Mr. Boyd and Mr. Miles: A New York State portrait artist deciphered

David R. Allaway

David R. Allaway Art

Early nineteenth-century American portraiture includes a number of small profile likenesses in oil, pastel, and watercolor by artists such as C. B. J. F. de St. Mémin, James Sharples, Gerrit Schipper, and Jacob Eichholtz. All follow the European fashion for profiles, namely emulating those on Greek vases and Roman coinage, and are thus fitting for the neoclassical motifs and styles of the new republic. The focus of this article is a group of well-executed but somewhat more primitive likenesses dating from about 1808 to 1815 and largely without attribution.1 One of them, from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (one of five of the Peffer family, c. 1808), bears the inscription, “taken by Mr. Boyd in Harrisburg.” It has been speculated that this could refer to George Williams Boyd, a Harrisburg furniture maker, but there is no evidence that he painted portraits, nor are there any similar portraits so-inscribed or from the Harrisburg vicinity. Moreover, Boyd was born in 1796 and thus too young to have been responsible for many of the portraits in the group.

  • Figs. 2a. Caroline Ann Ross [1797–1885] attributed  to Miles, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, c. 1808. Oil on wood, 9 by 7 inches each. Private collection.
  • Fig. 1. Probably Harriet (Holmes) Rogers [1787–1872] and Thomas Rogers [1790–1853] attributed to Jasper P. Miles (1782–1849), Palmyra, Ontario County, New York, c. 1813. Oil on wood, 8 ¾ by 6 ½ inches each. Previously attributed to “Mr. Boyd,” these are thought to have been painted at the time of Harriet Holmes’s marriage to Thomas Rogers in December 1813; the accompanying likenesses in Fig. 7 are believed to be of the bride’s parents. Private collection.
  • Figs. 2b. William Sterling Ross [1808–1868] attributed to Miles, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, c. 1808. Oil on wood, 9 by 7 inches each. Private collection.

Despite a lack of curatorial attribution, the number of profile likenesses assigned to “Mr. Boyd” and identified as of probable Pennsylvania origin continues to grow in the marketplace. Curiously, few are definitively from Pennsylvania, and several are known to be from New York State. In trying to resolve the mystery of the works’ origins, my interest was piqued by similar oil-on-panel profiles by a Jasper P. Miles, who worked in northwestern Ohio in the 1830s and 1840s, long after the fashion for profile portraits had waned. Several of these depict members of the Miles family or are inscribed “Jasper Miles” or “Mr. Miles.” They are twenty to thirty years later than the putative Mr. Boyd’s, but since the similarities to those works could not be dismissed, I became curious about Miles’s whereabouts in earlier decades. This led me to two surprising discoveries: first, Miles had lived in close proximity to the subjects of many of the portraits tentatively attributed to “Mr. Boyd,” and second, he had advertised as a portrait painter in New York State as early as 1813. Further research has established a geographic and chronological trail of oil-on-panel profile portraits in Miles’s distinctive style that can link many of the “Mr. Boyd” and unattributed profiles to Miles’s known residences and dates.

  • Figs. 7a. Possibly Candace (Case) Holmes [1759– after 1810] attributed to Miles, Palmyra, New York, c. 1813. Oil on panel, 8 ¾ by 6 ½ inches each. A number of the portraits from the Palmyra area appear to be of a bride and groom and her parents; here the sitters are thought to be the parents of Harriet Holmes Rogers (see Fig. 1). Private collection.
  • Figs. 6b. Dr. William Hortsen [1767– 1832] attributed to Miles, Geneva, Ontario County, New York, c. 1810. Oil on panel, 8 ⅝ by 6 ⅞. Private collection.
  • Figs. 6a. Mary (Lakin) Hortsen [1771–1839] attributed to Miles, Geneva, Ontario County, New York, c. 1810. Oil on panel, 8 ⅝ by 6 ⅞. Private collection.
  • Figs. 7b. Peleg Holmes, [1755–1831] attributed to Miles, Palmyra, New York, c. 1813. Oil on panel, 8 ¾ by 6 ½ inches each. A number of the portraits from the Palmyra area appear to be of a bride and groom and her parents; here the sitters are thought to be the parents of Harriet Holmes Rogers (see Fig. 1). Private collection.
  • Fig. 3. Mary Pierce Mumford [later Dakin; 1809–1863] attributed to Miles, Cayuga, New York, 1811. Inscribed “December 1811” and “Cayuga” in graphite on the front and “Mary P. Dakin” on the back. Oil on tulipwood panel, 8 ⅛ by 6 ¾ inches. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mrs. Katherine Dakim; Photograph by Richard Walker.
  • Fig. 4. Elihu Hubbard Smith Mumford [1802–1844] attributed to Miles, Cayuga, New York, 1811. Inscribed “December 1811 Cayuga/E.H.S.M.” in graphite on the front. Oil on wood panel, 8 13/16 by 61 3/16 inches. Wadsworth Atheneum.

