I thought I had put the Icon series on hold for a bit as I moved more heavily into the work for my upcoming shows in June and July. But the other day I just had an itch to jump quickly into one of the ancestors who remains prominent but a bit of a mystery for me. It was painted quickly without hardly any dawdling over it and by the time it was blocked out in the red oxide paint that I use for my underpainting it felt like it was coming to life.
The painting is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: Martin P. It is my depiction of my 3rd great-grandfather, a man born in Canada sometime around 1800. I have seen his birth year listed as 1798, 1800 and 1802. His name is also somewhat up for debate. It has come down through time as the anglicized Martin Perry but I have seen the last name listed as the French-based Paré, Parent and Poirer. He was of French-Canadian descent, that is without dispute. Outside of this and a few other facts, there is little else to go on besides assumptions that can be gleaned from what little is known and rumors from the family that remains in the far north of New York state, near the Canadian border.
For instance, there is no known record of the name of his wife, my 3rd great-grandmother. I have heard rumors from the family there that she was a maiden from the Mohawk tribe that occupied a reservation in the area where Martin came to live but there is no evidence of this, either in records or in DNA. I have heard from a professional genealogist who ran into this dead-end and was unsuccessful in uncovering anything.
Martin was not known to be a farmer though his children all ended up as such. He was rumored to have been a coureur des bois, literally a wood’s runner or woodsman, which was basically a frontier figure who lived as a hunter and sometime guide. In the few records I can find from his later life, he is listed simply as a laborer, no doubt at a time when the idea of being a woodsy, especially an old one, was on the decline in the quickly settling areas of the east.
But one thing I do know is that he must have been a tough old man. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in late 1861, along with son of the same name, at the age of 60 years old. He served in the 98th New York Infantry and in the following year, saw action at the Battle of Williamsburg and the the Battle of Seven Pines. which was at that time, early in the Civil War, the largest conflict of the campaign.
I don’t know how he came through it all except to note that he was mustered out later that year, 1862, due to disability. The idea of a 60 year old man marching a thousand or so miles and fighting in battles that were often at close range seems pretty wild in these times but I don’t think it was such for a man raised in the northern wilds. He would have been used to tough conditions, to wet and cold and a spartan lifestyle. For him to have been pulled from the conflict points to a real injury, illness or wound of some sort.
I have yet to find the date of his death. Records in that time and place are often iffy at best but I continue to search.
So, in my depiction of Martin Perry I see him as that coureur des bois, bearded and dressed in buckskin. From what I can tell, he lived on the fringes of the civilized world with a foot always in the wild.