Portraits of Hiram & Elizabeth Brown Montier, 1841

The earliest surviving portraits of an African American couple, Hiram & Elizabeth Brown Montier.

The Montiers descended directly from the first mayor of Philadelphia, Humphrey Morrey (c.1650-1716), appointed in 1691 by William Penn. The Morreys manumitted their slaves during the early 18th century, & Humphrey Morrey’s son Richard, entered into a common-law marriage with one of the family’s freed servants, Cremona.

Upon his death, Richard bequeathed about 200 acres, in what is now the Glenside section of Cheltenham Township, to Cremona, making her one of the first & largest black land owners in what would become the United States.

The family’s prominence undoubtedly influenced the Montiers’ decision to commemorate their marriage with high style portraits, a rare & expensive undertaking for the young couple. By the time of his wedding in May 1841, Hiram Montier was a successful bootmaker on 7th Street, just a few blocks from Independence Hall.

Dressed formally & surrounded by lavish drapery, & leather-bound books, the figures record the Montiers’ affluence as well as their literacy. Signed by Philadelphia painter Franklin R. Street, (1815/16­–before 1894); Phila. Museum of Art;  on loan from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. William Pickens, III.

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