There are several defining characteristics of this entire body of work: all are executed in oil on wood (probably poplar) and measure approximately nine by seven inches; all display an extraordinary attention to detail in the hair, which is drawn in miniaturist technique with a sharp-pointed brush; and there is a distinctive horn-shaped shading to the inner ear. The clothing is depicted in broad strokes, and the subject is often seated in a rod-back Windsor chair (frequently one decorated with tiny gold dots) or, later, a paint-decorated fancy chair. The male profiles have a characteristic verticality to the back, and the far arm is suggested simply by a triangle. The portraits dating from between about 1808 and 1815 have a uniform pale gray background, with the earliest examples having painted spandrels, and the later ones having rough edges that would be concealed by a cardboard or églomisé mat.

Jasper Miles was born in Brooklyn, Connecticut, in 1782, to Thomas and Jerusha (Hubbard) Miles, and moved with his parents during the 1790s to Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania.2 In 1808 he married Elizabeth “Betsy” Bailey, daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Smith) Bailey, in Braintrim, Luzerne (now Wyoming) County, Pennsylvania.3 The first portraits potentially attributable to him were executed about 1808 and depict the two young children of General William Ross of Wilkes-Barre, in Luzerne County (Figs. 2a, 2b).4 Like Miles, General Ross was a native of Windham County, Connecticut.

By 1810 Miles appears in the census records in Geneva, New York, ninety-five miles northwest of Braintrim. Portraits in the group from Geneva include those of Mary Lakin Hortsen and Dr. William Hortsen (Figs. 6a, 6b), residents of Geneva from 1804 or earlier to 1828. Other portraits from the vicinity include the young siblings Mary Pierce Mumford (later Dakin) and Elihu Hubbard Smith Mumford, both inscribed “Cayuga, N.Y., December 1811” (Figs. 3, 4). In February 1813, advertising that he was selling his house in Geneva, Miles noted that he was a sign and portrait painter and advised his friends to avail themselves of his services while they could, as he intended to leave town (Fig. 5).

By 1814 Miles had moved some forty miles northwest to Penfield, New York, where he and his wife became founding members of a small pacifist Baptist sect.5 Penfield is only twelve miles from Palmyra, New York, the location of at least ten known portraits in the group, executed between about 1813 and 1815. These include the portrait pair of Susannah Brown Durfee and Major Edward Durfee, in a War of 1812 militia uniform (Figs. 8a, 8b); four portraits of antecedents of the Radcliffe family, believed to include the 1813 wedding portraits of Thomas Rogers and Harriet Holmes (Fig. 1) and the bride’s parents (Figs. 7a, 7b); and three recently discovered portraits of the General John L. Swift family, including Fawnia Cole and Asa Ransom Swift, who were married in 1812.

  • Fig. 11. Cynthia (Brooks) Hine [1825– 1855] by Miles, Berlin, Erie County, Ohio, probably 1847. Inscribed  “Cynthia Brooks Hine/By/Jasper Miles, Itinerant painter” on the back. Oil on wood, 9 by 6 ¾ inches. Photograph courtesy of Cowan’s  Auctions, Cincinnati.
  • Figs. 9a. Mrs. Buckingham [possibly Julia Ann Buckingham (1813–1882) of Norwalk, Huron County, Ohio] attributed to Miles, Ohio, c. 1840. Oil on wood, 8 ½ by  6 ½ inches each (sight). Private collection.
  • Figs. 9b. Mr. Buckingham [possibly Samuel Buckingham (1797–1864) of Norwalk, Huron County, Ohio] attributed to Miles, Ohio, c. 1840. Oil on wood, 8 ½ by 6 ½ inches each (sight). Private collection.
  • Figs. 8a. Susannah Brown Durfee [1774–1854] attributed to Miles, Palmyra, New York, c. 1815. Oil on wood, 7 by 5 ¼ inches each. Private collection.  Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
  • Figs. 8b. Major Edward Durfee [1771– 1823] attributed to Miles, Palmyra, New York, c. 1815. Oil on wood, 7 by 5 ¼ inches each. Private collection.  Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
  • Fig. 10. Mary L. Kellogg [later Brooks; 1829–1915] by Miles, Berlin Heights, Erie County, Ohio, 1846. Inscribed “This likness [sic] of Mrs Homer Brooks / Ne Mary Kellogg was painted by an [illegible] / Mr Miles in Berlin Erie Co Ohio in 1846” on the back. Oil on wood, 9 by 6 ¾ inches. Private collection; photograph courtesy of garths.com | Garth’s Auctions.

