When Eleanor Magruder Briscoe was born on January 6, 1766, in Maryland, her father, Alexander, was 46, and her mother, Susannah, was 39. She married John Briscoe on February 19, 1784, in Frederick, Maryland. They had 11 children in 16 years. She died on March 11, 1806, in Virginia at the age of 40.
MESDA tells us that this portrait of Eleanor Magruder Briscoe by John Drinker shows a woman seated in a Chippendale type chair, half-length, facing forward & dressed with a white high crowned cap, gray dress & white neck piece with a black ribbon & jewel at her throat. She has brown eyes, dark hair. She holds a reddish-brown book in her right hand & is seated at a column base to the right, with red drapery & tassel, & with a balustraded rail & trees in the background to the left.
Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (1766-1806) & her husband Dr. John Briscoe (1752-1818) lived at Piedmont, an imposing two-story brick house in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charlestown. The families had 17th century roots in tidewater Maryland: The Briscoes in St. Mary’s & Charles County, Maryland; the Magruders in Queen Anne County, Maryland. The couple married in 1784 in Frederick County, Maryland.
The portrait descended at Piedmont, the Briscoe Family home, in Berkeley County, Virginia. Two years later they formally acquired the land on which Piedmont was built. Though the deed to the house is dated November 22, 1786, it is generally believed that the Briscoe family were living on the property for some years prior to that time. It is now generally thought that Piedmont was constructed between 1786 & 1800. (Piedmont was surveyed in 1937 by the Historic American Buildings Survey:
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/wv0088/ Piedmont was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973: http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/jefferson/73001913.pdf)
The artist John Drinker (1760–1826) was a miniaturist, portrait painter, & drawing master, who advertised in 1787 that he was opening a drawing school in Philadelphia with the assistance of Matthew Pratt. Using funds from an inheritance Drinker began investing in Berkeley County, Virginia, land in the 1780s. In 1797 he married Elizabeth Peppers in Berkeley County, West Virginia. Though the couple first lived in Philadelphia, by 1801 they had permanently resettled in Berkeley County. This painting is signed on the reverse “A.D. 1800/ by Drinker.” . He was listed as a portrait painter or limner in Philadelphia directories in 1800-1801. Two portraits by him are listed by FARL (Frick Art Reference Library)
The MESDA Collection includes 5 paintings from “Piedmont," the house built between 1786-1890 for Dr. John Briscoe, Jr. (1752-1818), & Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (b.1766). These include portraits of Dr. & Mrs. Briscoe by John Drinker (1760-1826) (MESDA acc. 973.1-2); a portrait of Sarah D. Rutherford by Drinker (MESDA acc. 973.3?); & a portrait of General William Darke (1736-1801), by Frederick Kemmelmeyer (1760-1821) (MESDA acc. 973.3).
See: Kate Hughes, “Piedmont’s Portraits: Patrician Image-Making in the Lower Shenandoah Valley”, MESDA Summer Institute 2017.