Item #7805 Register of Horace Higley’s Family…Sacred the Memory of Your Ancestors. Richard Brunton, engraver.

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[Brunton, Richard], engraver.

Register of Horace Higley’s Family…Sacred the Memory of Your Ancestors.

Circa 1799. Engraving, 10.625” x 7.3125”, on laid paper; sheet size 12.125” x 8.125”; blanks for names and dates filled in by hand in ink. CONDITION: Very good, strong impression, old folds, 1.75” tear into image at center of left side, repaired with document repair tape; a few other short tears confined to margins, a few miniscule holes mainly in letters of “Horace Higley” in top section, some foxing and minor stains.

An exceptionally fine and previously unrecorded example of one of various family registers engraved by Richard Brunton, recognized today as “the engraver of perhaps the earliest preprinted broadside registers for family information in America” (Child).

Brunton’s life and work have been very ably documented by Deborah Child in her Soldier Engraver Forger : Richard Brunton’s Life on the Fringe in America’s New Republic, the research for which was distinctly challenging, as Childs indicates, since Brunton “lived more than two centuries ago, left no personal papers, and spent most of his life on the run” (p. 1). According to the records of the Massachusetts State Prison, Brunton was born in Birmingham, England, and it is likely that he apprenticed with Birmingham diesinker and engraver Joseph Troughton, learning the rudiments of his trade. He came to America with the British Army’s 38th Regiment of Foot, serving as a private and a Grenadier, before deserting on June 6th, 1779. Brunton made his way to Groton, Massachusetts where he resided for a time, and was remembered as “a man of great ingenuity and skill, a fine engraver of silver and an adept at making counterfeit money,” as well as other forms of art and fraud (p. 3). He was imprisoned on at least three occasions—the New-Gate prison in East Granby, Connecticut is incidentally the subject of his largest known engraving—and, after becoming “exceedingly intemperate,” died a state pauper in Groton almshouse in 1832.

Brunton’s family registers, more portable and affordable than family Bibles, provided an attractive means for many families of recording birth, marriage, and death dates, and for years functioned as legally legitimate vital records. Few of his plates survive, probably because he retooled the copper when it became worn, and Childs identifies fifteen variations in their design. The example offered here—with its arched form, angel heralding “Fame,” and figures of “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity,” and “Peace” in the corners—most closely resembles two registers pictured by Childs (fig. 2.13, p. 51, of Ebenezer Prior and Mary Thompson; fig. 3.10, p. 64, of Benajah Humphrey Wilcox and Eunice Fancher), though there are significant differences among all. Here, the phrase “Keep sacred the Memory Of your Ancestors” appears in the lower panels of the design, and a particularly rich array of motifs borders the register, including a cornucopia, a flower-filled urn, a beehive, four flourishes, and seven birds. The register is filled out in ink for “Horace Higley’s Family”: “He was born AD 1765 June 17th & Married 9th December 1793 to Eleaner Loomis. She was born June 29th 1767 & by her hath the following children”—Horace (b. December 29th, 1794); Homer (b. December 30th, 1796); Peter (b. February 10th, 1802); Mary (b. May 18th, 1804); Charles (b. November 14th, 1806); William (b. April 23rd, 1809). The only death date recorded is that of Peter, on September 17th, 1813. 

Horace Higley and Eleanor Loomis were both born in East Windsor, Connecticut, Eleanor evidently inheriting property from her father upon his death a year before her marriage. Between 1795 and 1797 the young family seems to have resided in Winchester, and around the turn of the century “they took up their residence at Winstead…where they lived full forty years. Horace Higley was ‘recommended’ to the Winsted Church in 1802. Natural refinement and intelligence were remarkably blended as characteristic traits this family possessed; they were well-to-do in the world, self-reliant, resolute, and highly respected. As age advanced upon Horace and Eleanor Higley, they removed, in the year 1841, to Painesville, O[hio], where they spent their remaining years with married children” (Johnson, p. 676).

Eleanor’s father Amasa Loomis (ca. 1738–1793), also of East Windsor, responded to the Lexington Alarm in 1775, leading a militia company for the relief of Boston. In 1776 he and his company served in defense of New York. 

The register is offered with several Higley family papers, spanning from approximately the 1830s to the 1880s, including several deeds, receipts, the last will and testament of Horace Higley, dated 1842, an inventory of his possessions, and materials relating to Higley family reunions (in 1887 and 1889) in Ohio.

A fine example of a Brunton family register, recording the particulars of an old Connecticut family.

REFERENCES: Child, Deborah M. Soldier Engraver Forger : Richard Brunton’s Life on the Fringe in America’s New Republic (Boston, 2015); Johnson, Mary Coffin. The Higleys and their Ancestry : An Old Colonial Family (New York, 1896).

Item #7805

Price: $2,750.00

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