Virginia Winn Series Part 7: Portrait of Mrs. John Winn of Hanover County

My friend and cousin Sandra Wynne Irwin sent to me an image of this wonderful oil painting.

She’s absolutely charming, isn’t she, despite the poor quality of this reproduction?

The Smithsonian catalog identifies her as Mrs. John Winn of Hanover County, Virginia. The portrait was painted during 1735–1740. The artist reportedly lived in Hanover at one time during that period (more on that below). Thus, this lovely woman’s husband was almost certainly one of the two John Winns who appeared in two 1733 Hanover County deeds. If you’ve forgotten the two frustrating John Winns in those deeds, check out Part 6 of this Winn series.

The conventional wisdom is that Mrs. Winn’s maiden name was Mary Pledger, per the Middlesex Theory (see also Part 6). That’s what you will consistently find online, although there are still a few holdouts who believe that Mary Pledger married John Winn of Amelia County as his first wife. He was a son of Richard and Phoebe Winn of Hanover County: Richard, according to the Middlesex Theory, was John Winn’s brother.

None of the trees I have looked at offer any evidence that Mary Pledger married John Winn. So far as I know, the only evidence is the fact that she witnessed those two John Winn/Richard Winn deeds in Hanover. That’s good, so far as it goes, but … is that all we’ve got?

Undeterred by my inability to uncover conventional evidence, I have been deep-diving into an odd combination of sources, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum Catalog, an old issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, and a compiled family history writen in 1932 titled Ancestors and Descendants of John Quarles Winn and His Wife Mary Liscome Jarvis. All in an effort to find proof of Mrs. Winn’s identity. No luck, but it was fun looking, so I’m sharing the deep dive.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum Catalog says this  in relevant part about the painting

“Portrait of Mrs. John Winn of Jassamine Lawn, Hanover County, Virginia, (painting).

Artist:                     Charles Bridges, active circa 1735-1740, painter.

Dates:                      Circa 1738.

Medium:                Oil on canvas

Dimenensions:  49 x 40 (inches)

Subject:                  Portrait female – Winn, John, Mrs. (Mary Pledger) – full length

Owner:                    Anonymous Collection

Provenance:       Formerly in the collect of the family of Mrs. John Winn; Girard Burwell Lambert, Millwood, VA until 1948; Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Christopher, Millwood, VA, 1948; Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, NY Sale (Sept. 18, 1976), lot 279; Anonymous Collection; Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, NY Sale 4999 (Jan. 1983), lot 182; Craig & Tarlton, Raleigh, North Carolina until Nov. 5, 1985; Christie’s, New York, NY Sale Raleigh-6034 (Nov. 5-6, 1985), lot 261

Remarks:            Mary was the second wife of John Winn (baptised Jan. 20, 1707-died ca. 1789), a substantial landowner and planter in Virginia. Mary and John married in 1738 and lived on his Hanover County plantation “Jessamine Lawn.” They had five children, the eldest of whom was born ca. 1749. This portrait of Mary Winn is believed to be her wedding portrait painted in 1738. In 1738, the artist Charles Bridges also lived in Hanover County, Virginia. The painting descended through the family to Girard Burwell Lambert, “Carter Hall,” Millwood, Virginia, the great-great-great-grandson of the sitter. Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Christopher acquired the painting in 1948 when they purchased “Carter Hall.” The painting was listed as attributed to Charles Bridges in both the 1983 Sotheby Parke Bernet sale catalog and in the 1985 Christie’s sale catalog. IAP files contain additional information supporting Charles Bridges as the artist of the portrait.

References:      Sotheby Parke Bernet, Sale 499 (Jan. 27, 1983), lot 182;m Christie’s, Sale Raleigh-6034 (Nov. 5-6, 1985), lot 261; Winn, B. Meredith, Jr., 2011

The information offered in “remarks” obviously echoes the Middlesex Theory, identifying Mary, the subject of the portrait, as nèe Pledger, and as the second wife of John Winn of Hanover (see, again, Part 6).

“References” shows the Smithsonian’s sources. They include B. (Bernard) Meredith Winn Jr., who provided information to the Smithsonian in (apparently) 2011. Mr. Winn is presumably a descendant of John and Mary Winn of Hanover, or is surely from a related line. If he has taken a YDNA test, he is probably a decent match for the lines of Col. Thomas Winn and Daniel Winn of Lunenburg, John Winn of Amelia, and Minor Winn of Fauquier. I do wish he would upgrade his test to “Big Y” so all of his distant cousins, myself included, could pinpoint the location in the U.K. from which the Winns migrated. I especially wish he would share any evidence he might have about the Hanover Winns circa 1730–1789, because he might have something besides the Christ Church parish register and those three darn Hanover deeds. Perhaps he has a family Bible, or at least a family oral tradition.

