A rare example of documented Southern portraiture from the nineteenth century, this pair of portraits was painted by Daniel Wheaton (c.1805-after 1870) in Greenville, South Carolina. Wheaton was born in North Carolina and at the time of his marriage in 1827 to Grace Benson, he was noted to be “of Raleigh.” Grace hailed from Greenville, South Carolina and the following year, Wheaton advertised that he was “available for portrait painting” in Pendleton, South Carolina, approximately 30 miles southwest of Greenville (Miller’s Weekly Messenger, April 9, 1828, transcribed by G. Anne Sheriff, Old Pendleton District Newsletter, vol. 18, no. 8 (October 2004), p. 122). In the Federal census records from 1840 to 1870, he is listed as living in various locales in the vicinity of Greenville and his occupation described as “portrait painter” or simply “painter.” For three other examples of Wheaton's work, all rendered in the mid-1820s when the artist was in Raleigh, see Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) object database, nos. NN-462, NN-463 and S-5494.
The sitters are John Adams (1809-1891) and Mary (Simpson) Adams (1810-1896), Scottish immigrants who arrived in Charleston, South Carolina soon after their marriage in 1834. A mechanical engineer, architect and builder, Adams met Vardry McBee (1775-1864), the “father of Greenville, South Carolina,” who persuaded him to move to the area where under the employment of McBee, Adams oversaw the construction of a large building projects, including a dam, several mills and the McBee Methodist Church, an innovative octagonal structure. John and Mary Adams lived the remainder of their lives in Greenville, active in the local Presbyterian Church and raising eleven children. Widely respected, Adams was described by McBee’s granddaughter, Mrs. S.M. Landrum, as “a prince among men” (Diary of John Adams, 1809-1891 (September 1974), as transcribed on gw.geneanet.org, accessed December 14, 2020).