Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alexander Millener Myths

To continue the April 2009 story of Alexander Millener, in searching his history I ran into some possible myths. Many have reported that Alexander Millener was the inspiration behind the old man featured in the famous painting "Spirit of 76".

The history of this famous painting is on file with the library of Congress. The artist was Archibald Willard, who first called the painting "Yankee Doodle", having featured his creation at the first Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. The painting would later be renamed Spirit of '76, being an 8 x 10 mural.

According to the Library of Congress, Willard's mural began in the upstairs bedroom of his home in 1875, which is 10 years after Alexander Millener's death. The file reports that the studio was moved and after relocating to Cleveland, Ohio, inspired by his father's death, Willard used his father Samuel as the model for the old drummer.
Click here to see the Library of Congress information on the Spirit of '76

Archibald Willard would go on to do several different versions of the Spirit of '76 in much larger sizes. According to the Herrick Library, the fifer was based on Hugh Moser, and the young drummer boy was Harry Deveraux.

Click here to see the Herrick Library detail on the Spirit of '76. Be sure to click on the upper right hand corner, to see all 3 images full size, it is a good example of the several variations made on the original mural.

If anyone has any information on the painting that is supposed to be based on Alexander Millener, please contact me.

However, not all is lost. American Folk Painter Sheldon Peck did in fact do a painting of Alexander's daughter in-law Fannie Root Millener, wife of his son George W Millener of Port Byron. She was painted with her young daughter Francis Millener, who would as an adult be the wife of Gamaliel Thomas. Sheldon Peck once lived at Jordan, NY and must have struck a friendship with the Port Byron Millener family.

This painting had survived in the family of Nellie King Waterman and donated to the Cayuga Museum in Auburn, NY. The painting was later sold at Auction in 2003.

The location of the Fannie Root Millener painting with her child Francis is not known. It is not know if the painting is housed in another museum collection or if it is in the hands of a private collector. Lets hope the painting has found a wider audience and continues to be well cared for.

It is wonderful that some of the artifacts of such a prominent family can be found, such as Alexander Millener's Drumstick that is part of the collections at the Rochester Museum & Science Center: