Today on my way to get the newest member of our family, an Aussiedoodle puppy, I got a chance to meet my oldest known ancestor. I’m standing next to a miniature profile of my fourth great-grandfather, Doctor Alexander Stuart archived at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The profile was painted by Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin, a French portraitist known for his profiles of Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere among other early American luminaries. Thanks to my niece, Flannery Silva for connecting me to her colleague, Benjamin Levy, an assistant curator at the museum who graciously displayed the drawing for my family and me to view.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was a redhead? I didn’t until I started reading Annette Gordon Reed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tome, The Hemingses of Monticello, which tells the story of a family of slaves owned by our third president.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for redheads like my mom, the first boy to kiss me on the cheek when I was seven, a few high school and college boyfriends and my husband to name a few. So, I was surprised that detail about Jefferson slipped by me.
Besides just the obvious fact of white men fathering children with their black slaves, Gordon-Reed’s book has highlighted a few other parallels between the Hemingses/Jeffersons and our Burton/Stuart family. Both our Temple Burton and one of the Hemings sisters were given to their new owners as wedding gifts for example. It makes me wonder if there were any other similarities, like if my third great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart was a redhead too.
I have no colored photos of Col. Stuart, and so far, I’ve not come across any mention of his hair, but I’ll keep my eyes open for any hints that along with being a pecan daddy, he was also a ginger man.
My third great grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart