A wonderful portrait by Sarah J. Eddy has found a home back in Portsmouth. Newporter John Peixinho won the portrait at an auction and generously donated it to the Portsmouth Historical Society. Sarah painted the portraits of famous Americans such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, but she also painted (or photographed) the images of local Portsmouth people.

Fannie Scott by Sarah Eddy

We had a mystery to solve. Who was this lovely lady in the portrait and what relationship did she have with Sarah Eddy? There were some clues. Carved in the frame was “Portsmouth” and “1920.” The name of the subject was hard to read. Curator’s committee member Marjorie Webster thought the first name might be “Fannie” and the last name may have included the letters “ott.” Marge was almost sure it was “Fannie Scott,” a black woman in our community that would have been about seventy at the date of the portrait. That name sounded familiar. In researching the black community in Portsmouth, I had come across a “Fannie Scott.”

Who was Fannie? Her 1926 obituary in the Newport Daily News provided a wealth of clues. Around 1870 Joseph Macomber brought a group of sixteen former slaves from Virginia to Portsmouth. Fannie Edna Brent came as a young woman. Her sister, Matilda Ayler came with her husband and children as well. They became a well known farming family in the “Cozy Corners” area of Portsmouth around Turnpike Avenue and East Main Road. Fannie lived with the Ayler household and eventually married another of Macomber’s group, Robert Scott. Robert was twenty years older than Fannie.

Newspaper accounts show Fannie as active in the Friends Church. She was part of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society in 1913 and helped cater a special dinner for service members in 1917. When her husband died in 1914, she went to live with family members at the Ayler home. Her obituary, however, shows that she spent her last days at the Home for Aged Colored People in Providence. Portsmouth Friends minister Elizabeth Trout, conducted the funeral services there and then she was buried next to her husband at the Portsmouth Friends Cemetery.

How did Sarah Eddy come to paint a portrait of Fannie? We can only guess. Sarah had a long term relationship with the Home for Aged Colored People in Providence. Every year for almost 40 years she hosted an outing at her home on Bristol Ferry Road. The elder citizens were served chowder, doughnuts, ice cream and tea. There was a short program with some speeches and singing. There were always other guests along with the members of the Home. I imagine that as a member of Portsmouth’s black community Fannie may have been one of the guests even before she came as a resident of the Home. Fannie’s grand-niece Alice Ayler Morris often sang at events at Sarah’s home.

Sarah Eddy always gave her photographs, paintings and sculptures away as gifts. She never sold any of them. She gave them as prizes, as donations for charity auctions and as gifts to the families in our community. We will treasure the gift of the portrait of Fannie Brent Scott.