Family Donates Portrait of University’s First Administrator to Washington & Jefferson | Local News
Accepting a specially commissioned portrait of one of the early administrators of the two schools that became Washington & Jefferson College, Dr John Frazier promised donors:
“We’ll find a good place for it, and we won’t lose this one.”
His guarantee drew good-humored laughter from the small group gathered Thursday for the unveiling of an oil painting of Colonel James Allison, one of Washington’s most prominent residents in the late 18th and early 18th centuries. Nineteenth century.
Minna Allison and her husband Dr. Andrew Allison, James’s great-great-great-great-grandson, donated the portrait. Residents of Peters Township are W&J alumni, and when they were students they recalled seeing a painting of the Colonel on display in the lobby of the President’s house on campus.
In 2017, when college accepted their son Grant, the Allisons asked about the artwork. He never appeared, despite a concerted effort to locate him.
So they decided to have a new one produced and donate it to W&J along with Grant’s graduation this spring as the eighth generation of his family to graduate from college.
The dedication ceremony was held at the Barron P. McCune Alumni House on the W&J campus, with Trustee Emeritus Frazier, a longtime friend of the Allisons, who made the formal acceptance.
According to Minna Allison, Col. James Allison’s original painting was donated to the college by members of the Bloch family of Wheeling, W.Va., best known for the production of Mail Pouch chewing tobacco. They were attending an art auction in San Francisco, recognized the Colonel, and brought his image back east.
The portrait is featured with an article from 1908 in the Washington Journalist about the Colonel, calling him a “very important citizen in his day” and noting that he had married a sister of David Bradford of Whiskey Rebellion fame.
At the dedication of the new painting, Andrew Allison provided more details about his ancestor, who was born in Northern Ireland in 1743 and lived to be 77 years old. James achieved the rank of colonel while serving in the Washington County militia during the Revolutionary War, and some of his other accomplishments include:
- Serve as the first elder of the John McMillan Presbyterian Church in the Township of North Strabane;
- Member of the Supreme Executive Council of Philadelphia in 1789, in which he voted to abolish slavery;
- Serve as a Washington County Judge and Commissioner;
- Be a first director of the Branch Bank of Philadelphia when it was incorporated in Washington County;
- Administrator of Jefferson College, Canonsburg, appointed in 1802, and Washington College, from 1806.
“He was a strong supporter of joining both schools, which later, as we know, happened in 1865,” said Andrew.
Grant Allison also spoke of his ancestry, noting that he is “the eighth first son of a first son” to graduate from Washington & Jefferson. He continued his studies at the Widener School of Law at the University of Delaware.
Her sister, Cecelia Allison, was another speaker at the dedication ceremony.
“This donation not only connects our family’s traditions and heritage to the college that brought my parents together, but it also shares a part of our home with W&J. Thanks, Aunt Amy, for introducing them, ”she said, referring to Amy Allison Sanders, Andrew’s sister. “Thank you, W&J for providing an education for my parents and my brother. And thank you, Colonel James, for being a part of the origins of W&J.
Robert Dodge, retired Washington & Jefferson professor, was the emcee of the event.
“I am still in awe of a school that was founded at the end of the 18th century, and the heritage and traditions it has,” he said. “I think the Allison family represents that very well and I’m proud to know them.