Upon a recent visit to the world reknown Colby College Museum of Art a prominent painting held my attention. Viewed first between the exquisitely carved Georgian door pediment and columns, the nearly life size portraiture was easily recognized as remdered by the skilled hand of colonial artist John Singleton Copley.
Benjamin Hallowell, formerly a noted Captain in the British navy, commissioned Copley to paint the portrait soon after he was assigned Comptroller of Customs in Boston. He hung the portrait in his stately home in Boston. As tensions rose in pre-revolutionary days due to the angst of the colonists over the Stamp Act, which Hallowell, a Tory, helped enforce. A riot of disguised and armed patriots entered his home, intoxicateded themselves with liquor from Hallowell’s cellar, and proceeded to plunder the mansion. The mob slashed and pierced the painting, in effigy, of Hallowell riled by their indignation over taxation without representation imposed by the Bristish Crown.
Captain Hallowell and his family fled to Nova Scotia, and later London, leaving their belongings behind - including the hastily rolled up canvas oil painting. The portrait remained in the Hallowell family for generations until it was donated in 1978 to the combined ownership of Colby and Bowdoin Colleges who share exhibiting the exquisitely restored painting. To gaze upon the portrait one would never realize the remarkable history of its provinance, or that the charming man depicted was once considered the most hated man in Boston.