| "The Portrait of Hartwell Fletcher Bent (1837-1884), a doublet"
Oil on Canvas. 24 inches by 20 inches. Signed Theo Gegoux - 1887
Photograph by Theodore Gegoux III 2002 © Copyright - All Rights Reserved
A History of the Bent Family from Northern New York
Hartwell Fletcher Bent was born in the town of Philadelphia, New York, on May 9, 1837, the seventh child of Dalmanutha Bent and his wife Betsey Phippen Bent. The Bents, both born in Vermont, were early settlers of northern New York. When Hartwell was four years old, the family moved to Denmark, a town in nearby Lewis County. At the age of 15, Hartwell settled in Antwerp, in Jefferson County. He worked as a farmer, but was primarily known as a cheesemaker and owned several cheese factories in the town of Antwerp.
On July 12, 1858, at the age of 21, Hartwell married Frances Jane Baldwin, 27, of Antwerp. The eighth and youngest child of Henry Clarence Baldwin and his wife Elizabeth B. McAilaster Baldwin had been born and raised in Antwerp. The couple lived for a time in Sterlingburg, located quite near the village of Antwerp, where Jane Bent gave birth to their first son, Roy Hartwell, on Hay 17, 1866. In 1869 Hartwell built a house on Main Street in Antwerp, and it was there, on March 30, 1871, that the couple's other son, Wynn Carl, was born.
Jane Bent was an accomplished artist and executed many landscapes and still lifes in oil on canvas. She commonly painted two of each subject so that each of her sons would be able to have one. Bent family tradition says that Jane was well acquainted with Professor Theodore Gegoux, a well known painter who was living at the time in Watertown, New York.
Jane (known as Fanny in her youth, though she preferred Jane) enjoyed painting so much, and disliked housework so much, that she employed a young woman, Caroline Shampine, to take care of the house. Pine, as she was known in the Bent family, came from around Sterlingburg, and was particularly well known for her excellent baking. She lived with the Bent family until her death in the 1930s.
Hartwell was a prominent citizen of the village, and had been elected to serve as Town Supervisor for the fifth time when he died suddenly of pneumonia on February 29, 1884 at the age of 46. (Due to the amazing coincidence that Hartwell Francis Bent lived across the street, Hartwell Fletcher Bent was widely known during his life as Hartwell Hart Bent or Hartwell H. Bent.) After Hartwell's death, the grieving widow commissioned Professor Gegoux to paint Hartwell Bent's portrait. As with her own work, Jane Bent wanted a portrait for each of her two sons. In due course the paintings were completed and one was hung at the top of the front staircase in the Bent home on Main Street. As far as anyone is aware, neither portrait was signed by the artist.
At the time of Hartwell's death, Roy Bent was not yet 18 years old but was already working in the family cheesemaking business. His younger brother, Wynn, became 13 a month after his father's death. That year Wynn had begun writing in a pocket diary, a habit he would continue for many years. There is an entry for February 27, 1884 ("Hens layed five eggs today") two days before Hartwell's death, but the following pages are blank until March 30, when Wynn noted "Today's my birthday."
Roy and Wynn lived at home with their mother until her death ten years later on Thursday November 8, 1894. Wynn's diary notes that event and then observes on the following Saturday that "Uncle William, Aunt Laura, Henry, and Prof. Gegoux came from Watertown this morning. The funeral was at two this p.m."
Although not in possession of the Bent family within the past thirty years, it is said that Professor Gegoux also painted a portrait of Jane Bent. This portrait was later sold to Fred Snyder of Copenhagen, New York, a dealer. Mr. Snyder sold the portrait to Harold Evans of Watertown, New York, who had the painting restored.
After the death of Jane Bent, Roy and Wynn Bent continued working in the family cheesemaking business, and established several milk plants. On January 5, 1892 Roy Bent, 25, married Leora May Odbert, 21, the daughter of Fletcher Nelson Odbert, a Civil War veteran, and his wife Emma Frances Dailey Odbert. Leora was always known as Lola. They lived in the Bent house on Main Street, as did Wynn, and in due course had a son, Lynn Roy Bent, born there on November 18, 1893, who was their only child.
