The subject of the painting, Eliza Cheever Davis Shattuck (1790-1828) and John Derby Davis (1792-1809), was the subject of some confusion since the label of about 1900 indicated that the subject was "Eleanor Cheever and Her Brother." The painting descended in the Shattuck family of Boston and the Shattuck Geneology (Lemuel Shattuck Memorial of the descendants of William Shattuck, Boston 1855) lists only one Eleanor Cheever (1750-1825) - who married Caleb Davis of Boston in 1787. Since the painting must date from the mid-1790s for both costume and the period when Savage was most available in Boston, Eleanor could not be the sitter, nor would she have a brother of the right age. However, Eliza, who was sometimes known in the Shattuck family as Eleanor (there were many Elizabeths, Elizas and Eleanors in the Shattuck line), was of exactly the right age (born January 9, 1790) as was her brother John Derby Davis (born March 4, 1792) - and these two were the only children of the marriage of Eleanor Cheever and Caleb Davis.
Eliza Cheever Davis came to her marriage in 1811 with considerable resources. Her mother had inherited significant property and money from her uncle through her father, Captain William Downes Cheever, a mariner and Boston sugar refiner, and "man of large estate." Eliza and John Derby's father, Caleb Davis (1738-1797), who had been born in Woodstock, CT, was a shipowner, one of the Sons of Liberty and a member of the Committee of Correspondence. During the Revolutionary War, he was "agent of the State of Massachusetts." In 1780 he was Speaker of the first Massachusetts House of Representatives. In 1788 he was a Boston member of the Constitutional Convention; and in 1789 was an Elector of George Washington. He was 52 when Eliza was born and 54 when his son, John Derby was born.
George Cheyne Shattuck, Eliza's husband, was the son of Benjamin Shattuck (1743-1794), the first of a remarkable line of five generations of Shattuck doctors. George followed in the tradition by graduating from Dartmouth in 1803, and receiving a MD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1807. Their son, George Cheyne Shattuck, Jr. (1813-1894) graduated from Harvard in 1831 and Harvard Medical School in 1835. He became one of the most eminent doctors and professors of medicine in New England. The painting descended through him.
The second subject of the painting, John Derby Davis (1792-1809), was the nephew by marriage of John Derby of Salem, Massachusetts - one of the leading and wealthiest merchants of New England. John Derby Davis was baptized at the Hollis Street Church in Boston on March 4, 1792 - the day of his birth. He entered the freshman class at Harvard in 1806 but died on December 11, 1809 before he had graduated.
The Davis Children fits into both stylistic and patronage patterns of Savage's work of the mid-1790s. It relates directly to his portraits Jedidiah Morse with Samuel F.B. Morse and Elizabeth Ann (Breese) Morse with Sidney Edwards Morse. Although Sidney Edwards Morse is only one year old in the latter painting, his child's garments and his pose relate exactly to that of John Derby Davis. The Morses, particularly Jedidiah-the famous geographer, were from Woodstock, CT, but had moved to Boston; Sidney was born there in February of 1794 and was certainly painted the next year, the same year that Savage must have painted the Davises. Savage also painted Abiel Holmes, who had also been born in Woodstock, CT, in Boston in 1794-5. Therefore, the connection of Woodstock/Boston families in the period of Savage's return from England in 1794-5 seems to have created a nexus of sitters for his patronage.
Edward Savage, painter and engraver, was born November 26, 1761 in Princeton, Massachusetts. It is not known from whom or where he learned to paint, but by 1785 he was active as a painter in Boston. He traveled to New York in 1789 and to London in 1791, where he issued a number of prints. He returned to Boston in 1794 where he married Sarah Seaver. Their son, Edward Jr., was born in Boston in 1795. The family then moved to Philadelphia in 1795 where the senior Savage opened the Columbian Gallery on Chestnut Street. In 1802, he established the Columbian Gallery in New York City. From 1812 on, he resided in Boston and conducted a gallery and art museum called the New York Museum. During the latter part of his life he retired to his farm in Princeton, Massachusetts where he died on July 6, 1817. Edward Savage painted many of the most prominent members of the founding families of the American republic. They include George and Martha Washington, John Hancock, General Joseph Warren, General Anthony Wayne, Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine and Robert Morris. He may have been unique among the painters of his time in that he worked in Boston, New York and Philadelphia directly after the revolution for extended periods of time. His paintings can be found in many prominent collections including the National Gallery of Art, Worcester Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, New York Historical Society, Winterthur Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Adams National Historic Site, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the US Department of State and at Harvard University.