Reverend James Blair

Charles Bridges (bap. 1672–1747)

Charles Bridges was the first documented painter to live and work in Virginia and to produce work of good quality. Born to a gentry family in Northamptonshire, England, Bridges settled in London, where he may have trained as a painter and begun a career as a portraitist. After his wife's death, he moved to Williamsburg with his children in 1735. More than two dozen portraits of Virginians are attributable to Bridges, including members of the Blair, Bolling, Carter, Custis, Grymes, Lee, Ludwell, Moore, Page, and Randolph families. He returned to England about 1744 and died in Northamptonshire in December 1747. MORE...

 

Charles Bridges was christened in the parish of Barton Seagrave in Northamptonshire, England, on April 2, 1672, the son of John Bridges and Elizabeth Trumbull Bridges. He came from a well-educated gentry family, and his brother John Bridges was a barrister and one of the first and most laborious historians of Northamptonshire. Charles Bridges married Alice Flower on August 4, 1687, at Saint Marylebone, near London. They had at least one son and two daughters. He was an agent of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge by 1699 and served as a liaison with local charity schools at least until 1713, when his name disappears from the society's records. Bridges may have been trained as a painter and begun a career as a portraitist, though the only English portrait firmly attributable to him is one of Thomas Baker, a fellow of Saint John's College, University of Cambridge, painted after 1717.

In 1733 Bridges, probably by then a widower, contemplated moving to Georgia. Men approaching their mid-sixties seldom relocated to the colonies, but two years later he arrived in Williamsburg with his children. Armed with recommendations from Thomas Gooch, master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Edmund Gibson, the bishop of London, Bridges presented himself to Lieutenant Governor William Gooch and Commissary James Blair. Their influence and his own talent enabled him to receive commissions for portraits from William Byrd (1674–1744) and others, and in December 1735 he witnessed the will of Sir John Randolph. That same month Byrd introduced Bridges to Alexander Spotswood as "a man of a good family," who was forced "either by the frowns of fortune, or his own mismanagement," to earn a living as a painter. Byrd stated that, although Bridges was not a portraitist of the first rank, had he lived back "when places were given to the most deserving, he might have pretended to be serjeant-painter of Virginia." Bridges was the first documented painter to live and work in Virginia and to produce work of good quality. The more than two dozen portraits of Virginians attributable to him include members of the Blair, Bolling, Carter, Custis, Grymes, Lee, Ludwell, Moore, Page, and Randolph families. The work includes appealing double portraits of children, forthright images of great planters and their wives, and coats of arms for county governments. Portraits by Bridges can be seen at the College of William and Mary, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Virginia Historical Society, and Washington and Lee University.

Bridges also explored with Blair and Gibson the possibility of establishing a charity to teach Christianity to the colony's African Americans. Because baptism was linked in many minds with notions of freedom, which the planters certainly opposed, and because Blair and Bridges lacked funds and youthful energy, nothing came of this humanitarian ambition. One of Bridges's daughters died in Williamsburg on August 24, 1736, and that December he rented a house in the borough for twelve months. Thereafter he moved to Hanover County, where he evidently stayed until he returned to England about 1744. Bridges died in his native Northamptonshire and was buried in the church of Warkton Parish near Barton Seagrave on December 18, 1747.

Time Line

  • April 2, 1672 - Charles Bridges is christened in the parish of Barton Seagrave in Northamptonshire, England. He is the son of John Bridges and Elizabeth Trumbull Bridges.
  • August 4, 1687 - Charles Bridges marries Alice Flower at Saint Marylebone, near London. They will have at least one son and two daughters.
  • 1699 - By this year Charles Bridges is an agent of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He serves as a liaison with local charity schools at least until 1713.
  • 1717 - Sometime after this year, Charles Bridges completes a portrait of Thomas Baker, a fellow of Saint John's College, University of Cambridge.
  • 1733 - Charles Bridges, in his mid-sixties and probably a widower, contemplates moving from England to Georgia.
  • 1735 - Charles Bridges moves from England to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he hopes to make a living as a painter. He carries recommendations from Thomas Gooch of Cambridge and Edmund Gibson, the bishop of London.
  • December 1735 - Charles Bridges witnesses the will of Sir John Randolph. He also is introduced to Alexander Spotswood.
  • August 24, 1736 - One of Charles Bridges's daughters dies in Williamsburg.
  • December 1736 - Charles Bridges rents a house in Williamsburg for twelve months.
  • 1744 - After living in Hanover County since late in 1737, Charles Bridges returns to England about this year.
  • December 18, 1747 - Charles Bridges is buried in the church of Warkton Parish near Barton Seagrave.

References

Further Reading
Hood, Graham. "Charles Bridges." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara Bearss et al., 226. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Hood, G., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Charles Bridges (bap. 1672–1747). (2013, July 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Bridges_Charles_bap_1672-1747.

  • MLA Citation:

    Hood, Graham and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Charles Bridges (bap. 1672–1747)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Jul. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 23, 2011 | Last modified: July 23, 2013


Contributed by Graham Hood and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography