By Annette Hinkle
A couple weeks ago Jessica, Sarah and Hugh Huntting stopped by the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum with a gift — a portrait that had been in their family for generations.
“It had been passed down from my grandparents and when my dad died in December, it went to my brother, Hugh,” explained Jessica Huntting. “We talked and said, ‘Why not give it to the museum?’”
Though the Hunttings, who are siblings, all live in Washington state, they trace their roots to the Hunttings of Sag Harbor — including Benjamin Huntting II, who, in 1845, built the imposing structure that now is home to the museum.
“Jessica thought it was Benjamin Huntting, but she didn’t know which one,” explains Zach Studentroth, the museum’s director who wondered if the portrait might be an illusve image of Benjamin Huntting II, which is said to exist. “We knew he had been painted, but have no idea where the picture is.”
But when the Hunttings revealed the painting, it turned out to be the first Benjamin Huntting, father of the builder of the Whaling Museum.
“When it arrived I could tell it was earlier — from the 18th century period,” says Studenroth. “What’s interesting for us is that it’s not a portrait that would’ve been painted here in Sag Harbor – there were no artists here in the 1780s and ‘90s. So it would’ve probably been by a New York painter.”
While Benjamin Huntting II struck it big in the whaling business, it was his father, the first Benjamin Huntting (and subject of the portrait) who, in 1784, outfitted the brig Lucy, the first “factory” whaling ship to sail from Sag Harbor rigged to spend years at sea. The fact he had his portrait painted points to the elder Huntting’s affluence and worldliness.
“There are very few portaits of 18th century residents of Sag Harbor,” said Studenroth. “The population was quite small, few people traveled enough to take advantage of getting their portraits pianted.”
“He was from Southampton but part of the generation making the transition to Sag Harbor,” added Studenroth. “In the 18th century, it was a funcitoning port, but people profiting from that were not actually living here. He was among the first of the very propserous residents who started the trend.”
On their visit to Sag Harbor, the Huntting siblings also gave the museum a circa 1830s silhouette of Mehitable Cooper Huntting – the mother of Benjamin Huntting II.
“Now I’m hoping to find space to do a nice exhibit about the family,” said Studenroth. “This becomes the nucleus of an exhibition.”
Jessica Huntting remembers visiting the Whaling Museum with her family as a child in the 1970s and recalls her father pointing out the different types of harpoons on display.
“My dad read to us from ‘Moby Dick’ when we were about four and drew pictures of things like Queequeg getting thrown overboard,” she said, noting that when it came time to find a home for the portraits, she and her siblings felt the Whaling Musuem was just right.
“For us, they’re in their correct resting place,” she added.
Top: Zach Studenroth, director of the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum with Sarah, Hugh and Jessica Huntting, and the 18th century portrait of Benjamin Huntting.