For Black History Month, the American Antiquarian Society is featuring historic objects from the collection that are associated with or depict Black Worcester residents. The Society’s portrait of John Moore Jr. was painted in Boston in 1826 when the sitter was in his twenties. He was the only son of John Moore Sr. (1751-1836), a Boston mariner, and his wife, Alice Niles. John Moore Sr. was born a free Black in New York City and moved to Boston as a young man. He supported the patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. In 1784 he retired from the sea and settled permanently in Boston where his son was born around 1800. When he grew up, John Moore Jr., who is depicted in this portrait, may have worked as a barber. A barbershop on South Russell St. listed in the 1827 ‘People of Color’ section of the Boston City Directory appears under the name John Moore.
In 1831, shortly after this portrait was painted, John Moore Jr., became the legal guardian of two young nephews, Frederick and William Brown. They were the children of his sister Alice (1793- 1866), whose husband had recently died. Other particulars of the life of John Moore Jr., including whether he married or had children, and when he died, are still being researched. The portrait of Moore passed to his nephew and ward William Brown (1824-1892), who, in 1841, moved with his family to Worcester, where he worked as a successful upholsterer and drapery expert and supported abolitionist activities and organizations. In 1974, descendants donated Brown’s personal and business papers and the painting to the American Antiquarian Society. At the time, the family believed the painting depicted John Moore Sr. However, conservation of the canvas in 1975 revealed the 1826 date on the verso, indicating that the portrait was in fact of John, Jr., rather than his father, who would have been seventy-five years old in 1826. The portrait has hung in the Reading Room of AAS since 1975. You can read more about the painting, including information on the artist and watch a video about William Brown produced by the Worcester Black History Project (below).