The diligence of historical author Margaret Wilson of Bath, England
(whose latest book Norumbega Navigators is nearing
completion) has found the proper curatorial specialist at The National
Trust to explain that the early-1600s English portrait called “Mrs
Penobscot” bears a modern misnomer!
Somehow, over time, the painting’s name changed from “Mrs
Pennicott” and “Mrs Penniscot” to “Mrs
Penobscot”, BUT there always has been
no connection whatever with Maine’s Penobscot
River-&-Bay &/or its Indians – past
(Bashaba’s Western Etchemins) or present (the Penobscot
P was a British woman, never a captive
Indian, and so OUR case is CLOSED – SLAM! -- with
a few tail-hairs caught in the jamb, however!
to the details about this 17th century portrait (which
hangs at The Vyne, a manor-house formerly owned by the Sandys and
Chute families but now by The National Trust, near Basingstoke in
Hampshire, England); then to those tail-hairs.
portrait at The Vyne is irrelevant to your researches, since it
is only since the 20th century that the sitter has been
called ‘Mrs Penobscot’. In both the 18th century inventory,
of John Chute’s time, and in Wiggett Chute’s picture notes of the
1880s, she is called ‘Mrs Penniscot’ or ‘Mrs Pennicott’. She was
probably neither of these sitters, but took her name from the clergyman-collector,
the Rev William Pennicott, who probably sold the picture to John
Chute. Sincerely, Alastair Laing”-------[sitter
= the-person-being-portrayed (even though ‘Mrs P’ was standing)]
researchers of my acquaintance (myself included), and probably many
others unknown to me, have chased this red-herring misnomer for
many a mile. Knowing nothing about the unfortunate changing-of-name
until just now, we pored over this historical possibility
and that as to how ‘Mrs Penobscot’ could have come by that
name. That alone is annoying, in retrospect, but we did learn at
least some things of value during the bushwhacking – at least I
did. Such is life!
however, is my irritation at being academically misled by someone(s)
who fabricated the idea (without any – repeat, absent ANY–
primary documentary evidence) that “Mrs P” was a captive Indian
and then presented it as fact. Even
who (absent any evidence) supposedly had captured
her was presented as fact by at least
one prominent publication, and also therein she was even
called (completely creatively) “Mme” instead of
“Mrs”, which even further muddles her cultural connections.
Whether authors, editors, or illustrations-editors are at fault
is moot, but the hint of Never let the facts interfere
with a good story hovers about.
I know of three appearances of the portrait in print in
the USA, and I cite and quote all three below, in chronological
order of publication, along with X, Y, Z symbols indicating
their misleading faults: X for calling her a captive Indian
or a brought-over; Y
for stating who captured her &/or for what reason(s); Z for using Mme or Madame
instead of Mrs.
1959 X Y
24 in “New England in the
Earliest Days” (The Elizabethans & America: Part III)
by A L Rowse, AMERIAN HERITAGE Magazine, August 1959,
pp 23-28, 105-111.
Penobscot’ – and that is the only name we know her by – was one
of the Abenaki Indians whom Sir Ferdinando Gorges saw brought
over from Maine,
taught English, put into Elizabethan
dress, and displayed at court.... When the Indians had learned
enough English to describe New England to Gorges, they inspired
him with his lifelong desire to plant English stock on their shores.”
Ferdinando Gorges did indeed have some captive Maine Indians
(men only), but NOT Mrs P, who was NOT a captive Indian.
1967 X Y Z
67 in “Atlantic Foothold”
chapter of THE AMERICAN HERITAGE HISTORY OF THE THIRTEEN COLONIES,
Narrative by Louis B Wright; Editor-in-Charge
Michael Blow; Pictorial
Commentary by Ralph K Andrist.
Picture Editors for this book: Linda Sykes, Alice D Watson,
Kristi N Witker (Assistant). 1967 Published
by American Heritage Publishing Co Inc. (Distributed by Simon & Schuster Inc).
only as Mme Penobscot (the name of her tribe), the above lady
in Elizabethan ruff and farthingale was one of five Indians brought
back from Maine in 1605 by George Waymouth, taught to speak English,
and used very effectively to promote subsequent colonizing projects.”
George Waymouth did indeed bring back five Wabanaki captives from Maine in 1605, but all five were
MEN, and Mrs (not Mme) P was NOT a
1995 X Y Z
24-25 in AN ILLUSTRATED
HISTORY OF MAINE by Neil Rolde; with Charles C Calhoun, Illustrations
Editor. Published by Friends of the Maine State Museum
to Commemorate the 175th Anniversary of Statehood. Augusta ME 1995.
(facing page) ‘Madame Penobscot’
was a Native American captured in Maine and brought back to England
in the early 1600s. The ‘princess’ was one of several captives
who were taught English and used to promote colonization of New
England. Her portrait in Jacobean dress now hangs at The Vyne,
a country house in Hampshire, England.”
(NOT Madame) P was NOT a captive Indian princess, but a
British woman. Waymouth’s captives and Gorges’s guides were all
years ago, when I first started studying the ethnohistorical anthropology
of Wabanaki-English-French Frontier Encounters, the man who later
became my mentor, the late Gordon M Day (Eastern Canada Ethnologist
at Canadian Museum of Civilization), warned me “Much of the
material in print is just plain wrong”.
warning has been proven so right about so many matters I have
studied that I now keep his statement framed on my office wall. And a photo of the portrait of Mrs P,
which has graced my computer desktop for several years, just now
has been deleted and replaced by a photo of a truly mysterious
my pet black cat!