: This image of Harman Blennerhassett (1765-1831) is photographic reproduction of an engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895). The head-and-shoulders portrait depicts Blennerhassett as young man with wavy hair, large eyes, and a rather prominent nose. Just below the bottom of the oval image is the caption “Engd by A.H. Ritchie” and located further down is a reproduction of Blennerhassett’s signature. Ritchie’s engraving closely resembles a digital image that is in the collection of the New York Public Library (ID 113981). A typeset caption on that image reads: “Harman Blennerhassett, from a miniature taken in London in 1796.” If that information is correct, then the miniature was created when Blennerhassett was about 31 years old.
Blennerhassett and his wife, Margaret, achieved notoriety for their association with Aaron Burr, former vice president of the United States, and for their involvement in the Burr Conspiracy. The Blennerhassetts’ surviving legacy and a symbol of their legendary hospitality is the mansion they built on Blennerhassett Island, located in the middle of the Ohio River near what is now Parkersburg, West Virginia
Blennerhassett, a wealthy Irish aristocrat, and his niece, Margaret Agnew (ca. 1778-1842) created a scandal when they married. The exact date of their wedding is not known, but Margaret was likely in her late teens at the time of the nuptials. Margaret 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. The closely related couple flouted legal, religious, and social conventions by marrying.
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 home, 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. His family left the United States in 1825 to live with Harman on the Isle of Guernsey, where he died in 1831.
Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895) was an artist and engraver who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and studied under Scottish artist Sir William Allan. Ritchie moved to New York in 1841 and established a studio there. He specialized in mezzotints, engravings, and etchings.
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: AL05839 Subjects
: Blennerhassett, Harman, 1765-1831; Blennerhassett, Margaret, ca. 1778-1842; Burr Conspiracy, 1805-1807; Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836; Blennerhassett Island (W. Va.); Ohio River Valley--History; Ritchie, Alexander Hay, 1822-1895; Ohio History--Presidents and Politics Places
: Dolores Cameron Venable