VIRGINIA BEACH — For the first time in well over a century a rare piece of local history is back home and on display here, offering residents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the area’s earliest residents.
The historic piece is a painting of William Moseley II that dates to the mid-17th century, and it’s hanging at the new Thoroughgood House Education Center through Sept. 1.
The portrait, by an unknown Dutch artist, depicts Moseley at about age 14. He was the son of William Moseley, who brought his family – and their portraits – from Holland and settled them in the Lynnhaven Parish in late 1649.
“This is a chance to see someone who was here in the beginning,” said Anne Miller, coordinator for Virginia Beach History Museums. “We can make every effort possible to create mannequins, we can provide references and images from that period of people from England and the other colonies, but this is an image of a person who was actually here in Lynnhaven Parish in 1650.”
At one time there were portraits of the entire Moseley family: William, Susanna, William II and Arthur. But a bit of a mystery surrounds the current whereabouts of the rest of the Moseley family’s portraits, which were passed down through the family until the years prior to the Civil War.
When he died in 1814, Edward Hack Moseley Jr., who served as Clerk of Courts for many years, passed the portraits on to his son Samuel Moseley, who was once the Mayor of Norfolk. Samuel left them to his son, Burwell Bassett Moseley, who, fearing they might be lost during the Civil War, sent them north to a half-brother (or cousin), Dr. Samuel Boush, who lived in Philadelphia.
After the war ended, but before he could get them back, Burwell died. Boush died sometime later, but before he could return the portraits. He instructed that the portraits be sent back to the Moseley heirs. A lawsuit ensued, but in the end a court-ordered auction was held and the portraits were sold to separate buyers.
Miller said in a way, the whole situation might have been a blessing, since so many works of art, documents, and other items were indeed destroyed or lost during and immediately after the war.
William II’s portrait belongs to a private collector, who has lent it to the Virginia Beach History Museums.
But the whereabouts of the others remain a mystery.
The portraits of the elder William, Susanna, and Arthur haven’t been seen since the auction. They’re known only through four black and white photos taken prior to 1900. Who owns them, or even if they still exist, is unknown.
“We would welcome any clues about the missing portraits,” Miller said. “We fear these very significant portraits are in someone’s attic or basement.”
Miller added that William II had a significant connection to the Thoroughgood family, marrying Sarah Thoroughgood’s daughter from a second husband.
The Thoroughgood House is located at 1636 Parish Road and is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is an admission fee.