RVA50 Object 24 “Aunt Betsy, 1857″

“Aunt Betsy,” 1857

Oil on board
Francis Blackwell Mayer (1827-1899)

An enslaved woman known as “Aunt Betsy” served as nursemaid for four of Williams Carter Wickham’s children at his plantation, “Hickory Hill,” Hanover County, Virginia. Francis Blackwell Mayer, a Maryland artist and family friend, painted this portrait of Betsy as a gift to the two eldest children.

Frank Mayer was a noted American genre painter primarily known for his watercolors and oil paintings.  His personal relationship with the Wickham family resulted in a very personal depiction of one of the Wickham enslaved servants.

Posed portraits of enslaved African Americans were rare during the antebellum period. Surviving Wickham family papers indicate that “Aunt Betsy” died in the autumn of 1865 as a free woman.  Very little is known of her life and what her opinion was of her portrait.

Museum Purchase, 2010.