Loomis Chaffee Archive Painting is Portal Into the Past

Members of the school community gathered on Thursday, February 20, for “Nancy Toney: A Portrait of Strength, a Portal into the Past,” an examination of the life of Ms. Toney, a 19th-century African American woman who lived in Windsor and whose personal history is connected with Loomis Chaffee’s Founders.

Ms. Toney was a slave who originally belonged to the Chaffee family and was passed on to a daughter, Abigail Chaffee Loomis. Soon after this event, she was freed by the Loomis family, but she chose to remain in their household, according to history teacher and school archivist Karen Parsons, who led the presentation.

Based on pictures and paintings of her, according to Karen, it is evident that Ms. Toney was an important part of their family. A portrait of Ms. Toney painted by Founder Osbert Loomis is preserved among the school’s archive collection.

Paintings of this nature of African American women were extremely rare in the 19th century, Karen explained. The figure in the portrait appears to “engage with the audience,” and the artist intended the subject of the painting to focus solely on Ms. Toney, Karen said.

The painting may serve as a primary source for interpreting the life experiences of Ms. Toney and other people of color living in the area during that time. Additionally, Karen said, Osbert’s portrait of Ms. Toney is a point of reference from which members of the school community should consider how we arrive at more fair and equitable narratives about the about people who make up our shared Loomis Chaffee history.

Karen’s presentation was a collaboration by the Archives and Loomis’ Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in honor of Black History Month.

Connect to the Archives pages of the website for more information and for a podcast on the topic.

Reporting and photography by sophomore Brooke Barry.