Stories Behind the Portraits: Dinah Ayers Trigg (Mrs Shubael Allen)

Portrait Research

George Caleb Bingham, Dinah Ayers Trigg (Mrs Shubael Allen), 1835
Courtesy of McClain Collection
Jackson County Art Museum
Independence, Missouri

When Bingham painted her portrait in 1835, Dinah Ayres Trigg (1803- 1886) (Mrs. Shubael Allen), was 32 and pregnant with her eighth child. She was descended from the family of Captain William Clark. Her uncle, James Clark, was governor of Kentucky from 1836 to 1839. Following her husband’s death in 1841, Dinah remained at the plantation on the outskirts of the town of Liberty, Missouri. Shubael Allen “left his family above want, but not in affluent circumstances.”

In the spring of 1850, a white overseer known only as McClintock promised to marry one of Dinah’s eight slaves, Annice, and take her to California and freedom. But to afford their new life, Annice needed to steal the money rumored to be hidden in Dinah’s bedroom.

On the night of April 1, 1850, as Dinah was asleep, Annice crept into the bedroom with an ax.  Annice slashed Dinah’s head open. Her screams woke the town. Annice found no money and rushed from the house. A posse found her quickly. Townsmen forced her to name her accomplice and to sign a confession. The posse arrested McClintock.

Missouri law barred the testimony of a slave. Annice’s confession was inadmissible in court. News spread that Annice and McClintock might be freed. Slave owners banded together and rode to Liberty. On May 9, 1850, the mob stormed the jail.  On separate trees, they lynched the slave and her lover.

A biographer described Dinah’s “fearful injury … which produced partial deafness and much physical debility during the remainder of her life.” For the next 36 years, until her death on on June 25, 1886 at the age of 83, she rarely left her home. She remained inside reading history books and novels. She was especially fond of the fiction of Sir Walter Scott. A biographer remembered “when young, [Dinah] was a very handsome lady, and remarkable for the sprightliness and wit of her conversation.”[1]

 

 (c) Fine Art Investigations, 2012-2017
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[1]“Mrs. Dinah Ayres Allen,” Portrait and biographical record of Clay, Ray, Carroll, Chariton, and Linn Counties, Missouri, containing biographical (Chapman Brothers, 1893), 700-708; and Taylor, Robert Lewis, Two Roads to Guadalupe (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), 2-7.

About Patricia Moss

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits. She located nearly 70 of Bingham’s lost portraits, a feat acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s Research and Scholar’s Center. From expertise with portraits of George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), she developed skills that evolved into a comprehensive system based on the scientific method that conforms to the legal and ethical standards of art authentication. Moss served as a guest curator for the Bingham Bicentennial Exhibit, “Steamboats to Steam Engines: George Caleb Bingham’s Missouri: 1819-1879,” (March 10-September 8, 2011) at the Truman Presidential Museum and curated the opening exhibition, “George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History,” (September 2013 –), Jackson County Art Museum, Independence, Missouri. She is also the principal researcher for Fine Art Investigations.
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