Although inconclusive, fragments of information in two genealogical sources suggest a candidate for the adult Jeremiah H. Emerson who was depicted as a child in this arresting portrait. He appears in the 1845 Lowell, Massachusetts, vital records announcing his intention to marry Eliza Hall on March 13 of that year. In the Emerson genealogy, he is identified as Jeremiah Hurd Emerson and the son of Richard Emerson, who was born in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1798. Richard was a journeyman shoemaker in Wakefield, Massachusetts, where he died at the age of thirty-two, widowing Sara Chandler, of Andover, whom he had married thirteen years earlier, and with whom he had been raising two other children. Jeremiah's sister Sara Eliza lived in Lowell, where she married Stephen T. Stanley in 1840. Although the genealogy lists Jeremiah's ultimate adult residence as Australia, it seems plausible that Sara Eliza may have been the custodian of his childhood portrait and the likeness of their widowed mother, and that may explain why the pictures descended together. As yet no convincing explanation accounts for how the Emerson and Frederick Buxton (cat. no. 20) portraits came to be auctioned as a foursome in 1924, or why they are further linked by the inscription of "Buxton" on the backing boards of the mothers' pictures.
Comparing the likenesses of the two boys shows how successfully the Shutes defined the children's distinct personalities with an economy of means. Jeremiah is considerably more stolid and reserved than the engaging Frederick, and, although his background is enlivened by elaborate foliage, the monochromatic palette reinforces his more withdrawn aspect. This is underscored when the painting is compared with the likeness of young Cynthia Jane Atkinson in the collection of the Lowell Historical Society, which is similarly composed but enlivened by more complex and intricate color relationships. The Shutes often injected graphic vitality into a composition by choosing to exaggerate a detail of the subject's costume, and nowhere is that more evident than in their treatment of Jeremiah's billowing, cloudlike white collar. -H.K. & S.K.