Where is Jane Smith Denison?

Perhaps a question that is more to the point is “Where is the portrait of Jane Smith Denison that used to hang in the parlors of the Road Church on Pequot Trail?”

Jane Smith Denison was the daughter of Nathaniel Smith and Mary Denison of Groton. She was born January 13, 1731 and married George Denison, great-grandson of Captain George Denison on February 23, 1748, when she as just 17 years old. Eleven children were born to George and Jane from 1750 to 1772. Their sons George, William, Gilbert and Elisha all served in the Revolutionary War. Tragically, Elisha, who was only in his early teens, died on the British prison ship The Jersey.

estherdenisonburrowsEsther Denison was George and Jane’s 10th child and next to youngest daughter. In 1790 Esther married Enoch Burrows at the Denison Homestead which was known as Pequotsepos Manor. Enoch, a prosperous merchant and shipbuilder, was the son of Judge Silas Burrows and Mary Smith Burrows. Enoch built a beautiful home for his bride in Old Mystic with marble steps and a marvelous view of the Mystic River and here Esther and Enoch raised a family of three children. This home is still standing in Old Mystic on Route 27.

silasburrowsTheir youngest was a son, Silas, who was to become the confidant of several United States Presidents. He was present at the bedside of James Monroe when he died in 1831.

In her twilight years Jane was known to all as Grandmother Jane. She passed away at age 98 in 1829. Sometime after her death Silas had a portrait of his grandmother painted to show his love and respect for her.

In 1903 Grace Denison Wheeler wrote an article for the local paper listing Jane’s portrait as among those on display at Road Church. During that same year, Grace also refers to the portrait in her book Old Homes in Stonington. These are the last records we have of the existence of her portrait.

Somewhere between Jane’s death in 1829 and the 1903 article and mention of the portrait in Grace Denison’s book, Old Homes of Stonington, the portrait was donated to the Road Church by Mary Burrows Green, the daughter of Silas Burrows. Mary was born in 1826 and Silas had passed away in 1876 so the portrait presumably was given to the church somewhere in the mid to late 19th century.

A 1933 article also by Grace Wheeler again describing the portrait collection at the Road Church makes no mention of the portrait of Jane Denison. What happened to it during that thirty year period? What events might have taken place at the church that could account for the portrait’s disappearance?

Many changes have taken place at the church over the years. It is no longer a place where town meetings are held. Prior to the construction of Sunday school rooms that were built in the basement many of the portraits had been housed there. The church parlors have undergone many changes. Did these changes have any effect on the location of the Denison portrait?

In the late 1990’s Roberta Martin, the church historian at that time, and I arranged to make the remaining items in the collection as a donation to the Stonington Historical Society. There were photographs and pictures of previous pastors, deacons, and other well respected members of the church but no portrait of Jane Denison was found in that collection.

Where is Jane Smith Denison? Will we ever find the solution to what happened to Silas Burrows’ tribute to his grandmother?

janesmithdenison

Copy of what is believed to be the Burrows portrait of Jane Smith Denison.
(All pictures courtesy of the Denison Society)

 

~Jane Preston, Road Church Historian~

Published by permission of the Mystic River Historical Society, with credit to their Portersville Press newsletter.

 

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