by John

One of our patrons presented us with two early 19th century silhouettes, which he believes depict his third-great grandparents, William Haight Leggett (1789-1863) and his wife, Margaret Peck (Wright) Leggett (1794-1878), both of New York City. He has graciously allowed us to digitize them for our collection. Our patron knows that the provenance of the pictures descends through his Leggett ancestors, but he was not absolutely certain about the attribution, and he wondered whether we could confirm their identities. It proved to be an interesting request and dovetailed nicely with our forthcoming observance of Preservation Week, April 24-30.

While the Genealogy Center staff sees many historical photographs, we seldom have earlier images, such as silhouettes, to study. The Leggetts were a prominent family in New York City. William and Margaret’s son, Augustus Wright Leggett (1816-1885) and his wife, Elizabeth (Seaman) (1815-1900) lived in New York and later became pioneers of Oakland County, Michigan. For a time the family lived next door to William Cullen Bryant on Long Island and considered the poet Walt Whitman among their friends.

Doing an Internet search for “William Haight Leggett” brings up a wonderful, well-documented website in which the family’s genealogy is extensively traced.

The site also includes images of oil paintings of William and Margaret made later in life. They allow us to compare the faces with those in the silhouettes, and they provide what we believe to be a positive match. Our patron’s family tradition appears to be confirmed.

Our patron wants to know more, and his inquiry leads to a number of logical questions: How does one dig deeper? What do the silhouettes tell us about the couple and the date of the silhouettes? Might we identify the artist who made them? How should our patron best preserve them?

Learn more tomorrow!