: This portrait of Madame Margaret Agnew Blennerhassett (ca. 1778-1842) is a photographic reproduction of the original, a painted miniature. According to Ray Swick and Christina Little, authors of “Blennerhassett Island,” the original miniature was painted in Montreal, Canada, between 1819 and 1824. It is believed that her husband commissioned the miniature as a replacement for a portrait of his wife that was stolen from his saddlebag in 1807. The oval portrait portrays a woman with a slender face and neck, wavy hair piled high, and penetrating eyes that look directly at the observer.
Margaret Agnew was the daughter of Robert Agnew, lieutenant governor of the Isle of Man. She was an intelligent, well-educated young woman with linguistic and literary talent. Sometime between the ages of 17 and 20, she flouted legal, religious, and social convention by marrying her maternal uncle, Harman Blassenhassett (1765-1831), a wealthy Irish aristocrat.
The couple left England for the United States during the late 1790s and eventually moved to Marietta, Ohio. In 1797 they purchased 174 acres of land on an island in the Ohio River. The land formerly belonged to George Washington.
During their first years on the island, the Blennerhassetts lived in a blockhouse until a permanent home was ready. In 1800 they moved into their new residence, a mansion where the couple lived the life of the wealthy. The Blennerhasetts were famous for their hospitality, and many travelers down the Ohio River stopped at the couple’s home. Their most famous guest was Burr, whom they met in 1805 when he visited the island.
In 1805 and 1806, the Blennerhassetts assisted Burr in his scheme to break away the western part of the United States and form a new country that he would lead. The federal government heard rumors of the uprising and sent a detachment of Virginia militia to seize the Blennerhassetts' island. Harman Blennerhassett was in hiding; his wife was away in Marietta. When she returned, she discovered that the militiamen had ransacked the home, and she fled with her children. Her husband was arrested a few weeks later, but he quickly gained his release.
The Blennerhassetts briefly returned to their mansion, but now destitute, they sought their fortunes in Mississippi, where Harman raised cotton to support the family. An embargo during the War of 1812 brought more financial hardship. In 1819 the family moved to Canada, where Harman tried unsuccessfully to establish a law firm. Margaret and their surviving children remained in Canada when Harman moved to Ireland in 1821 to pursue an old legal claim. He settled on the Isle of Guernsey While still in Canada, Margaret published two books: "The Deserted Isle" (1822) and "The Widow of the Rock and Other Poems" (1824).
Margaret and the children left the United States in 1825 to live with Harman on the Isle of Guernsey. After his death in 1831, she remained there until 1842, when she and her son Harman Jr. sailed to New York City. Margaret petitioned Congress for restitution for the destruction of the Blennerhassett Island property. A Senate committee voted in favor of her appeal, but its decision came too late for Margaret. She died in June 1842 in a New York City poor house and was buried in New York by the Sisters of Charity.
In late the 1990s the remains of Margaret and her son Harman Jr. were moved to Blennerhassett Island and buried near the mansion, which had been reconstructed on its original foundation during the 1980s and early 1990s. The island is now a West Virginia historical state park.
View on Ohio Memory.
: AL05838 Subjects
: Blennerhassett, Margaret, ca. 1778-1842; Blennerhassett, Harman, 1765-1831; Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836; Burr Conspiracy, 1805-1807; Blennerhassett Island (W. Va.); Ohio History--Settlement and Early Statehood; Places
: Madame Blennerhassett portrait