Once again, an extraordinary bit of luck has provided the Milton Historical with another portrait of one of the people named on the stained glass window of the Lydia B. Cannon Museum. In this instance Ms. Ellen Graves of Lewes contacted us to let us know she had a cabinet card portrait of William G. Fearing, known as “Uncle Billy” to the townspeople of Milton and the “Yankee on the Broadkill” in my stories about him. It seems that Ms. Graves and Lydia Reynolds Fearing, William’s wife, have a common ancestor.
Two things about this portrait are worth noting.
The photographer was Harry Linfield Perkins (1853 – 1921) of Baltimore, who maintained a studio at 103 W. Baltimore Street between 1882 and 1888, after which he moved to different locations over a period of years. He was the son of a photographer, Palmer Lenfield Perkins, who began his career in daguerreotype in the 1850’s . Harry is first listed as a photographer in the Baltimore City Directory in 1872, with a studio at 207 W. Baltimore St. adjacent to his father’s. Well into the 1890’s, Harry’s portrait style did not vary much at all from the simple vignette style he used for Fearing, even as his competitors used more elaborate backdrops and whole-body poses.
On the reverse of the cabinet card, at the top, the words “Wm. G. Fearing Milton Delaware” can be seen in faint pencil, in the elaborate script form of 19th century America. More modern writing appears below, again identifying the subject and showing the owner as Mrs. Welch. The Welch family lived at 205 Union Street, next door to William and Lydia Fearing. The Fearing house is long gone, and is now a rambunctious flower garden. Mrs. Welch was either given the portrait by Fearing himself while he was alive, or after his death; the Fearings were childless.
Ms. Graves donated another with a connection to William G. Fearing: a silver bowl with handle, which her family lore attributes to a gift from “Flag Officer” David Farragut (later Admiral) to Fearing after the Battle of New Orleans in 1862 during the Civil War. Fearing served as Farragut’s “cabin boy,” which does not mean it was was a job for a minor (Fearing was 25 years old at the time), but for a lower rank seaman. A cabin boy brought messages back and forth from officers to crew, often under fire. Fearing’s obituary states that he directed naval artillery fire during the war from a position on a mast. We don’t know how this relates to his service as a cabin boy or messenger early in the war, but we can now state that he served with Farragut on his flagship U. S. S. Hartford, and probably continued in service with him up the Mississippi River in highly important engagements.
For more depth on the story of William and Lydia Fearing, follow this link.