Portrait of an Art Investigation: Lilian I

For the portrait that led to Jeremiah and Daniel Wadsworth and to the previous blog, John Trumbull’s tender side, the investigation began with the painting itself. Oil on canvas, 22 x 18 inches, the hand of a skillful artist could be seen in the illuminated profile of an intriguing woman. The loose brushstrokes and representative painting style of the artist, the splendiferous hat and fur of the sitter all spoke of the Gilded Age.

Written on the canvas tack edges were two names:

Inscription – top tacking edge
Inscription – left tacking edge

Genealogical research confirmed that the two names represented the same person: Lilian de Peyster Post (Mrs. John Arthur Pulsford).  What would her life reveal about the portrait?

Lilian was born in the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii] on November 19, 1866, the first-born child of Episcopal missionary, the Reverend Richard Bayley Post, Jr. (1837-1905), and his wife, Elizabeth Dean Arden (1839-after 1920). Both of her parents’ ancestral roots stretched back prestigiously into the history of the United States from William Bradford (ca. 1590–1657), who signed the Mayflower Compact and was a governor of Plymouth colony, and Johannes de Peyster (ca. 1600-1685), one of New York’s earliest Dutch colonists to a founder of West Point, to the first health officer of New York, and even to Mother Seaton (Elizabeth Ann Bayley). In regard to the earlier post, Jeremiah Wadsworth was her 4th great-grandfather, and his daughter Catherine, her third great-grandmother.((New Jersey Society of the Colonial Dames of America, Register of the New Jersey Society of the Colonial Damesof America (New Jersey Society of the Colonial Dames of America, 1914), 330))

The year after Lilian’s birth, the Posts returned to the United States to live in New York City where the first of Lilian’s three brothers was born. The family soon moved to South Amboy, New Jersey. The Reverend Post eventually became assistant rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey.((Genealogical records in Family Trees in Ancestry.com; “The Reverend Richard B. Post,” undated obituary.))

On April 15, 1896, in her father’s church, Lilian married John Arthur Pulsford. The wedding was a grand affair with nine bridesmaids and nine ushers.((The attendants were: Constance Walberger Arden, Thomas, Arden, S. William Briscoe; Agnes Winifred Chamberlain, DeWitt Clinton, Henry T. Dumbell, Catherine Maurice, Moore, Penelope Butler, Parker, Margaret Gouvenour Philipse, Helen Wadsworth Post, Adrian Terry Post, Margaret Howard Post, R. Bayley Post, Ernest Pulsford, Josephine Alice Pulsford, W. Sherman Pulsford, J. Ridgeway Such, and Julius Snowden. (Undated and unsourced newspaper wedding announcement from Elizabeth (New Jersey) Public Library.)) The groom worked as a fire insurance agent for Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Companies of New York City, a firm established in the United States by his English-born father, James Eustace Pulsford (1816-1906). Following their honeymoon, the Pulsfords lived  in a three-story, five-bedroom home, staffed by a live-in maid, at 241 Edgar Place, Elizabeth, New Jersey.((United States Census Bureau, Twelfth Census of the United States, “Household of John A. Pulsford,” June 11, 1900; Elizabeth Ward 10, Union, New Jersey; Roll: 996; Page: 12B; lines 74-76.))

Thirteen years later, in July 1909, Lilian left John a note telling him she “had gone to Pt. Pleasant, N.J….He did not see her again until March, 1910, when he met her at Prince George Hotel. He said she told him then ‘that she wanted to get rid of his name’; that she was willing ‘to go to the end of the world to get rid of it.”((“Surprised by Own Wedding,” New York Times, Sunday, March 19, 1913, page 15, columns 5-6.)) The next month, she was living in an Omaha, Nebraska, hotel and working as a “typewriter” for a publishing company.((United States Census Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United States, “Family Hotel, 102 South 25th Street,” April 21, 1910, Omaha Ward 4, Douglas, Nebraska; Roll: T624_843;page 5B. line 15.))

A year later, on its front page, the New York Times published a special report from Reno, Nevada:

Wife Wins Decree on Grounds of
Cruelty – Resumes Maiden Name


She testified that… her husband…was extremely jealous and on more than  one occasion threatened her life for allowing her friends to visit her. One night when she was in a parlor talking with a woman friend, he entered, and brandishing a gun, told her friend to get out. On another occasion, while they were dining with friends, he became angry, and running from the table, got a revolver, stating he was out to kill the young man they were discussing.

The court also gave Mrs. Pulford permission to resume her maiden name.((New York Times, March 24, 1911, page 1, column 6))

Unnoticed by the press only a week later, March 31, 1911, a court clerk in Chicago, Illinois recorded that Lilian Post, 42, married Allen F. Walker, 30.((Illinois Department of Public Health records, Marriage Records, 1871–present,  Division of Vital Records, Springfield, Illinois,” Ancestry.com)) The event would not remain overlooked.

Next: Portrait of an Art Investigation – Lilian II