Portrait of Z. B. Coffin – One Mystery Solved

This oil portrait of Zebulon B. Coffin, my second great grandfather, has hung in my living room since shortly after we moved into this house in 1983.  Before that it spent I don’t know how much time in several attics.  When it was passed along to me there wasn’t really much of anything known about it: not who painted it, or when, or why it was painted.

A number of years ago, I discovered in reading through a set of family diaries from his family that it had been done for his daughter Jessie’s birthday one year, but at the time I was originally reading through them I did not make any notes or entries anywhere so I could remember the details.  This past year I added the specific task to my 25-minute tasks of going back and finding that specific entry so the information can be added to the back of the picture (at least a date).

I recently began reading the first family diary again in my search for the remembered entry, and lo and behold! I found it in the first year of the first diary being kept, which was started the end of August 1885.

“Friday Nov 20/85  Mamma’s birth-day.  Mamma was able to come down to breakfast and when she got to the dining-room was surprised to see an oil painting of Grandpa, hanging over the mantle.  Grandpa had it painted by Mr. Weber, to have for a surprise on ‘this day’.  When Mamma went to sit down she found her chair occupied by some boxes of paper from Sister, handkerchiefs from Papa, gloves from Grandpa, a table scarf from me and some silk stockings and shoes from Burtie which we had stuffed with cotton and made look very funny.

Uncle came over to supper and brought a gold scarf-pin.  We all enjoyed the Supper and afterwards, cream & cake.”

This entry was written by Mamma’s younger daughter, Mary Alice Dalton.  Mamma was Jessie M. Coffin Dalton, daughter of Z.B. Coffin (Grandpa) and wife of Richard J. Dalton (Papa).  Their older daughter, often called Sister by Alice, was named Jessie Belle and usually called Belle.  Burtie was Anthony B. Burton, an “adopted” member of the family who worked in the store with Z.B. and lived with them.  The family diary was an idea he (I am guessing it was his idea not Alice’s) adopted from a newspaper article and he and Alice were to be the family keepers of said diary.  Alice was only 16 when they started this project and still a student in high school.

It is this blended family that started me on my quest for knowing more family information, as I wrote in the first days of this blog.  In fact, it was Alice Dalton herself (or a picture of her) that was my first introduction to family history.  The family diary that was kept (mostly by Burtie or ABB after about the first 6 months) provides a full picture of what life was like for them in the late 1800s, living in Newport Kentucky on one side of the Ohio River and Z.B. having a store over the river in Cincinnati.  I hope in future to transcribe more of the entries and write about the family’s doings here.


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