I don’t have the nerve to track down someone who is probably about my age (i.e., old and increasingly cranky) and ask him to produce some proof about the identity of his ancestress. Even the most hardcore genealogist has her limits.

Please just keep in mind that what the Smithsonian Catalog says isn’t evidence of Mary Winn’s maiden name.

There is another Winn compiled family history which deems the identity of Mrs. John Winn unproved. Otherwise, it shares the Middlesex Theory, tracing John Winn’s ancestry to Richard and Sarah Winn of Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County. For that view, see Ancestors and Descendants of John Quarles Winn and His Wife Mary Liscome Jarvis (Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1932). The authors were David Watson Winn (1857-1926) and Elizabeth Jarvis Winn (1891-1965). Note that both of these authors were a century closer to these Winns than we are, and they had considerable documentary evidence.

The Jarvin/Winn book doesn’t identify the maiden name of Mary Winn, wife of John Winn of Jessamine Lawn, Hanover County.

The entire book can be downloaded here. Do read the Foreword, which talks about their remarkable sources. At one time, they apparently had an opinion written by John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. See, e.g., Marbury v. Madison, a famous case I had to brief about 10 times in law school.

Finally, there is an interesting article about Mrs. John Winn’s portrait and the artist in a 1952 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography[1]. It offers no opinion on Mrs. Winn’s identity, which is understandable: the article is primarily about the artist, Charles Bridges. Here is a link to the article.

It is a lonnnnggg read. It has reproductions of a number of paintings by the artist, mostly members of the Byrd family, which are fun. Here, edited somewhat, is what The Virginia Magazine has to say about the portrait of Mrs. John Winn. It also echoes the Middlesex Theory, except it does not identify Mrs. Winn as Mary Pledger, probably because the source for the family information was the Jarvis/Winn compiled history.

“Mrs. John Winn

Subject: The portrait is said to represent Mary, second wife of John Winn, of “Jessamine Lawn,” Hanover County. He was baptized Jan. 20, 1705, died c. 1789. The date of their marriage is unknown, but they had five children, the eldest born in 1749 or earlier. (See Ancestors and Descendants of John Quarles Winn, Ed. D. W. Winn, Baltimore, 1932).

The identification may perhaps be correct, although there seem to be no documents supporting it. If correct, the subject may have been painted as early as 1740, before her marriage, since she appears as a young woman in her early twenties and it is not certain that she had any children before 1740.

Description: The subject is a pleasing young woman shown standing full-front against a dark background beside a table on which her right hand rests … [t]he picture has been largely repainted, so that the costume does not show Bridges’ technique, but the tilt of the head and the rendition of the features so much resemble the painting of the heads of the young women of the Byrd family so as to make the attribution of this portrait to Bridges seem at least possible.

Owner: Mr. Frank E. Christopher, Carter Hall, Millwood, Va. The portrait was acquired before 1938 by Mr. Gerard B. Lambert who then owned Carter Hall, and was sold with the residence to Mr. Christopher in 1948. Its earlier provenance is not recorded.”

The author of the Virginia Magazine history was writing in the early 1950s, so the “Owner” information is clearly out of date.

In any event, I hoped you enjoyed a break from the usual post at this blog! Can’t beat a fabulous oil painting …

And that does it for me with the Winns, unless I recover sufficiently to elaborate on some of the Lunenburg or Amelia Winns, a crowd that doesn’t require so many speculative theories!!!

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] Henry Wilder Foote, “Charles Bridges: “Sergeant-Painter of Virginia” 1735-1740,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 60, no. 1 (1952), at 3-55.

4 thoughts on “Virginia Winn Series Part 7: Portrait of Mrs. John Winn of Hanover County”

  1. Robin,

    Virginia Winn part 7
    The research that you have done on these early Virginia Winns is a gift to all that are researching the Winn family. Thank you 😊 !

    1. Hopefully, some more Winn researchers will comment and share their family Bibles or other proof. You know there has GOT to be more “out there” than is available to us average researchers who only have the county records. Glad you’ve enjoyed the articles, and thank you again for sending me that wonderful portrait and for sharing with me your extensive knowledge of these families. xoxoxox

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