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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

On the Trail of an Adams County
 Portrait Painter

Elwood Christ

On January 23, 2003, the society received an e-mail inquiry from a lady in Montgomery County. She had purchased at an antique market an oil-on-canvas portrait of an unidentified older woman. On its back side was inscribed "P. Adams Gettysburg 1854." She wondered whether we could identify the subject of the portrait or the artist.

"Interesting," I wrote back; the society has four large portraits (oil on canvases) whose artists had not signed their works. I suspected that these portraits might have been done sometime in the early to mid-1850s. One of the subjects has been identified; it is an image of John Bayard McPherson, the first head cashier at the Bank of Gettysburg (today a branch of PNC) , who died in 1859.

My "gut" feeling told me that "P. Adams" most likely was the painter and not the subject; and the painter may have been comparable to a traveling salesman. The likelihood of identifying the artist or the subject was very slim.

Nevertheless, I searched census indexes and found a reference to a Philip Adams residing in Gettysburg in 1850. Huh, a coincidence, I thought. Checking the microfilm of the Gettysburg census, Philip was a worker listed in the household of a "G. A. Frye." The occupations of Adams and Frye were that of "coach painters." That fact peaked my interest.

"G. A." Frye was actually George J. or John G. Frey whose name appeared in the Gettysburg tax records from as early as 1843 through at least 1856. His name and those of family members also appeared in the 1860 Gettysburg census wherein his occupation was recorded as "Master Painter." Frey died in Gettysburg on or about October 30, 1866, at the age of 48 years, 9 months, 16 days. He left a widow and 9 children. Coincidently, a reference in another Gettysburg newspaper indicated his 1-year-old son, George Howard Frey, died on September 5, 1854.

The information I uncovered about Philip Adams, unfortunately, was limited. Besides census records, I checked the Gettysburg tax records for the period 1850 through 1856. Adams was listed in the single persons' section in 1850, 1851, and 1852, but his name did not appear in the 1853, 1854, 1855, or 1856 records. Moreover, I also checked contemporary tax records for Cumberland, Straban, and Mt. Joy towships, but did not find his name listed. However, an entry listed as "Adams divisions trustees" did appear in 1854, 1855, and 1856 Gettysburg tax lists. I do not know at this time the meaning of the latter entry, for I found no probate record of an Adams family member dying in 1853.

The census and tax information thus indicated that in the summer of 1850 Philip Adams was an unmarried 21-year-old coach painter, born in Maryland about 1829, who resided in town from about the fall of 1849 (1850 tax record) until at least the fall of 1851 (1852 record). His whereabouts after that cannot be established without extensive research.

Intriguingly, Adams family marriage and death notices suggest another possible scenario.

Philip Adams might have been a relative of an Adams Countian. For the period about the mid-1850s, I found the following: Anthony Adams of Baltimore married Marie E. Gettier also of Baltimore, but formerly of Adams County (Star & Banner 02/24/1854); Ignatius Adams of Conewago twp. died at the age of 87 (Compiler 01/24/1853); and Mrs. Margaret Adams, widow of Richard, of Oxford twp. died at the age of 79 (Star & Banner, 03/14/1856). Although these folks might have been relatives of Philip, there is no way of confirming that without some estate paper linking Philip with the others. Moreover, prior to 1849, Philip was under age; so his name probably would not appear in any deed or tax records.

There is a third possible scenario; the elderly Mrs. Margaret Adams who died in 1856, could her nickname have been Peg? Then could not the "P. Adams" on the back of the painting of an unidentified older woman refer to Peg Adams?

Theoretically, Philip Adams might have been an itinerant of sorts who happened to work in Gettysburg for a 2-3 year period and then moved on. If he was the painter of the woman's portrait, possibly he might have established a reputation for portraitures in the Gettysburg area during the period 1850-1852, who was called back from wherever he had moved to do the portrait in 1854.

Could Philip have painted a portrait of a relative, Margaret Adams, in 1854? To solve that riddle, we need to track the movements of Philip Adams or find his obituary to see what became of him, but where did he move after the compilation of the 1852 Gettysburg tax record in the late fall of 1851? Possibly, he remained in Gettysburg after that time - the Gettysburg tax assessor might have simply missed him when he compiled his list in the fall of 1852, but would he have miss listing him three years in a row?

So where might have Philip Adams gone?

Coincidentally, in Gettysburg during this time, there lived a carriage maker, Charles William Hoffman. Based on research, the lion's share done by William A. Frassanito, we know that Hoffman was a Southern sympathizer who ran afoul with many contemporary Gettysburgians. About the period 1854-1855, he left Gettysburg and moved to Shepherdstown, VA (now WV), where he established another carriage-making shop in the southern end of town. He remained there for only two years. Moving out about 1857-1858, he eventually settled in Linden, VA. At least one of his workers left Gettysburg with him - Wesley Culp. Culp later enlisted in the 2nd Virginia Regiment and was later killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Since Wesley Culp had moved away from Gettysburg with Hoffman, is it conceivable that a young couch painter, such as Philip Adams, also might have left with him?

Do you know of an individual who helped shape the Adams County?
If so, send their story to us at: History@myGettysburg.net