by John

The resolution of a historical mystery is always a cause for rejoicing, especially here in The Genealogy Center when the mystery involves the early history of Fort Wayne. Hugh McCulloch (1808-1895) and his wife Susan (Man) (1818-1898) were early influential pioneers of our city. Hugh became a prominent banker and would eventually serve as Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln. The story of Hugh’s courtship of Susan, whom he met in 1836 when he was a young widowed banker and she an unmarried schoolteacher, is chronicled poignantly in their correspondence, most of which is housed in the Lilly Library of Indiana University, though The Genealogy Center has a typewritten transcript. Both were excellent writers and provided some of the most vivid descriptions of Fort Wayne society from the 1830s through the 1860s of any writers, making their correspondence an important source for the cultural history of the city. Through the letters we learn much about churches, politics, rivalries, socials, and even recipes that provide an unusual window on their times.

After meeting and establishing a close friendship with her future husband, Susan returned to her home in Plattsburgh, New York, in 1837. As a Christmas present, she had her miniature painted by Charlotte Deming, and sent it to her suitor. Hugh wrote on December 22, “…Your miniature came safely to hand. The more I gaze upon it the more I admire it. It is the best I have ever seen. All of my friends to whom I have shown it think it an admirable likeness. When I am alone I keep it constantly before me. I cannot tell you how highly I prize it.”

Susan, in her reply, expressed her anxiety over it. “I was very uneasy about it and therefore feel quite relieved. I feared you would not like the dress when it was taken but Cornelius thought it could not be improved, and Miss Deming said that it would look natural much longer for being plain as the fashions of “neckerchiefs” change so often. I am very happy to hear that you think it a good likeness. You can paste a piece of paper over the glass to hide the dress. Perhaps it will give you some pleasure to know that I do not dress so always.”

This playful exchange by the couple has always shrouded a deeper mystery: What happened to the portrait, and where is it now? There are many later portraits of Susan and Hugh extant in various collections, but this miniature has eluded Fort Wayne historians. But the mystery is now over.

Recently, a collector found the miniature and was able to acquire it from a descendant. He was very generous to share a scan of it for The Genealogy Center’s collection. We are delighted to share it and to know that a small part of this couple’s historically significant correspondence can now be better illuminated.
Susan Man McCulloch miniature by Charlotte Deming