Object Story: Family Portrait of Charles and Comfort Caverly and Their Son Isaac

Object Story: Family Portrait of Charles and Comfort Caverly and Their Son Isaac - Body

This image is a portrait of Charles and Comfort Caverly and their son Isaac in 1836. The inscription at the bottom reads, "Charles Caverly, aged 52 Sept 27th, Isaac L Caverly, aged 13 months, Comfort Caverly, aged 44, February 10, 1836. Painted at Caverly's Hill, one mile from Bow Pond. July 16th, 1836.”

Caverly’s Hill and Bow Pond are probably near Strafford, New Hampshire. The Caverly family were very early settlers to the area, probably arriving in the late seventeenth century. Charles Caverly was born around 1784 and was a blacksmith near Strafford and served in the state legislature in 1845-1846. He married Comfort Boodey and they had six children. Isaac, who is in the picture, was the youngest.

The painting, made by Joseph H. Davis, is one of many that he painted of families and residents in Maine and New Hampshire. He painted nearly 150 portraits between 1832-1837. What is important about the paintings that Davis made are the very specific details he provides about everyday life at the time. The objects in his paintings give us clues about the subjects and what their life might have been like. His notations of the subjects, including their ages and locations, also helps us begin to know more about the subjects.

As a traveling or itinerant painter, Davis followed a strategy that was common at the time. He regularly depicted his subjects in the same poses and settings but changed out the unique features that show aspects of their home life.

Fielding video

Standing in his kitchen at home, Jonathan Fielding talks about the Caverly family painting hanging on the wall. The beloved piece, by Joseph S. Davis, painted in the early 1836, is rich with detail, providing insight into the lives of Charles and Comfort Caverly and their son, Isaac.

Questions for Discussion

  • What objects do you see in this painting? How might the items in this portrait indicate status or success in early America?
  • Why might the furniture, newspaper, or books be signs of achievement? Check out our related Activity: Step Inside the Painting.