Portrait of a Yankee on the Broadkill

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.

Front and back view of William G. Fearing cabinet card portrait, probably taken between 1882 and 1888 (MHS collection, gift of Ellen Graves).

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.

Silver or silver-plated bowl, manufacturer unknown, purportedly given to William G. Fearing by Admiral David G. Farragut after the Battle of New Orleans in 1862 (MHS Collection, gift of Ellen Graves)

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.

8 thoughts on “Portrait of a Yankee on the Broadkill

  • Nice write up on the gift! It is exciting to receive these pieces at MHS along with the family history/story that makes them make sense. Great photos, Phil. How did you get such a good shot of the silver piece? Thank you and see you soon, Heidi

    • Phil Martin

      Good camera, a LOT of Photoshop work to get the ugly background and surface out! The next post will be about the J. B. Welch photos.

  • William T. Jones

    My father, William T. Jones, Sr., remembered Billy Fearing and pointed out his house to me, next to Welsh’s Drug Store in the 1950s several times. By then it was one of those old wooden structures, badly in need of paint, with grey and black rotting clapboards.

    My father pronounced his name as “Fair-ing.” I was fascinated by the fact that Billy was a Civil War veteran. “There were hundreds of the them back then,” my father told me. The last Civil War veteran, a Confederate, died in 1959. Despite the fact that I was just 10 years old, I still remember seeing a story about it the TV news.

    I assumed at the time that Billy Fearing was an army foot soldier. I wish I had known that he had served under Admiral Farragut. That would have made him even more interesting to me. If he had been a writer, he could have written an amazing book.

    • Phil Martin

      I remember the last Civil War veteran’s death as well; he was a CSA bugler or drummer boy, ver young when he served. It’s interesting about the pronunciation of his name; I’ll add that to my list of Delaware peculiarities of speech, which grows steadily.

  • Roberta Hagen

    It is exciting to learn more details about the house (where the rambunctious garden is now located) next to the Welch Pharmacy. Gladys Wilkins told me that there had never been a house there. But I found out that this was incorrect, as it can be seen in photos at the turn of the century. Does anyone have a date when it was finally gone? I had hoped it had been moved to another location. But it seems like it fell apart and was probably demolished.

    • Phil Martin

      Roberta, I wish I knew when the house was demolished – William Jones Jr. thinks it was in the 1950’s.

  • Debra Bradshaw Romano

    Very interesting. My great grandfather was John B Welch. He owned the drug store. He was also a poet and wrote music. In going through some of my mother’s things, I came across a few hymns that he had written. I sing in a church choir and we sang a few of them in church. It was very meaningful to me.

    Very interesting to read about connections to Civil War and Billy Fearing’s connection with Admiral Farragut.

    • Phil Martin

      Debra, thank you for your interest in the post. You’re going to love the next one – it’s going to be all about your great grandad and his family.

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