Items in the Portsmouth Historical Society collection lead us to uncover stories about our past. A few years ago Portsmouth Historical Society curator, Nancy Crawford, discovered a sketchbook while we were doing an inventory. The members of the curator’s committee enjoyed the brightly colored sketches and I was asked to scan the images so we might use them in the future. I am researching the arts in Portsmouth for a display next year and I thought of those sketches. Who was the artist? What is her story?

The first page of the sketch book provided the answer of the artist’s identity. In a beautiful handwriting is the name Cordelia Holman Lawrence. It was clear that the Lawrence was written at a different time with a different writing implement. The date was recorded as 1865 with Portsmouth, Rhode Island as the location.

Who was Cordelia? She was the daughter of Thomas Holman and Mary Durfee Sherman. I already knew Thomas’ story. He came to Portsmouth from Cornwall and worked his way to the position of Superintendent of the Coal Mines in Portsmouth. In 1843 he married Mary Sherman who came from old established Portsmouth families. Cordelia, the youngest of their four children, was born in 1852. Her mother died when she was only four.  Cordelia was only 13 when she did her sketchbook drawings.

Thomas Holman wanted to move away from mining and into farming. He first bought farms close to the mines, but by 1860 he resided on his farm which is now known as the “Seameadow”area today. I uncovered Thomas’ story as I researched a murder that took place in the coal mines housing. In June of 1875 Elizabeth Holman Casey was murdered by her husband and Thomas was a witness at the murder trial. As I researched the story I was surprised to find that Thomas Holman was the uncle of Elizabeth Casey. Cordelia would have been the victim’s cousin!

Cordelia married Albert T. Lawrence in 1870. Albert grew up in Portsmouth, but left home to be a sailor on ships to China and the East Indies. In 1869 he gave up his seafaring life and returned home to farm with his father. He was known as a successful farmer who specialized in market gardening and fruit raising.

Cordelia settled into the life as wife and mother. She would have lived on the farm known even today as “Lawrence Farm.” She was active in the Friends Meeting House with the Ladies Mission Society. In the records of the Society of Friends in 1912 you can read this obituary.

“Cordelia Lawrence, a beloved member and elder of Rhode Island Monthly Meeting, died of heart failure at Portsmouth, R.I., December 20, 1912, aged sixty years. She leaves a husband, son and daughter and a host of friends to mourn her loss. Converted in early life, her later years were an exemplification of the “life hid with Christ in God” with a “heart of leisure from itself to sooth and sympathize.”

Cordelia is an excellent example of Portsmouth’s amateur artists who enjoy painting as a hobby. Her work is colorful and lovely.