Sunday, January 1, 2023

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

MESDA tells us that Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) was the daughter of the Reverend Paul L’Escott (b.1675), pastor of the Huguenot Church in Charles Town from 1700 to 1719 & from 1731 to 1734. She married Peter Villepontoux (1684-1748), a wealthy Huguenot. He owned a plantation on James Island; a town lot near the Quaker Meeting House on King Street; a lot on Trott’s Point; & a plantation in Christ Church Parish. The couple had seven children though only one daughter & four sons are mentioned in Peter Villepontoux’s will; there is no mention of his wife Frances, & it is believed that her death preceded his. She was living, however, in 1741, when she & her husband signed deeds of lease & release for property.

There is an anecdote about young Frances L’Escott in The Carolina Chronicle of Commissary Gideon Johnston in his letter to the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. His letter, dated July 5, 1710, reads: “One of the enclosed papers is a letter of Sir John Chardins to Mrs. L’Escot. . . .You will see by it that a Legacy of 30 [pounds] was left to her daughter, which was to revert to the Mother in case of the Daughters death. The Daughter is still alive & the father & Mother think it their undoubted right to have this money & the Interest of it hitherto.” The letter does not state whether the parents received control of the legacy. It does, however, mention that Mr. L’Escot could not understand English so that any other correspondence to him must be done in “Latin or French.”

Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston (ca. 1674 – March 9, 1729) is recognized as the earliest professional female artist & the first known pastelist working in the American colonies. The daughter of Susannah de Beaulieu, it is generally accepted that she was born in northwestern France & that her family immigrated to London in the mid-1680s. Henrietta was of French Huguenot descent.

In 1694 Henrietta Beaulieu married William Dering, & moved to Ireland. It was during this time that she began to draw pastels, as is evidenced by her earliest portraits of a number of people to whom she was related by marriage, including members of the Percival family. Although the quality of her work suggests that she had received formal training, nothing is known of her education. Like her contemporaries, however, she copied the conventions set by London court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). It is possible that she studied with Dublin artist Edward Lutterel (1650-1710).

Widowed by 1704, & the mother of two daughters, Henrietta married in 1705 Anglican clergyman Gideon Johnston who was appointed two years later to serve as commissary of the Church of England in North & South Carolina & the Bahama Islands & to serve as rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. The Johnstons arrived in Charleston in 1708, & over the next few years Henrietta’s work as a pastel portraitist became critical to the economy of her family as is proven by one of her husband’s letters, in which he wrote: “were it not for the assistance my wife gives by drawing of Pictures (which can last but a little time in a place so ill peopled) I should not be able to live.” Gideon Johnston died in a boating accident in 1716 & Henrietta remained in Charleston until her death in 1729. She is believed to have traveled to New York City in1725 where she drew at least four portraits of a family of that city. More than forty of her portraits survive, many of which are of members of Charleston’s early Huguenot community.