The Reverend Ebenezer Gay
Suffield, Connecticut, circa 1780
Oil on canvas, 37 x 28 inches, with original painted frame
The Reverend Ebenezer Gay, Sr. (1718-1796) was descended from a distinguished New England family that settled in Massachusetts early in the seventeenth century. A graduate of Harvard in 1737, Ebenezer Gay entered theological studies and in 1742 was ordained in Suffield, Connecticut, where he was minister of the Congregational Church until his death. Gay was married to Hannah Angier in 1742 who she died in 1762. He married Mary Cotton Cushing of Scituate, Massachusetts in 1763, and they had five children. Among these children were Mary Gay (1764-1842) and Lucy Gay (1774-1852) the subject of a rare double portrait attributed to the same unidentified artist as this likeness
of their father. The portrait of Mary and Lucy Gay is illustrated in Jane Katcher, David A. Schorsch and Ruth Wolfe, Eds., Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence, Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana (New Haven and London, 2005), pp. 105-109, and 341-342.
Many details of the life of the Reverend Gay are revealed in the diary he kept daily for more than forty years. The diary also records a surprising amount of travel in upper-class circles: for instance, two entries mention the presence of “J. Adams” and “Col. Washington in the Gay home on October 13, 1767 and February 2, 1768, possibly representing John Adams and George Washington. The diary also mentions another person, simply called “Mr. Chandler,” as having visited Gay’s home nine times between May and August of 1773. This portrait was previously attributed to the painter Winthrop Chandler (1747-1790) based on this reference. More recent scholarship by the late Coleen Cowles Heslip has identified this portrait as one of three examples attributed to an unidentified artist known to have worked in the Connecticut towns of Suffield and Norwich in the last decades of the eighteenth century, see Coleen Cowles Heslip, Between the Rivers, Itinerant Painters from the Connecticut to the Hudson (Williamstown, MA, 1990), pp. 32-33. The other portraits by this hand include the double portrait of Rev. Gay’s daughters Mary and Lucy Gay and a portrait of Dr. Philomen Tracy of Norwich, Connecticut painted circa 1790 in the collection of The National Gallery of Art, gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch which is illustrated Deborah Chotner, Gen. Ed., American Naive Paintings in the National Gallery (Washington, D.C., 1992), pp. 608-610.