Lynn was a 1915 graduate of the New York State School of Agriculture at Canton, and on August 23, 1916, at the age of 22, married Helen Sophia Sterling, 23, daughter of Frank Riley and Jane Camidge Sterling. The young Bents worked a farm outside of Antwerp, now part of Fort Drum, for some years, and their two children were born there: Jane Elizabeth Bent on January 12, 1918, and Roy Hartwell Bent II on May 22, 1921. Lynn went on to work for the Model Dairy and later the Dairyman's League. The family lived in Antwerp, Potsdam, and Carthage during these years.
Wynn Bent never married. He worked with his brother in the family business, ran a photography business in Antwerp, and was always interested in the newest inventions. He had one of the first telephones in Antwerp. He died, in the house where he had been born and always lived, on March 1, 1946 at the age of 75.
After Wynn's death, Lynn and Helen Bent moved into the family home with Roy and Lola Bent. Roy died there on January 25, 1954, at the age of 87. Lola also reached the age of 87, dying at the Bent house on December 15, 1957.
Lynn and Helen Bent remained at the Bent house, with Jane (who was married to Donald Charles Putman on January 26, 1946) living around the corner on Madison Avenue. Jane and Donald Putman had one child, Dana Charles, born November 23, 1951. Roy (who married Woodis Finch Roberts on October 9, 1944) lived in New Jersey and then Pennsylvania, but returned to the ancestral home for visits in the summers. Roy and Woodis Bent had four children: Woodis Lynn, Deborah Anne, Roy Hartwell III, and Martha Lloyd. Roy Bent, 51, had a heart attack and died on March 21, 1973.
Helen Sterling Bent, 89 died at the Bent house on January 30, 1983. Lynn survived her for a short time, and lived alone in the house until a couple of days before his death when he was taken to the House of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Watertown, New York. He died at the hospital on July 2, 1984 at the age of 90.
For the first time since being built in 1869, the house on Main Street was unoccupied. Jane Bent Putman, who had been handicapped with polio at the age of 13 in 1931, was unable to live in the house due to the many stairs, and the house was sold. The house was filled with the possessions of three long-lived generations of Bents, including the portrait of Hartwell Bent that had hung at the head of the stairs for 100 years. That portrait was given to Hartwell's great-greatgrandson, Dana Putman, and remains in his possession. The duplicate portrait had been given to Roy and Woodis Bent many years earlier, and at this writing remains in their family.
Written by Marilyn Coulon Putman, wife of Dana Putman, January 5, 2002.
An email from the family to Theodore Gegoux III
We own a portrait of my husband's great-great-grandfather, Hartwell Fletcher Bent (1837-1884) that family tradition holds was painted by Theodore Gegoux. It is unsigned. From 1869 to 1984, the Bent family home on Main Street in Antwerp, New York was continuously occupied by members of the Bent family. This portrait hung at the head of the stairs as long as anyone now living can recall. The story, as handed down in the family, is that Hartwell's wife, Frances Jane Baldwin Bent, who was herself a painter, hired Mr. Gegoux to paint this portrait after the death of her husband. He painted two, in fact, the second portrait being in the possession of one of my husband's first cousins. Jane and Hartwell had two sons, and she always painted two of everything so each could have one. It is somewhat implied in the family tradition that Jane Bent and Mr. Gegoux were friends.
We noticed the article in the October 24, 2001 issue of the Watertown Daily Times while visiting my mother-in-law, Jane Bent Putman. She was also most interested, and called later to mention that she thought her Uncle Wynn, Hartwell and Jane Bent's son, had mentioned something about the artist in his diary. We have Wynn Bent's pocket diaries, and so went looking to see if we could find the reference. Following the November 8, 1894 notation "Mother died this morning at quarter of eight" is the entry for Saturday, November 10, 1894: "Uncle William, Aunt Laura, Henry and prof. Gegoux came from Watertown this morning. The funeral was at two this p.m." Although not specifically mentioned, it is clearly understood that Wynn meant that they had come from Watertown on the train, which was the most common mode of transportation from that location. We thought that you might be interested in this small bit of information. Should you also be interested in the painting of Hartwell Fletcher Bent, please feel free to contact us.
Best of luck in your admirable endeavors.
The provenance and dedication were contributed by Marilyn Coulon Putman of Gouverneur, New York - November 1, 2001 © Copyright - All Rights Reserved.