Cowles, Augustus Woodruff - portraits of Mr and Mrs Thacher

Miniatures by Augustus Woodruff Cowles (1819-1913) seem to be unrecorded and currently no others are known.

For a portrait of Cowles see 1916 Elmira College - List of Seniors from Yearbook It has been possible to look at the reverse of the lady, but not the man. The miniature cases were unfortunately glued (yes, glued!) by a previous owner onto a red velvet mount and the lady is cracked. Alas, the man is glued into the case so the reverse of the ivory cannot be seen. The man is 65mm x 55mm and the lady is 58mm x 48mm.

However, the painting quality is very good and the style appears to be distinctive enough to conclude both are painted by the same artist. On the reverse of the lady there is very faint pencil writing that looks to read "Cowles 1840", but also in ink (which maybe later) "A W Cowles Pinxit - U College 1840".

As mentioned, Cowles does not seem to recorded as an artist, although a previous owner has written an inscription on the backing paper of the frame. The inscription looks fairly recent and states;

"Cowles, Augustus Woodruff 1st President Elmira College 1855-1889. Son of Alvah and Harriet (Woodruff) Cowles, born July 12, 1819. Graduated Union College in 1841. Taught drawing at Abbott School for ladies having previously studied miniature painting, Cowles School of Art in NY City. Married 15 Jun 1847 Francis Caroline Goold and had four children. Died at Reading NY Mar 15, 1913. He later obtained a Doctor of Divinity from Ingham and got a masters degree from University C in 1844."

There is a eulogy to Augustus Woodruff Cowles at 1916 Elmira College - List of Seniors from Yearbook

The inscription on the reverse of the frame goes on to say; "Believe the subject of portrait is Geo Hornell Thacher born June 4, 1818 graduated from Union College 1843. Is the other portrait a sister? Geo H Thacher was Mayor of Albany 1859, father of John Boyd Thacher also later Mayor of Albany".

A kind visitor has pointed out there must be doubt about the identity of the sitters, as their ages in the miniatures do not seem to fit with their birth dates. However, until when or if, there is any clarification, the following comments have been left intact as the sitters are probably related to the Thatcher family.

Brief details of George Hornell Thacher's career as Mayor of Albany are; elected mayor four times, and served in that office from May 1, 1860, to May 5, 1862; from May 1, 1866, to May 5, 1868; from May 6, 1870, to May 6, 1872; and from May 7, 1872, to January 28, 1874, when he resigned. George Thacher was married in Schenectady on June 15 1843 to Ursula Jane Boyd, who died April 13, 1874. They had two sons, John Boyd Thacher and George Hornell Thacher Jr (20 Nov 1857-?). However, family history records seem to vary, as some of them suggest he married Elizabeth Torry. Possibly she was a second wife.

It appears the elder George Hornell Thacher (4 Jun 1818-15 Feb 1887) was the son of Samuel Olney Thacher and Martha Hornell, but had no sisters, although he did have some young aunts; Martha (1808-?) and Sarah (1812-?). Thus the portrait may be one of them, or more likely it is his wife Ursula Jane Boyd (24 Sep 1811-13 Apr 1874) who would have been aged 29 in 1840 when the miniature was painted.

Ursula Jane Boyd, was the daughter of David Boyd and Margaret Maxwell, and it appears was named for her elder sister, Ursula Jane Boyd, who was born in 1808 and died in 1811. 563a, 563b


Unknown said...


I am Tom Thacher, George Hornell Thacher's great great grandson. I can definitively say that the woman is Ursula Jane Boyd Thacher as we have a portrait of her at a later time in life which is a clear match. We also have a later in life portrait of George Hornell Thacher which is similar but a much slimmer man. I do believe your miniatures are of George and his wife. Another reason to believe this is that your bio of George missed the fact that after graduating from Union College, George entered the Princeton Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian Minister just like Augustus Woodruff Cowles. George had a pulpit until 1847. So for a time both men were ministers of the same denomination in NY State. It is quite likely that they remained in contact after their days at Union College (or perhaps even first became acquainted after college rather than during as August was two classes ahead of George). I think the portraits were done between 1843 (date of their marriage) and 1847, but that is just a guess.

Thank you so much for discovering these paintings and posting them on the internet.


Unknown said...

Tom Thacher again.

George Hornell Thacher did marry an Elizabeth Toomey after the death of his first wife in 1874. We are not clear of the date of this second marriage but it is believed to be between 1876 and 1878. I would be very interested in these "family records" that you have seen which refer to an Elizabeth Torry. Thank you,

Don Shelton said...

Hi Tom,
Thank you for the extra information and kind comments. I am glad the information and images are useful. Off hand I cannot recollect where I saw the family history records, but it was online and most likely either at or at
Kind regards,