In the exceptionally bitter winter of 1816 to 1817, Miles and his family made the arduous trek to the Firelands district of northwestern Ohio, dragging their possessions across the ice on frozen Lake Erie.6 The Firelands were part of the Western Reserve, property in Ohio claimed by the state of Connecticut and proposed as a settlement area for Connecticut residents whose towns had been burned by the British during the Revolution. Once heavily forested, it is now sprawling farmland, but it is still dotted with Connecticut town names such as Norwalk, New Haven, and Greenwich.

The early years of the Miles family in what was then wilderness in Huron County, Ohio, were ones of hardship. Betsy Miles sewed buckskin clothing for barter, while Jasper Miles was variously engaged as a farmer, house painter, sign painter, school teacher, justice of the peace (elected 1820), and church deacon. After losing their property and years of investment, the family moved to nearby Milan, Ohio (now in Erie County), about 1825-1827.7

After a stay of some eight years, they made a final move to nearby Berlin (now Berlin Heights), Ohio. Miles apparently stopped painting portraits for as long as a decade, but evidently resumed his artistic pursuits by the mid-1820s and continued to paint well into the 1840s.8 An example from Huron County may be the portrait pair Mr. & Mrs. Buckingham (Figs. 9a, 9b). During this Ohio period, portraiture may have been an avocation, as many of Miles’s subjects are family members and neighbors. Among the sitters are his son and daughter-in-law Henry B. Miles and Fanny (Allen) Miles and the bride’s parents, Ruben and Pearl (Smith) Allen, probably done about the time of Henry and Fanny’s wedding in October 1838.9 The portrayal of newlyweds and parents of the bride echoes the earlier Palmyra portraits. Several examples are in the possession of Miles family descendants, the Milan Historical Museum, and the Edison Birthplace Museum (also in Milan), including a portrait of Nancy Elliot Edison, the future mother of Thomas Alva Edison. Among the last known works are those of neighbors in Berlin Heights-Mary L. Kellogg, dated 1846 (Fig. 11), and Cynthia Brooks Hine, probably 1847, the year she married (Fig. 10). Miles died in Berlin Heights on March 11, 1849.10

With this framework of chronology, location, and stylistic clues, it seems possible to identify Jasper Miles as the artist of numerous early nineteenth-century profile portraits from Pennsylvania and New York State that have been previously unattributed, as well as those that have been ascribed to “Mr. Boyd.” While further scrutiny is needed to confirm this identification, for now the evidence is quite convincing.

DAVID R. ALLAWAY is an IT systems architect, folk-art collector, and independent researcher.

Click here to see the checklist of portraits attributed to Jasper P. Miles and closely-related examples.

1 A subset of this group was previously recognized by Paul S. D’Ambrosio as the work of a single hand. See D’Ambrosio and Charlotte M. Emans, Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association (New York State Historical Association, 1987), p. 174. 2 For further discussion, see Thomas Robert Ryan, The Worlds of Jacob Eichholtz (Lancaster Historical Society, Lancaster, Pa., 2003), p. 63. 3 Luzerne County Federalist, December 9, 1808. 4 These appear to be in the same inlaid mahogany frames as the Peffer family portraits. 5 William W. Williams, History of the Fire Lands (Cleveland, Ohio, 1879), p. 248. 6 1816 was the infamous “Year Without a Summer” and saw widespread crop failures in New York State and elsewhere. This may have been the family’s motivation for leaving New York State. 7 Williams, History of the Fire Lands, p. 244. See also Thebert Azariah “Ted” Prusia, “History of the Miles Family,” c. 1976, courtesy of John Prusia, Nampa, Idaho. 8 The 1826 accounts of Dr. David G. Harkness of Milan, Ohio, record payment to Jasper Miles of four dollars for two “likenesses,” in addition to payments for house and sign painting. 9 These four portraits are in the possession of the Milan (Ohio) Historical Society and are also described in The Firelands Pioneer (1891), p. 11, as depicting the younger couple “in their wedding costume.” Their marriage took place in October 1838. 10 For a profile of Jasper Miles in Ohio, see Jane Sikes Hageman, Ohio Pioneer Artists: A Pictorial Review (Ohio Furniture Makers, Cincinnati, 1993), pp. 72-74.