John Singleton Copley (1737-1815) was born in Boston, Mass., U. S., to which place his parents are said to have immigrated from Limerick, Ireland. The father was descended from the Copleys of Yorkshire, England, and the mother from the Singletons of County Clare, both families of note. When young Copley was eleven years old his mother was married to Peter Pelham, a widower with three sons—Peter, Charles, and William—and who subsequently became the father of another son, Henry, by this second marriage. Mr. Pelham was a portrait painter and a mezzotint engraver of unusual merit. One authority calls him “the founder of those arts in New England.” Mr. Pelham was also a man of education, a land surveyor, and a mathematician. He was thus well qualified to educate, assist, and stimulate young Copley in the pursuit of studies so natural and congenial to him. He is said to have been studious and quiet, and to have made rapid advances. When he was fifteen years old he painted a portrait of his step-brother, Charles Pelham, now in the family of a great-grandson, Mr. Charles Pelham Curtis, of Boston. At sixteen he published an engraving of Rev. William Welsteed, from a portrait painted by himself. The same year he painted the portrait of a child—afterward Dr. de Mountfort—now owned in Detroit. In 1754 he painted an allegorical picture of Mars, Venus, and Vulcan, thirty inches long by twenty-five wide, now owned in Bridgewater, Mass. The next year he painted a miniature of George Washington, who was on a visit to Governor Shirley at the time. This picture now belongs to the family of the late George P. Putnam, of New York City. In 1756 he painted a three-quarters length portrait of General William Brattle, life size, signed and dated, and now owned by Mr. William S. Appleton. He now improved rapidly. A crayon portrait of Miss Rebecca Gardiner, afterward Mrs. Philip Dumaresq, an oil painting of Mrs. Edmund Perkins, a portrait of Rebecca Boylston, afterward wife of Governor Gill, portraits of Colonel and Mrs. Lee, grandparents of General William Raymond Lee, all exist and attest the continued growth of his powers. These date between 1763 and 1769. During this time he had access to and was a visitor in houses where were portraits by Saribest, Blackburn, Liopoldt, and even by Vandyck and Sir Godfrey Kneller. Mr. Augustus Thorndike Perkins, in his carefully written monograph on Copley, says that our artist must have seen all these pictures, since, as Dr. Gardiner says, “his genial disposition and his courtly manners make him a welcome guest everywhere.” Mr. Perkins remarks that Copley must have studied with Blackburn; that he imitated, but in some respects surpassed him. “Both frequently used, either as the lining of a dress or as drapery, a certain shade of mauve pink; Blackburn uses this shade feebly, while Copley dashes it on with the hand of a master.” On November 16, 1769, Copley married Susan (or Susannah, as it is sometimes written), the daughter of Mr. Richard Clarke, a distinguished merchant of Boston, to whom, as agent of the East India Company of London, was consigned the tea thrown overboard in Boston harbor. From all accounts he soon began to live in good style; and as, in 1771, Colonel Trumbull found him living opposite the Common, it is probable that he purchased at about that time the property which afterward became so valuable, although long after Copley had ceased to be the owner. In 1773, says the late eminent conveyancer, Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch, “Copley owned all the land bounded on the west by Charles River, thence by Beacon Street to Walnut Street, thence by Walnut Street to Mt. Vernon Street, thence by Mt. Vernon Street to Louisburg Square, thence by Louisburg Square to Pinckney Street, thence by Pinckney Street to the water, containing about eleven acres of land.” This land is now covered with handsome residences, and is of great value. An agent of Copley’s sold his property after he went abroad without being authorized to do so, and, although his son came over in 1795 to look into the matter, he was only able to secure a compromise by which a further sum of three thousand guineas was paid in final settlement.

Soon after his marriage Copley painted his picture of a “Boy with a Squirrel,” which he sent anonymously to Benjamin West, in London, for exhibition. West judged from the wood on which the picture was stretched and from the kind of squirrel that the work was American, and so excellent was the painting that a rule of the institution was set aside, and the picture exhibited. This picture is now in the possession of Mrs. James S. Amory, of Boston, a granddaughter of the artist. The boy in the picture was his half-brother Henry. The picture was so favorably received that Copley was advised to go to England. He sailed in 1774, and never returned.