“A Large Circle of Friends”

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

In late January 2021, I came into possession of seven small carte de visite portraits, all taken by Wellington photographer William Sawtell. None of the images was identified or dated. I had purchased the lot online, so I reached out to the seller to ask if he happened to know where the photos came from. He wrote back right away, saying that he lived in Pennsylvania and was very interested in the photographic studios of the Philadelphia region. As for this grouping, however, “I found the Wellington ones locally at a flea market literally in a corn field…I was told by an elderly gentleman that they all came out of a photo album owned/signed by E. M. Hamilton.”

Unidentified portrait of an infant taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

I got very excited when I read this last bit of information. Readers of the blog may remember that Wellington was home to a school for girls–the Seminary–from 1849 until 1864. The first proprietor of the school was Mary Ann Adams. The second, and much longer lasting, was Eliza M. Hamilton. Eliza lived in Wellington for nearly her entire fifty-three years, until moving shortly before her death to live near her brother William in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. This photo album, found in a cornfield flea market, almost certainly belonged to her.

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

New Richmond is just over the Pennsylvania state line, only two-and-a-half-hours away by car. Presumably Eliza’s 1870s journey lasted a bit longer. According to her obituary in the Wellington Enterprise, “The last three years when she should have been nursed and resting, she was toiling and teaching, until compelled by her friends to take the respite with her family that was too late to avail anything, save the comfort of being with her kindred, and receiving the care that must have come gratefully at last, to one who knew so well how to care for others” (11-15-1877, pg. 3). The respite was short-lived. Her brother’s death notice appeared above her own in the November 8th edition (pg. 3). The siblings died just six days apart.

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

How I wish I knew more about these seven individuals and about the photographic album that once held their likenesses. Are they members of the Hamilton family? Are they former students of the Wellington Seminary? Eliza never married, nor had any biological children of her own, though a November 29th notice announced, “‘Howard,’ the little boy adopted by the late Miss E. M. Hamilton, has found a home with a relative of his deceased guardian, in Pennsylvania” (pg. 3). Could this adopted child possibly be the infant depicted in one of the photographs?

Two more things are worth mentioning. First, one of the portraits of an unidentified woman is the same subject depicted in another Sawtell image I already owned. She is wearing the same hairstyle and clothing, though in a slightly different pose. Second, one of the photos may be the oldest I have yet acquired. It was taken at J. W. Southard’s studio when Sawtell ran it, probably a transitional moment of operating an established business in the community prior to opening a studio under his own name. If this is correct, it would date the image to sometime around 1865/66, when Sawtell completed his military service in the Union Army and relocated to Wellington.

Unidentified portrait of a man taken by W. F. Sawtell, probably taken ca. 1865/66. Author’s collection.

I have uploaded all of these images, as well as a half-dozen more, to the Sawtell page. I have also scanned and added a few Wellington trade cards to that page. If those items are of interest to you, I encourage you to click through and have a look. When I began this blog, in August 2013, one of my very first posts was about the photography of William Sawtell. I could never have guessed that eight-and-a-half years and 199 posts later, I would still be writing about him.


4 thoughts on ““A Large Circle of Friends”

  1. Allen Koenigsberg

    Thank you for all of this information and illustrations. Quite fascinating.

    I have now completed my own research on Devillo Levi Bennett (1862-1928) who was born in Wellington to Sarah (nee Lambert) and Levi Bennett. Devillo graduated from the local high school in 1880 and then was able to attend Cornell University, getting his EE Degree in 1887.
    He became an inventor (in Chicago) and changed his name to Thomas B. Lambert – some of his patented achievements still survive, the first unbreakable phonograph records (made of celluloid).
    Although he was sued by Thomas Edison, he triumphed in the Courts. His unmarked grave has recently been restored and he now has a small marker of granite. He had been raised by Edmund and Rebecca Lambert in Wellington when both his parents died from TB in 1875-1876.
    The article has been published, in eleven pages and 22 period illustrations, and I am glad to forward it (as a pdf) to any who might request it.


    1. Armchair Historian Post author

      Oh, I am so pleased to hear that you found the answers you were looking for! Congratulations! Have you forwarded a copy on to the Spirit of ’76 Museum? I know Scott Markel, the VP, is particularly keen on tracking notable people from Wellington.

      1. Allen Koenigsberg

        I will be pleased to do that if you verify the email address. I can’t say that “every” riddle was solved, but quite a few…


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