Frances Montresor-Buchanan-Allen-Penniman represents the tumultuous experience of a woman during the Revolutionary Era. She was the illegitimate daughter of a British officer, born in the Mohawk Valley of New York, whose mother died in childbirth. This painting was completed when Frances (Fanny) was 11 years old around the time her family moved from New York City. Raised by her loyalist aunt, who was married to an important New Yorker, they moved to Westminster, Vermont, at a time when New York claimed what would become Vermont. Her stepfather served as a New York Assemblyman pushing those claims and sought to punish opponents. As her family’s fortunes rose and fell, she married three times, including in 1784 when she married the famous “patriot” Ethan Allen who had famously contested New York’s claim to Vermont and opposed her stepfather. Her last husband became a US Customs Collector for Vermont, an important government position, but he was caught in the unpopular wake of Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo. Fanny came of age in the British Empire, lived through the contest between New York and Vermont, weathered the Revolutionary War, settled in the independent republic of Vermont, and finally died a citizen of the United States. Throughout this, she raised an extensive family, including two West Point graduates and a Catholic nun, all while fostering a well-known interest in botany.
Fanny has been a person of interest to generations, as a strong woman who navigated the complex currents of the revolutionary world. Denied the benefits of her biological father, having lost her mother in childbirth, and raised by her aunt, she represents the ways families could be created and recreated throughout one’s life as men and women found meaning, support, and love while surviving the often rough colonial world, which had little of the social safety nets we have today. Coming of age during the American Revolution, Fanny faced the currents of one of the most significant political events of the century. The conflict between Vermont and New York is a consistent theme of her lived experience and reveals how the political borders we are familiar with today were contingent on the actions of individuals. In the revolutionary world, nothing could be taken for granted, and Fanny’s experience reveals how even the boundaries of her world were constantly changing, not just between Britain and America, but even within America. Her story allows us to tell a richer story of how our world was created and the people who helped shape this state’s and this country’s future.
Fort Ticonderoga will conserve this portrait not only to ensure the long-term preservation of an important piece of American history but also to be able to put it on public display in a new 250th Anniversary exhibition entitled, A REVOLUTIONARY ANTHOLOGY, opening in the spring of 2024. When the Curatorial staff drafted the exhibition list, this portrait stood out as a priority piece for the exhibition to highlight the experiences of women during the Revolutionary era. The portrait presents an excellent opportunity for Fort Ticonderoga to use Fanny’s story to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of this critical history movement and how people made decisions about their lives, families, and futures. While on display for over 70,000 visitors per year, the interpretation related to this portrait will involve educating the public and provoking discussion about the lives and roles of women during the tumult of the American Revolution. Online, the world will be able to learn the story of Fanny and access the image of her portrait through Fort Ticonderoga’s Center for Digital History and through our publically accessible Online Collections Database. Fort Ticonderoga’s collections include nearly 200,000 fine art, decorative art, archaeological, and archival objects, and are a singular resource in the study of the evolving role of subjects, citizens, and soldiers in the 18th century – a debate that links past to the present and can inform the future.
In partnership with the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC) in Williamstown, MA, Fort Ticonderoga will be undertaking the conservation effort throughout 2024 at a cost of just over $20,000. If you would like to support the conservation of Fanny’s portrait, we invite you to make an online donation or reach out directly to Fort Ticonderoga at 518-585-2821.