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Shepard Alonzo Mount

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Joshua Ruff of The Long Island Museum and town historian Barbara Russell at the Longwood Estate. Photo courtesy of Town of Brookhaven

On Aug. 7, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and town historian Barbara Russell visited the Longwood Estate (circa 1790) in Ridge where they presented two historic paintings to Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretation at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, to be added to the museum’s collection as a long-term loan.

The portraits, painted by Shepard Alonzo Mount, were gifted to the town by Eleanor Smith of California. The subjects are William Sidney Smith (1796–1879) and his wife, Eleanor Jones Smith (1805–1884). A year after their marriage in 1823, the couple came to Longwood Estate and raised 10 children. William Smith served as Brookhaven Supervisor from 1829 to 1834.

“These pieces were donated to the Town of Brookhaven, they still belong to the Town of Brookhaven, but they are coming to the museum and will be stored in our collections to be used occasionally for exhibition purposes,” said Ruff in a recent phone interview. “We agreed in taking them as a long-term loan because we believe they really add to our holdings on Shepard Alonzo Mount.”

Painted in the early 1830s, the two portraits were displayed in the house on the property until the last Smith family owner, Eleanor Northrup Smith, sold the estate and moved to California in the late 1960s. The paintings have been stored in a warehouse since that time. 

Albeit a loan, Ruff is thrilled to be able to add them to the museum’s current collection, which includes more than 25 of Shepard Alonzo Mount’s paintings and several hundred of his drawings and sketches, not to mention the enormous collection of paintings and drawings by his more famous younger brother, William Sidney Mount.  

According to Ruff, these particular portraits are unique in that they precede the portrait paintings the museum has, which are from the later 1830s and 1840s. “They were done just when [Shepard] was starting to launch his career as a portrait artist. This was a phase of his career that we hadn’t really documented before. They are valuable in that sense to us,” he said. “They show him beginning to mature as an artist and improve in his skills.”

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‘The Slave’s Grave,’ oil on panel, by Shepard Alonzo Mount. Image from The Long Island Museum

By Beverly C. Tyler

William Sidney Mount, Setauket and Stony Brook’s famous genre artist, was a keen observer of nature and human nature, and he enjoyed traveling around Long Island, especially his native villages of Stony Brook and Setauket. In 1853, Mount wrote to his friend Chauncey Marvin Cady  about walking through a former slave burial ground on the family farm and noticing a beautifully carved gravestone. It is believed the graveyard is located behind the Hawkins-Mount house at Stony Brook Road and Route 25A.

“(I) was so much struck with the sublimity and originality of one of the monuments to a distinguished fiddler, and as my late Uncle Micah Hawkins wrote the epitaph and placed the stone to the old Negro’s memory, and as you are an advocate for musical genius, I felt it my duty to send you a copy. I have sat by Anthony when I was a child, to hear him play his jigs and hornpipes. He was a master in that way, and acted well his part. Yours, very truly Wm. S. Mount.”

The gravestone of Anthony Clapp, now preserved in the collection of The Long Island Museum. Image from The Long Island Museum

William Sidney was not the only Mount who appreciated the gravestones in the “former slave burial ground.” In The Long Island Museum collection is an unsigned painting attributed to his brother Shepard Alonzo Mount that features two gravestones standing as silent sentinels in an otherwise bucolic scene — one the gravestone of Anthony Hannibal Clapp.

Kate Strong, a Long Island historian, and great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong, wrote in the May 1954 issue of the Long Island Forum, “Though William S. Mount … was a little boy when Tony died, he never forgot the Negro and kept the fiddle (engraved on his gravestone) fresh painted as long as he lived. … There it stood until a few years ago when it was removed for safekeeping.”

The epitaph on the tombstone for Clapp was composed by Micah Hawkins, uncle of William Sidney and composer of “The Saw-Mill, or a Yankee Trick,” America’s first performed operetta. The stone was carved by Phineas Hill, a stone carver from Huntington. The edited copy from The Long Island Museum Art Collection reads: “Entirely tone less; honor and shame from no condition rise — Act well thy part, there all the honor lies. Anthony Hannibal Clapp.

Born at Horseneck, Connecticut, 14 July 1749 — Came to Setauket in 1779 — Here sojourning until he died 12, Oct. 1816. … Upon the violin, few play’d as Toney play’d, his artless music was a language universal, and its effect most irresistible! Ay, and was he not of Setauket’s Dancing-steps-a physiognomist, indeed he was. Nor old nor young, of either sex, stood on the floor to jig it, but he knew the gait. Peculiar to their hobby, and unasked, plac’d best foot foremost for them, by his fiddle. This emblamatic lachrymatory, and cenotaph’s the grateful tribute of a few who know his worth.”

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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