credit Line:
Nancy C. James Purchase Fund