Harriet Callahan Ridgely (1785-1828) Annapolis, Maryland c. 1805
Maker: James Peale, American (1749-1831)
Medium: Watercolor on Ivory P51 Donated by Mrs. Francis White in 1963
Harriet was born in 1785 in Annapolis, the same year her parents, John Callahan and Sarah Buckland Callahan, began building their elegant brick townhouse at the corner of Tabernacle (now College) and Lawyer (now Bladen) Streets. The house has been moved twice and is still extant on Conduit Street. From her mother’s side she is the granddaughter of William Buckland, architect of the Hammond-Harwood House.
Unfortunately, not much is known about Harriet, other than her wedding announcement, which describes her as amiable. However, there is a very interesting story related to Harriet’s husband Dr. John Ridgely (1778-1843) before they were wed. Ridgely was a graduate of St. John’s who studied medicine and was appointed a naval surgeon in 1803. On Halloween 1804 he was captured along with the crew on the frigate Philadelphia at Tripoli. It was during the Barbary Wars, a conflict the United States and Sweden had entered against the Barbary States in North Africa, largely in reaction to piracy in that area. Once captured, Dr. Ridgely was then commanded under the pain of death to cure the daughter of the leader of Tripoli. Luckily, Ridgely succeeded and was offered the daughter’s hand in marriage. He graciously declined, and insisted on his crew’s freedom. Instead of a bride he was given many gifts including a magnificent white stallion that he brought back to Annapolis. After peace was achieved he served as acting consul in Tripoli from 1805 to 1807. This miniature of Ridgely’s future wife Harriet was done in 1805 during John’s great adventure. After resigning from the navy in 1808 he became a physician in Annapolis. John and Harriet married November 3, 1812, when she was 27. The couple’s home stood on the present day site of the Governor’s Mansion.
Portraits of Harriet’s mother, father, and three sisters by Charles Willson Peale are in the museum’s collection and hang in the dining room. Harriet’s nephew William Harwood resided at the Hammond-Harwood House after his 1834 marriage to Hester Ann Loockerman, who lived on the estate.
The miniature was painted by James Peale (1749-1831), younger brother of the artist Charles Willson Peale. James was also a skilled painter, specializing in miniature portraiture and, eventually, still life and landscapes. James developed a niche in miniature portraiture, while his older brother specialized in larger portraits. He created his own style that included long brushstrokes, gentle lines, and bright color, and he depicted sitters with a recognizable “Cupid’s bow” smile.
By Rachel Lovett, Curator