Recto – George Caleb Bingham
Mary Elizabeth Hickman was born in Franklin, Missouri, on October 10, 1820, the middle child of the three children of James E. Hickman and Sophia Woodson Hickman. The Bingham family arrived in Franklin from Virginia shortly before her birth. James Hickman and George Caleb Bingham’s father, Henry Vest Bingham, invested in some of the same business enterprises. Henry died in 1823 when George was 12. James died in 1825 when Mary was four. Mary Bingham, 34, and her five children soon moved to Arrow Rock, Missouri. Sophia Hickman, 23, moved to Columbia, Missouri, where she had family. In 1829, she married David Steele Lamme (1796-1856). Soon, Mary Hickman had four half-siblings.
Mary was 16 when she married James Sidney Rollins, 25, on June 6, 1837 in Columbia, Missouri. James Rollins and artist George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) were the best of friends. In his letters to Rollins, Bingham always affectionately referred to her as “Cousin Mary.”
In 1871, Bingham wrote his friend Rollins,
I think cousin Mary can also be prevailed upon to give a few sittings for her second portrait. As I painted her when she was a bride, I would like to prove to her that the real and deathless beauty which beams from the face of the grandmother can triumph in comparison with that of the girl as she was led to the altar.
Verso – George
Because her husband, an attorney and politician, was frequently away, Mary often managed not only the household, but family business. In January 1849, Mary Rollins drew up a rental contract for her slave George to be leased to a Mr. Lewis for one year for $125, an amount worth over $3,000 today. She stipulated that Mr. Lewis would “furnish said boy with all suitable necessary clothing adapted to the different seasons, pay his taxes and doctor’s bills during the year 1849 and treat him humanely.”
In February 1862, in a letter to her husband, Mary wrote that George was hurt when filling an ice house. He had been “laid up ten days.” She had a doctor tend him.
What happened to George? I have been unable to determine.
- George Caleb Bingham, “Letter to James S. Rollins,” June 4, 1871, Kansas City, Missouri, in Lynn Wolf Gentzler, editor, Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham (The State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. 2011), 304.
- Letter from Mary Rollins to James Rollins, January 7, 1849, Rollins, James S. (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1968, C 1026, Folder 14, State Historical Society of Missouri-Columbia; Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800 -, https://www.minneapolisfed.org/community/financial-and-economic-education/cpi-calculator-information/consumer-price-index-1800 , accessed April 2018.
- Letter from Mary Rollins to James Rollins, February 7, 1862, Rollins, James S. (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1968, State Historical Society of Missouri-Columbia.