Mystery Revealed: Conclusion of Three Part Series

[28 May 2003] by Frederick W. Vogler

So just what exactly was the precious family heirloom that Heather Crain mailed from Pensacola to John and Betty Vogler Houston in Charlotte this past August? Although they had been told in advance what to expect, they were still amazed and delighted to open that envelope and discover a handsome 5″ x 7″ color photograph enlargement of Heather’s family’s miniature portrait of none other than our pioneer ancestor Philip Christoph Vogler himself. Although neither name nor date appears on the original portrait itself or on this reproduction, for the past two centuries he has been identified as the subject of that miniature that had been so lovingly preserved in its protective locket before being copied in order to be shared with the rest of his present descendants.

He is depicted as a dignified, smiling man of short to medium height who appears to be in his 30s, wearing clothing that was in style in Colonial America during the mid-Eighteenth Century as was the hairstyle shown. Since at that approximate age he would still have been living in Broad Bay (now Waldoboro) in Maine as part of a necessarily rough and primitive pioneer society, it seems rather unlikely that such a frontiersman would have had the opportunity or inclination to sit for a portrait intended as a decorative object rather than a practical, utilitarian one. However, it may well be that this painting was done sometime after he and his family moved to North Carolina in 1770. At that time he would have been in his late 40s and now part of a vigorous, productive Moravian community soon to boast many artistically gifted, skilled craftsmen, including several of his own sons, grandsons, and later descendants. In such an atmosphere, it is reasonable to suppose that a talented artist could have chosen to paint him retrospectively as he had appeared earlier in life before becoming prominent in Wachovia’s Friedland community or even after his final retirement in Bethania, where he died in 1790.

Whatever the circumstances of that portrait’s actual creation may have been, we are in the presence of a long-established and highly specific family tradition that has respectfully preserved it for posterity as being the likeness of our ancestor Philip Christoph Vogler. How fortunate we all are now to be allowed to share his only known image thanks to the generosity of Heather and her immediate family. And how grateful we are to her late grandmother Marie Antionette Vogler Temple, the memory of whose special devotion to preserving that tradition would move Heather to take the initiative in contacting us a decade after her grandmother had passed away, as she has told us. We are proud indeed to have the opportunity to join in that ongoing mission.